book-onlineI recently booked accommodation at a local hotel through

Based on the ads splashed across their pages promising “Free cancellation on most rooms!” and “Best Price Guaranteed” I handed over my credit card details, confident that I got the best deal.

I discovered later that if I had booked online directly with the Hotel, I would’ve saved myself R270.00. Uhm…no wait…that can’t be right?

I asked to adhere to their “Best Price Guaranteed” by refunding me the difference, to which they promptly sent me a link to their T&C’s and advised that due to a cancellation fee applying to my booking, I do not qualify for a refund. *insert “WTF!?” expression here*

Their list of conditions with reference to “Best Price Guaranteed” pretty much boils down to the fact that refunds are a very rare occurrence for them.

The Best Price is thus not guaranteed. Allow me to explain. states on their banner advert: “Best Price Guaranteed” with no visible reference to T&C’s, unless of course you mouse over and click on the ad. Flight Centre has a similar campaign relating to airfare, but their wording is slightly different. They advertise a “Lowest Airfare Guarantee” with the addition of an *, which already indicates T&C’s apply. Can you spot the difference?

A guarantee is a policy generally linked to a set of Terms & Conditions, but when something is guaranteed it’s safe to assume that it’s done and dusted, there are no Terms & Conditions. At least, that’s my interpretation and therein lays the problem.

Browsing a couple of retail sites quickly revealed that almost every advert promising the lowest price or free “this and that” is nothing but a clever play on words that leaves the concept open to interpretation at face value. They inevitably have a set of Terms & Conditions linked to them.

The experience left a bitter aftertaste which didn’t stem from me paying more than I should, but rather from me feeling like an idiot for not doing my research properly.

It’s easy for stories like these to smash the already brittle confidence so many South Africans have when it comes to online shopping, but it shouldn’t be a deterrent. If you stick to the following basics, you should be fine *see what I did there?*:

• Try to only purchase from local sites where the proprietor or business is based in South Africa. International mirrored sites can become a grey area in terms of jurisdiction regarding our laws and governing bodies.

• Putting aside the fact that Google can quickly turn your headache into a brain tumour, it’s a great tool to research the validity and general reviews of a site. You may even want to send an email to the site to test their customer service response.

• Before you enthusiastically leap into a best price offer, coupon or free service, make sure you find and read any associated T&C’s.

• When it comes to a third party supplier (generally travel related), research offers by the original vendor first to see if you can’t get it cheaper direct.

• Only purchase from sites that provide payment options through verified payment merchants (PayPal, PayFast etc.)

I will continue encouraging people to purchase online as it’s a part of our economy that can become a sustainable opportunity for local entrepreneurs as long as we have confident consumers. However, being confident doesn’t mean you should be ignorant.