Last night, my sister called me. She said that on the local news, she had seen that hotels in the SFO area were raising their prices exorbitantly because of the increased demand created by the crash. Even a day afterward, departing flights were delayed by a minimum of five hours. Price gouging is an interesting phenomenon, so I thought I would look into it. Sadly, there is almost no real reporting on the issue. Michael Finney at our local ABC affiliate KGO wrote a general article about what airlines ought to do in such circumstances, Asiana 214 Crash Raises Passengers Rights Questions. But he noted near the end of the article, “There have been reports of hotels price gouging because so many passengers were stranded. ABC7 News heard reports of rooms going for twice the standard rate and more.”
Searching around, I found a screenshot from our local Fox affiliate KTVU. It is thanks to Matthew Keys Live. The prices are indeed high, but I can’t say just how high because hotel rates around SFO are always high. Based on my experiences, the prices do look to be about twice the normal prices. Super 8, for example, is $85 right now in Union Square in San Francisco, and $179 at SFO. Is that normal? I don’t know. But Union Square is one very convenient BART trip from SFO. Here’s the screen capture:
It probably is the case that these hotels are taking advantage of Saturday’s tragedy to jack up prices. But should we care? After all, that is how capitalism is supposed to work. When there is a increased demand for lodgings, the rich get nice rooms and the poor spend the night on hard benches, if they are lucky. The system works!
I don’t really understand what all the fuss is about. Capitalism is basically an evil system for distributing resources. But the people and businesses who take advantage of situations like this are just doing what they do every other day when it isn’t as obvious. The purpose of a business is always to maximize profits. The prices of things do not depend upon what is reasonable; they depend upon what customers will pay and that is all.
I truly wish that such events caused people to rethink their attachment to capitalism. But they don’t. The system itself is ignored and businesses who are no more evil than they are on any other day are vilified. If anyone wants to discuss what these hotel prices say about our beloved economic system, I’m eager to have that conversation.
I’m not against the capitalist system. I think we just need to tame it. We can get rid of its worst abuses and make it work better for everyone. But I don’t really have a problem with what these hotels did. After all, the hotels can rent their rooms at the old prices to those lucky enough to be first to arrive or they can rent their rooms at the new prices for those lucky enough to afford them. It doesn’t really matter; the same number of people will not be able to get rooms. And after two people died, it is hard to feel too bad for those who suffered a bad night’s rest. But not to be too much of a killjoy, many people in the United States die everyday because of their poverty. That is a far more important problem than the minor suffering of those who are rich enough to fly out of SFO.