If You Book with an Online Travel Agent, Always Double-Check With Your Airline

I’ve run across plenty of problems when it comes to helping our Cranky Concierge clients, but a recent run in with CheapOair.com has me absolutely steaming. It also provides a very valuable lesson: always double check with your airline if you book via an online travel agent.

One of our clients had signed up looking for First or Business class tickets from LA to San Jose, Costa Rica. CheapOairThe lowest rates I had found on most sites were for about $950 roundtrip, a good deal in its own right. But when I went to CheapOair.com, one of the consolidators that I check relatively frequently, I found one that was just over $600 roundtrip on TACA. Was it much lower than elsewhere? Sure. But it wasn’t so insanely low that it seemed completely impossible, like a $10 fare. Besides, CheapOair is a consolidator and can often get lower deals, especially from international carriers.

So, our client booked the trip and the confirmation email confirmed that it was in First. I knew TACA only had Business, but those terms can be used interchangeably by online travel agents for two class airplanes like this. For most people, they would have booked this and been thrilled with the deal. They would have shown up at the airport and been on their way, right? Not so fast.

I always make it a point to double check every reservation made with on online travel agent with the airline directly. Usually it’s just to confirm or request seats, but I always make sure everything got booked properly in the first place. I’ve sent other clients through CheapOair before and never had a problem, but when I checked with TACA, it showed the booking in coach.

Huh? How did that happen? So I called CheapOair and their Indian call center agent assured me that it was booked in First Class. I said that was all well and good but the airline said it was in coach and that meant that they needed to help resolve this problem. They put me on hold.

Sure enough, they came back and said that this flight doesn’t have First or Business so that’s why it was in coach. I told them that wasn’t the case and there absolutely was a premium cabin on this airplane, but the agent refused to believe me. I hung up and figured I’d try again. But first, just to be clear, I called TACA to confirm that there was a premium cabin. There was, and the agent there said that it had been booked with a coach fare.

Round 2 – I called CheapOair back and after going back and forth for several minutes, I was told that I could absolutely get First Class . . . for $1,500 per person. Are you kidding me? I said that our client paid for First Class and expected to get it, but not if it meant nearly tripling the price. This agent went back again and finally came back saying it was a technical glitch and there was nothing she could do. I asked to speak to a supervisor. She came back and said that there was no supervisor to speak with. Great.

We regrouped. I had one person who emailed me awhile ago about blog advertising from CheapOair, so I sent him a note. I didn’t hear back.

I tried to call one more time the next morning and got another agent. This time, he told me that it was the airline’s fault. The airline had failed to file the fare with taxes and fuel surcharges, so it was their fault. Tired of hearing the third different excuse in as many calls, I finally simply gave up and asked for a refund. That was granted. And we just moved on.

The moral of the story? Well, there are two.

  1. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is (but not always – there are great deals out there).
  2. Always double check with your airline after booking through an online travel agent to make sure everything is in order.

[Update 4/16 @ 1118: Just got a note from CheapOair. They have now offered our client two vouchers for travel on AirTran in consideration for the problems. Now, I have no idea what AirTran has to do with anything here, but hey, it’s something. This points back to previous questions about whether a regular traveler would be able to get the same treatment as a blogger. Apparently they can, if they’re Cranky Concierge clients!]

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