In which I let my readers down

On Wednesday of last week a reader tipped me off to a Staples promotion that was being discussed in this FlyerTalk thread. Basically, a portal coupon that probably shouldn't have worked with Visa gift cards was working for Visa gift cards, allowing people to buy $200 gift cards for $191.95.

I was able to place 4 orders before the coupon code I was using started consistently returning errors, meaning I bought $800 in cash equivalents (plus my credit card rewards) for about 4% off of face value. I know a lot of people went a lot bigger, but I had literally just moved and was placing my orders in the midst of the chaos of settling in here, so after I got 4 or 5 errors in a row, I gave up on my valiant effort to put Staples out of business.

I don't regret not placing more orders, since I feel like I did fine. But I do regret not blogging or tweeting about it. That was basically a judgment call, which in retrospect I think I got wrong. There were three factors in play, and I put too much weight on the first two and not enough weight on the third:

  1. My reader communicated the tip to me privately. While he didn't ask me to keep quiet about it, that's always my presumption unless a reader tells me to share a tip according to my discretion. The FlyerTalk thread was light on details and had conflicting information, so it wasn't the kind of source I felt comfortable pointing to unequivocally for this deal.
  2. The deal was clearly a technical error in how the coupon code was being implemented by Staples' order processing system. It was possible that by blogging about the error it would be fixed more quickly, and orders that had already been placed using the coupon code might even be cancelled. Blogging about it would not only not help my readers, it would also hurt anyone who was already taking advantage of the deal.
  3. It was an inherently time-limited deal. If anything, it was most like the United award glitch from last year, where all award tickets passing through Hong Kong priced out at 4 MileagePlus miles each. While those of us who booked tickets for later in the year had our reservations cancelled, those who booked close-in tickets (within a week, I believe) had them honored. For such time-limited deals, I think there's a presumption that the more people who get in on it, the better. This was one of those deals, and it should have been shared as widely as possible so as many people as possible could take advantage of it.

There you have it. I make judgment calls like this all the time, and I like to think I get more of them right than wrong. But I definitely don't get them all right, and I think this was one of those.

What do you think?