A blog post on mobocube alleged yesterday that Cleartrip.com was faking information about the scarcity of tickets. For searches done at 11.40 am IST on Thursday, 26 Jan 2012, the site posted screenshots of Cleartrip flight search results indicating that 1 ticket was left, and then when the number of passengers was increased to two, that two seats were left, and when increased to four, that four seats were left. The implication was that Cleartrip was faking the number of book tickets available, in the hope that the customer might book immediately.

Hrush Bhatt of Cleartrip reacted, explaining on the Cleartrip blog what was going on: airlines price tickets in buckets, with a fixed price per bucket. When tickets in a particular bucket are booked, the fare changes. The price changes according to availability. What Cleartrip was doing was, it was showing the user how many tickets it has left at that specific price. Citing an example of a Bangalore-Srinagar flight, the company pointed out that its price per ticket changes as as more and more tickets added to the customers list, and this was noticeable in original screenshots in mobocube blog post, even though the post didn’t point it out.

The feature was launched last week, and it appears that instead of simplifying things for users, it created more confusion. The obvious answer is that instead of indicating “one ticket left”, Cleartrip should have indicated “one ticket left at this price”. The ‘at this price’ bit was in the tool tip, but I just think Cleartrip should have taken into consideration that users are not likely to do a mouseover to view it.

A things worth noticing here, from a communications perspective – bad news travels fast (some people mailed even me the original post) and it was important that the co-founder jumped in to offer an explanation for what happened. Secondly, notice how the issues were addressed by Bhatt in the comments on the Cleartrip blog but also in the comments to the original post. For anyone reading only the original post (and there are those), the presence of those comments also serves as an explanation. Thirdly, it’s also about ownership of the communication – ever so often companies rely on press statements to make their stand clear on certain issues. The importance of having a company blog is evident here, because at times when the media is unwilling to publish a clarification from the company, or hide it somewhere, the company can take ownership of the communication using their own platform. Not many Indian companies do this.