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Network Connection

By Dr. Philip Baczewski, Associate Director of Academic Computing

When the Internet Works

As a longtime denizen of the on-line community, I have enjoyed the convenience of on-line commerce and have often been able to save money or time by using on-line services. Yet, I am still wary of exposing too much information on line or of using a site which does not provide enough information to support its legitimacy.

I recently had the good fortune to attend a Wednesday practice round at The Masters golf tournament, held at the Augusta National Golf Club.  To golfers, the Augusta National is the Mecca of courses and The Masters is the premier event of the year. Tickets for the Thursday through Sunday competition days have been sold out for 30 years (literally).  They briefly opened the waiting list once during the past 30 years, but it was quickly closed. Competition round tickets are hard to come by unless you know or marry the right person. The Monday through Wednesday practice, round tickets are a different story. Those are available via a lottery, so if you have the right luck or know someone with sufficient luck, you might find yourself taking a trip to Augusta.

This year the luck was in my favor. Having benefited from a good friend's good chance, I agreed to make the travel arrangements and I went on line to find the lowest fares and rates I could. Finding a reasonable airfare was not too hard. The next step was to find a rental car, since it is cheaper to drive from Atlanta to Augusta than it is to fly that extra leg.  I decided to try the Orbitz website, a travel site backed by a number of different airlines. I found what I thought was a reasonable rate for a mid-size car. I had a confirmed reservation and knowing I was making the reservation two months in advance had little doubt that there would be any problem.

I also found a hotel room between Atlanta and Augusta, since we'd be getting into Atlanta in the evening and planned to stay over night and drive to Augusta in the morning. I've had good luck using hotels.com and found a reasonable rate at a good-quality hotel. I was wary of hotels.com at first, since you make a prepaid reservation. You can still cancel it and get most (minus hotels.com's service fee) of your money back, and you really can get some good discount rates.  So far, hotels.com has worked out great each time I've used the service.

Sometimes, however, the best laid on-line plans get waylaid by the oldest of problems:  bad business practices or poor business management.  This was the case with the rental car. We arrived (a traveling party of four) at the rental car company, which I'll call "One Buck" rental cars. We were immediately told that they had overbooked their reservations and had no more cars to rent. The unfriendly "One Buck" staff just told us to try the company at the next counter and gave me a piece of paper which promised to reimburse the difference between their cost and another company.  Ironically, the paper also said that "One Buck" staff would arrange to find a car from a different company, but the Atlanta "One Buck" staff just sat there scowling.

The Internet had worked fine. The on-line processes had done what they were supposed to do. This was a failure of that classic weakness in all businesses: bad practices or uncaring employees. Having just arrived in an airport during one of the busiest travel weeks they experience, I had visions of four golf enthusiasts with their thumbs out on the side of I-20.  Luckily, we were able to find a car from a company that really does try harder and were on our way.

The moral of the story?  Sometimes on-line businesses work better than brick and mortar ones.  I'll certainly never take my business to "One Buck" any more.  I will probably try Orbitz for my future travel needs.  They did their job. "One Buck" didn't. And, of course, the azaleas and dogwoods were gorgeous.