It’s been a tough couple of months for you guys. First, you had to deal with the outcry over plans to charge certain customers for seat selection. Then, you had to deal with the fallout from the much-reviled decision to levy credit card fees for certain ticket classes (and the subsequent backtrack). And now, you’re having to respond to disgruntled malcontents in that August Assembly of public discourse, the Straits Times forum.
What about? As reported in the Straits Times:
Singapore Airlines (SIA) customers are upset with a new booking feature that automatically includes travel insurance unless travellers opt out. Once payment is made, asking for a refund is tedious, said those who realised they were charged only after their bookings were confirmed.
I understand that with a stock price that’s back to where it was five years ago, cut throat competition from the ME3 and continued pressure from budget carriers, management is putting pressure on every facet of the operation to make money.
But allow me to put forth the idea that just maybe, possibly, including an upsell by default without the consent of the customer is a scummy practice.
Here I am trying to book a flight to Seoul. Note my price- S$1,788.70.
I proceed as per normal to the final payment screen. Wait a minute- the price has gone to S$1,816.70. What’s going on?
As it turns out, hidden away on the add-ons screen is this little gem: automatically included travel insurance, “for my convenience”, S$28.
Let’s talk design and UX, because those are conscious, deliberately-made choices. Note how the “Remove” button is greyed out. Anyone who’s done UX 101 for the web knows that when you use grey, it’s to imply that a button is not clickable. Blue buttons encourage clicking. Grey buttons are designed to be ignored. That to me is already pretty damning.
But on to the final payment screen. You guys claim that the automatically included insurance is “clearly displayed”. I disagree. Here’s what you see:
Notice anything amiss? Me neither. That’s because the travel insurance is hidden; you need to click on “more details” to see this:
I fail to see how this counts as “clearly displayed”, when at no point during the booking process was I alerted to the fact that travel insurance was automatically added to my cart. In fact, I only spotted the price change because I knew to look out for it. I can imagine many, many customers auto-piloting past this step.
This is shady. There’s no other way of describing it. This “gotcha” behaviour is something I’d expect more from budget carriers (and indeed, Tigerair was notorious for doing such things) than from a trusted Singapore brand.
Why this practice? As per your spokesperson, Campbell Wilson (the ex-CEO of Scoot):
Singapore Airlines encourages customers to take up travel insurance to safeguard their travel plans, and we refer to the benefits of insurance in our conditions of contract.
The “opt-in” default was implemented in some markets, including Singapore, last year. The inclusion of insurance is clearly displayed, the cost is reflected in the booking summary panel at the payment page, and customers can opt out if they do not wish to add the insurance to their booking.
This is completely disingenuous. It is one thing to “encourage customers to take up travel insurance”. It is another to slip it in when no one’s looking.
If the intention was to encourage customers, then perhaps you’d have prominent warnings on the add-ons page that encourage them to take up travel insurance. Heck, you could even do it in the form of this scaremongering pop-up and although I’d be annoyed by the insinuation that “by proceeding without insurance you become the worst non-German person never”, I could probably let that go.
But including it by default under the guise of paternalism is unethical and flat out wrong. It’s a sneaky way of making additional money from unsuspecting customers. Expecting the customer to spot and remove it is tantamount to telling them “be on your toes when booking with us because you never know what we might make you pay for!”
You want me to spell this out for you? Fine. I’ll put my MS Paint skills to the test:
Default options matter. The decision to change travel insurance from an opt-in to an opt-out purchase is a conscious one, made by someone within SQ, and I’d like that person to sit me down and tell me with a straight face that he or she did this for the benefit of the customer.
And by the way, it’s no defense at all to say this:
Additionally, customers who have taken insurance but later change their mind may cancel the insurance without penalty prior to departure. In such cases, refunds will be credited to the customer’s credit card within 10 working days.
If this is your mea culpa, it’s the weakest I’ve ever heard. It’s like the kid who breaks a lamp and expects to get praised for fixing it. What happens if you only spot this after you depart? What happens if you don’t spot it at all? What happens if you already have travel insurance (you can’t claim for the same incident on two different policies)?
So, SQ, let’s not pettifog the issue. No one is saying travel insurance isn’t important. You should absolutely make sure you’re covered when you travel. But there’s a right way of doing it, and a wrong way of doing it. And you’re doing it wrong.
Granted, you’re not as bad as Ryanair, which infamously used to opt passengers in for travel insurance by default, hiding the opt-out option under “No Grazie” between Malta and Norway in a drop-down list of countries of residence before the watchdogs told them to knock it off. But I think something has gone horribly, horribly wrong if I am comparing Singapore Airlines to Ryanair.
I’ve flown with countless airlines and I can safely say that your inflight service and product still sets the bar for the competition everywhere. You’re better than this. You don’t need to rely on sneaky tricks and gotchas to generate incremental revenue. So please, in the words of Michael O’ Leary, stop unnecessarily pissing people off.
Right here waiting for you,