What Would You Have Done? My Coupon Code Confession

coupon-code-dilemmaI'd like to get your feedback on an ethical dilemma that I encountered a few weeks back concerning online coupon codes. I don't know if this has ever happened to you, but I thought it was an interesting moral situation.

One weekend, I was looking to get a tee-time to play golf using an online reservation website. When I finally found a time that would work out, I selected it and continued on to book it. 

During the check-out process, I came to a screen with a box where I could include any promotion or coupon code. While I didn't have one at the time – I decided to try my fortune and make one up (I've tried this before at various online stores. For example – some retailers will take “FREESHIP” – to get free shipping – or the like..). To my astonishment, the code I entered worked. It worked so well – that my two rounds were absolutely FREE.

Wow, I thought. I just scored over $80 worth of golf – absolutely free.

But that wasn't all. There was a message that read, “Please enjoy your free golf for the rest of the year.”

“What!? Free golf, for the rest of the year?”

Wait. My mind started racing to all the golf I could get in. All the courses I'll get to play this summer. All the money I'd be able to save…

Like Gollum, from Lord of the Rings, I started to let this newfound secret code become “My precious”. I wasn't going to share it with anyone.

Fortunately (or unfortunately – however you view this), I talked to my better half and soon came to some reason. I couldn't use this and steal golf. No one gave me this code. I just happened to guess – and it so happened to work. I thought I'd better let the tee-time reservation website know.

Against my better judgment (or worst judgment – again, however you view it)  – I was soon on the phone talking to a representative at the company letting them know what I had uncovered and they had better change this code or myself and everyone I knew was going to be golfing every day for the rest of 2013.

While I am not sure what came over me – I figured it was probably the right thing to do. Now, don't call me a saint, AND I'm not looking for any kudos (a part of me is still kicking myself for telling them!). I DID get a free round of golf out of the deal – as the representative let it slide. But the next day – I tried the code again to see if it would work. It didn't. They had deactivated it.

So, here's the ethical / moral dilemma. Promo and coupon codes exist on websites for a reason: to offer discounts and incentives to the customer. Wherever a person gets them (so long as they work), the code ought to be honored and accepted – right? I mean, it's the retailer who puts it on their site?

OR, is this a whole ‘nother issue. If we make up codes looking to game the system (as I had done and it worked) – are we (essentially) stealing?

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts. Does our constant search for frugality sometimes cause us to lose our integrity?

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  1. I think you did the right thing. I don’t know that it equates to stealing but it’s definitely dishonest. Since I believe in karma, if you had gone ahead with the transaction, it would have caught up to you sooner or later.

  2. Aaron, you did the right thing. I don’t play golf but I think that even if you didn’t tell them, you wouldn’t enjoy playing golf there as the way you can enjoy now. Cheers on that! :)

  3. Yeah, you did the right thing. There is no way that coupon code would have been thrown out there for public consumption. Who knows, maybe they would have found out about it later and even tried to charge you for all of the freebie golf games. I would have done the exact same thing if the situation was reversed.

  4. Lol, love the Gollum reference. My wife use that from time to time. I think you did the right thing Aaron. While it was cool, I think it would’ve likely eaten at you that something was not right. I am sure it was tempting to keep it, but I think you made the right call in the end.

  5. You did the right thing. My similar story was with the Sony trade in your laptop for $150 toward a new laptop (if yours boots up) promotion for Earth Day 2012.

    I had two old (but working) laptops and had read on slickdeals.com that the folks in the store didn’t know how to do the deal and were just giving away $150 gift cards that could be used for anything. I had read about people buying ancient laptops from craigslist (but bootable) and trading them in for the $150 and then selling the cards on eBay or stacking them to buy a $1000 tv for basically $200.

    When I went to trade in my laptops they did the same thing to me and I asked to speak to the Manager because I didn’t want the guy helping me to get fired. They assured me that he wouldn’t get fired and they changed the policy right there. They let me keep the $300 in gift cards, but I needed a new laptop anyway and used the full $300 toward another one.

    But at the same token, I’ve used VALID coupon codes at places like Staples.com and then gotten emails 3-4 hours later saying, “your coupon code was actually invalid, sorry, we’re cancelling your transaction.” Being a lawyer (I’m a lawyer), that doesn’t sit well with me and I’ve successfully had those kinds of transactions reinstated 100% of the time.

    But you did the right thing.

  6. When I got my first bank card to work with atm , tried to use it at different place than bank it was issued from-It showed a screen that I had never seen at my own atm-It kept trying to allow me to access other screens-when I just wanted to get out a few dollars and be on my merry way. When I returned to my own bank and complained , the customer service person was freaking out-asking how I got access to this card-someone had issued me a card that could access just about anyones account. Scary-I would have never taken anything but who knows what someone else might have done/

  7. You did the right thing. I’ve also seen this in the couponing world a lot. Most recently with JCPennys. They had a coupon code that offered $10 off a $10 purchase and if you shipped it to the store to pick it up. You did not have to pay anything. It was suppose to be one per person. Well people started to get unethical and used it over and over again to get multiple things for free. Then they started to complain when Penny’s finally realized the mistake and began cancelling the orders except for the first one that the customer made. Some were even threatening to sue. Come on ! Really !What is wrong with people these days. Don’t they have morals anymore? Some people go crazy when they hear “Free” and will end ruining things in the long run for everyone.

  8. Wow! That’s quite a story and definitely a moral dilemma. I likely would have behaved the same as you — at first elated by the prospect of free golf for a year, and then guilty for ever thinking I’d go through with it. Your golf course is a local business providing a service — what’s more, that business is comprised of people trying to earn a living. Remembering the people behind the business is important – you did the right thing. Plus, you got a free game of golf that you didn’t expect!

    • @kendal – Thx for vindicating me somewhat. Yeah – always best to play fair.
      @Jessica – So true
      @CMS – Wow – good on you for being honest!
      @Andy – Doesn’t seem right they can revoke – but there is probably something in the fine print, eh?
      @John – Thx for validation.

  9. You definitely did the right thing…..while the coupon code was obviously created for a reason, you never know WHAT the reason was. Maybe it was created by the GM of the course for a special group of business owners. Imagine your embarrassment if you would have gotten caught (not to mention the potential consequences).

    Good for you!

  10. I think you did the right thing. I’ve seen this in the couponing world a lot. People are so hung up on getting a deal that they cross a lot of ethical lines and then make all kinds of excuses to justify it. If you’d been given the code, that would be one thing. But gaming the system just hurts everyone in the long run.

    • @Christina – I would agree.. but sometimes it is hard to do the right thing :)
      @Travis – Haha, yeah, I suppose you never know. Thx
      @Kelly – Thx

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