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Submitted by donm on


BLUF: Is it ethical to ask about pricing and discount?

In March of this year, there was a discussion about the MT personal discount versus full price attendance. I was looking online today for training that would help the people in my group, and found a course that was interesing. There is a two-tiered system for pricing. There is nothing about the pricing being "personal" vs "company-paid" so this question doesn't quite fit into the thread I referenced; however, it was the fact that so many people seemed to think that asking about the discount was unethical that made me question my own choice in this particular case.

Essentially, if you are of the same nationality as the online-course creator, you can pay in your local currency. The amount if paid in the local currency is about 75% of the equivalent amount if paid in USD or EUR. About half of the people in my employ are from the subject country, so they could all easily pay the fee in their local currency and get it reimbursed (assuming we can't do a direct payment; no guidance from the website along those lines).

The subject country is one of those which has a decent economy, but a pay scale that is a fraction of that in the first world economies such as the US or many European countries. I believe this is probably the reason for the discount: The person or company expected to pay the price would have a hard time coming up with even the 75% amount in many cases. I have nothing but intuition-based conjecture to make that previous statement.

Is it ethical for me pay the decreased amount, indirectly, for anyone I might send to the training class? I was about to write an email to the site owner, but after the discussion on the Things I think I think thread from the subject, I was wondering if my self-made dilemma is similar to the discussion from TITIT? Without the TITIT discussion, I would have merely directed any of the eligible employees to take the discount.

TIA for any guidance or considered opinions on this topic,


williamelledgepe's picture
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Not sure I am understanding, because I don't see an issue - maybe there are facts that I am not seeing though.  What is the exact phrase the vendor uses to describe the discount?

If the training vendor offers a discount for paying in rupee, yuan, or real and you pay in rupee, yuan, or real then you are ethically entitled to that discount.  If the vendor offers a discount for people currently living in India, China, or Brasil; and the individuals taking the training are currently living in India, China, or Brasil then you are ethically entitled to the discount.  Either of these statements is true so long as you are meeting the requirement of the vendor to receive the discount.  I believe that to be true whether an employee pays and gets reimbursed or the company pays direct.  If the discount is for currency, then it is for currency.

donm's picture
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"Payment Details for (nationality) Students" The above is a cut and paste from the link to the section with the nationality omitted. The section states: "Pay with (nationality) Credit Cards, Debit Cards & Net-banking" with instructions following the above header describing how to make said payment. Cash, checks, and paypal are also options. The only requirements I can find are to be a national and to pay with a bank from that nation.

williamelledgepe's picture
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I don't see any ethical issues on your side of this transaction.  Have your [national] employees taking the class pay with a [national] debit, credit, or netbank and you are good.  You might be on shaky ground if you extend the discount to US based employees by having a [national] employee pay for the course.  To be on the safe side, you could always describe your situation to the vendor and see what they say.  They could be trying to mitigate currency risk, wire transfer fraud, IT security - or they could be trying to mitigate the cost of trainees who live in [nation] because income levels are simply different.  Different motives lead to different impacts on the vendor-customer relationship.  Do you want to keep working with this vendor?

Apply this ethical litmus: If the details of your transaction were on page A-1 of a major newspaper, would you be comfortable with everyone reading it?.  I don't necessarily like this ethical litmus test because some things are meant to be confidential, but it might be helpful in this case.

Another ethical litmus (Rawls this time): switch roles.  Imagine you are the vendor - and s/he is a customer who is going to take the discount in a manner you describe.  Would you be OK with your customer's proposed actions?  

Another ethical litmus from Mill (modified): Does your proposed action create the greatest good for the set of individuals involved?  (Mill used greatest happiness instead of greatest good.)

Note my first three questions push you in the direction of discussing the situation with the vendor.  Mill would probably have you pay the full amount because of income inequality, .