A seismogram
Featured image: Dave Schumaker/Flickr BY-CC-ND 2.0

Disruptive benefits

How a change of plans and expectations can act as shock therapy to help us properly consider our choices… or not

Koen Smets
6 min readNov 19, 2021

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Imagine you’re going on a city break with your spouse to celebrate a special occasion. You’ve decided to push the boat out and book a suite in a swanky hotel for four nights, but as you arrive, the receptionist tells you that there has been a plumbing problem in the bathroom of your suite, making it unusable. All other suites were in use, but you are offered an ordinary room (at the ordinary price) until the bathroom is fixed plus £200 ($270, €240) in compensation. You are a little annoyed (who wouldn’t be), but it is a fair offer, so you accept.

As it happens, the ordinary room — while lacking the opulence of a suite — is perfectly good, and after a good night’s rest and a hearty breakfast, you cheerfully embark on an exploratory walk around the city. When you return in the afternoon, the receptionist informs you that the bathroom in the suite you had booked has been fixed. You can move into it straight away (and a hotel worker will move your luggage), but if you wish, you can also opt to stay in your current, lower-priced room. What do you do?

A change of perspective

Well, it might depend on the price, but this kind of situation gives you a perspective that you rarely have. When you face two purchase options, your baseline is that you have neither at present, and either spend the smaller amount for one option, or the larger amount for the other one. You compared what you’d get in each room (the benefit) with what it will cost you, and decide accordingly.

But now, you start from a different baseline: you already have the cheaper option, and have the opportunity the pay extra for the more expensive option: you consider the increment in cost with the increment in benefits of the more expensive suite. Chances are that the trade-off works out differently now, and you might no longer prefer the more expensive choice. How come?

A posh hotel suite
Not how much for this, but how much more for this? (image: Club Med/Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0)

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Koen Smets

Accidental behavioural economist in search of wisdom. Uses insights from (behavioural) economics in organization development. On Twitter as @koenfucius