Airfare scams from cheap websites

Tilly South from Choice talks about the tricks and scams cheap airfare websites use

Introduction

Ross Greenwood: Welcome back to Money News right around the country. I’ll take your calls on this one as well, 131 873. We jumped online recently and try to find airfares, hotels. Generally, you find–it’s really good, convenient, you can see things. You can certainly go to our agents and I will do that. I’ve got really good travel agents I’ll go to, but I always, if you like to search out the travel websites. Now, I reckon you can get caught though, because there’s no doubt that when you go into those travel websites, you got to be very, very careful. You know what it’s like they’ll go and look through two dozen of those smaller websites, they might be offering airfares of this type or that type.

But when you go in there, sometimes, you’ll take an airfare that’s looks really attractive, and you got excited that I’ve got the airfare. But if you’re looking for two tickets, and you seem to think you’ve got the two tickets, you come back and you don’t. Now, especially if some of you might occasionally travel business class or trying to get upgrades for business class, you certainly find that, hang on one leg is business class, next one’s economy, or then you suddenly find when you get to the final end of the process, they’ve actually quoted you in US dollars and not Australian dollars. So what look like it was cheap is now not so cheap. As I said, I reckon is all sorts of tricks around the place.

I know that certainly Tilly South, the Policy and Campaigns Advisor at Choice had done a bit of work on this. And they’ve look at some of these travel aggregation sites, if you got your own stories, give us a call on 131 873. Good day Tilly, how are you doing?

Interview

Tilly South: Hi. I’m good thanks. Thanks for having me on.

Ross Greenwood: Quite okay. There are issues here, because as far as I can see, largely unregulated, and as a result if I change the terms and conditions on you or even the price, even though you might have thought you got that price, it’s not until they’ve gone to where an airline and find out what the real price is that they can actually confirm it to you.

Tilly South: That’s right. And it’s very complex because there’s so many of these websites out there. There are some good online booking site, but there’s just so many and there’s different copycat names, so you’re not quite sure if you’re booking on the one that you know is good. And also a lot of them are the same, so if you do run into a problem, you’re going to have trouble following up with them.

Ross Greenwood: For example, in regards to following up. Can I go out to– I don’t know, a Consumer Affairs or something of that nature if I’m aggrieved about the one which I’ve been dealt with by one of these sites?

Tilly South: You can. But then again as well, it’s a bit limited in how they can get in touch with them too. But if you got a company that based overseas, in Europe or maybe in Asia somewhere, it’s very difficult for them to also get a hold of them and then hold them to account. The best bet to try and work with an agent that is either based in Australia or you know is very reputable.

Ross Greenwood: The issue is however that you can find airfares that are highly desirable, they look fantastic I’ve got to tell you, and so quite clearly there’s a lot of surplus stock that airlines might try and get rid of seats if they got spare seats and need to get rid of them. They throw one to these types of sites and throw them at there, highly-attractive prices. You’ve got to be in the right place at the right time. You can genuinely stay and get bargain. But you’ve got to make sure that you understand that it can come with all types of conditions that you’re not– might not be terribly happy with.

Tilly South: That’s true. So we did do a survey of all of these aggregated sites some time ago at Choice, and we found often that the flights were either the same price with the Airline Direct or that they were a bit cheaper with the Airline Direct. So it does pay to shop around a bit. And if this aggregated can be particularly helpful, if you’d like to find a good flight itinerary and get some ideas that what airline is flying to what cities and what the prices might be?

And then we always say to people, “Go back and check with the airline and see if it’s a similar price, because when you book, you got the peace of mind that you book directly with the airline and you know that if there are any changes, they’re going to get in touch with you, and that your ticket is secure, and it’s safe, and you know where your money’s gone.”

Ross Greenwood: And the worst examples Tilly, have you ever found situations where people have booked on these sites, spent their money and then found really that the agent has disappeared on them and there is no ticket there at all?

Tilly South: We have heard of stories like that. We’d had consumers come to us at Choice and let us know the times when they booked online and maybe they’ve got their e-ticket, but they’ve turned up at the airport and it wasn’t actually even a ticket to their flight. And that’s their savings. It’s an expensive purchase you’re making when you’re going overseas, and the last thing you want is to book to a dodgy site that may not have processed your booking properly, they may not have actually secured you the flight for taking your money. And then even if you managed to get a refund from them, it may take them three months to process the refund, and that’s three months that they’ve got your money.

Ross Greenwood: Wow. I’ve just heard another little tactic tonight as well and that is apparently the Commonwealth Bank. You know when you go into a hotel, and they basically block a certain amount of money off your credit card, so it’s $200, $300 that they might, in case you rack up a big bar bill or something like that. My understanding is now that one of our biggest banks, the yellow and black one is now taking 30 days to get that money back into your bank account after you’ve gone and visited a hotel, which is going to be the big issue for business I would have thought as well Tilly. Anyway, one final part about this so you say, you better do all these things to try and make certain that you can avoid traps.

But the fact of the matter is that there are quite clearly some amazing deals out there. How can in many cases, they put out fares that appear almost impossible for even big travel agencies to be able to obtain as well?

Tilly South: Well, I think that there are really good sales with the Airlines Direct, so it does pay to check directly with the airlines. I’ve seen a lot of good deals going right now. There’s lots of competition, lots of airlines vying for the Australian market, so you will find those deals with the Airline Direct. I know myself, I’ve got some great deals recently and I’ve had an excellent holiday. And you just got to keep your eye out for those deals. You can book through those aggregated websites, but we would just suggest read the online reviews about them before you do go with them. You’ll find if they’re not very good, they’ll be lots of negative reviews about them.

Ross Greenwood: Tell you what Tilly.

Tilly South: And if you–

Ross Greenwood: Tilly, the one place I can go is those reviews that you’ve done in Choice, so they will understand that as well. I’m going to keep on moving, but the Policy and Campaigns Advisor at Choice magazine, Tilly South. We appreciate your time here on the program tonight.

Tilly South: Great. Thank you so much.

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