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The Jewish Ethicist: Do I Deserve a Discount?

May 9, 2009 | by Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem

Can I take advantage of a discount if I'm not sure I'm entitled?

Q. My former employer promised travel discounts from some companies as part of my retirement package, but he didn't specify which companies! Now whenever I book a flight on a certain airline, I get a 50% for my
"corporate relationship." How do I know if this is part of my retirement benefits or merely a mistake in my favor? I wouldn't patronize this company without the discount. RM

A. Taking improper advantage of discounts makes us feel clever and virtuous at the same time. We congratulate ourselves on our thrift, and reassure ourselves that after all we are helping the company by providing them with business. Sometimes we're right; perhaps it is true that the airline is thrilled that you are filling an otherwise empty seat. On the other hand, perhaps they are fuming over having to turn away a full-price customer in
order to make good on a promised discount.

My rule for dealing with these "second-guessing" situations is, just don't guess. If you're not absolutely sure you're doing someone a favor, just play by the rules. Leave it to the merchant to decide whom they want to give a discount
to and respect their decision.

So you should take steps to make sure you are entitled to this benefit. One way is to send a letter to the airline explaining your situation in detail and suggesting that they verify your status. Make sure that the letter is addressed and worded in such a way that it will reach someone within the company who is properly authorized to carry out such a check. After you have given the company a reasonable amount of time to review your status, perhaps a week or so after the letter arrives, you can go back to taking advantage of the discount if it is still available.

This kind of "opt-out" process is acceptable because you have a reasonable basis for believing that you are entitled to a discount. Someone who is offered a discount and is almost sure there is a mistake shouldn't take advantage of the discount until they are sure that it's legitimate. An example would be asking the company to respond to your letter, or at least to acknowledge receipt.

The book of Proverbs tells us "Stolen waters are sweet" (Proverbs 9:17). This corresponds to the special sense of achievement that we sometimes feel when we've gotten away with something. But this same book of Scriptures tells us "One who hates gifts will live" (Proverbs 15:27). Life and vitality are our portion when we desire only those gifts which we deserve and which God sends us in a proper fashion.

Send your queries about ethics in the workplace to

The Jewish Ethicist presents some general principles of Jewish law. For specific questions and direct application, please consult a qualified Rabbi.

The Jewish Ethicist is a joint project of and the Center for Business Ethics, Jerusalem College of Technology. To find out more about business ethics and Jewish values for the workplace, visit the JCT Center for Business Ethics website at

JCT Center For Business Ethics

Copyright © JCT Center for Business Ethics.

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