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

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Mark Lenahan
One possible explanation (though not the only one, and not the one provided by CheapOair)… The problem might have been the way CheapOair interpreted the booking class codes (RBDs) on TACA. Booking classes can be almost any letter of the alphabet and are used both to price the booking as well as establish the cabin class. There are lots of booking classes for each cabin class, but how they are used varies by airline. There are conventions like Y = economy these aren’t enforced by GDS or in fare filing. If the availability source (e.g. GDS) just provides booking class… Read more »
Hang on, isn’t there a breach of contract issue here? You have a paper confirmation from the agent saying you have booked and paid for tickets in first. Surely they need to honour these at the price you’ve paid, regardless of whose fault it is? If it’s the airline’s fault then it’s the responsibility of the agent to recover the excess from the airline; after all, when you click the “ok” button, you have de facto signed a contract with the agent – they can’t renege on it if the price rises, just like you can’t renege on it if… Read more »
David SF eastbay
I can’t believe someone would name their business CheapOair. I see they are trying to get the buyer to think of them for lowest fares, but to my age group that screams a cheap product or service. Which sounds like what it turned out to be in this case. I remember eons ago when I started working for TWA they trained us to never use the word ‘cheap’ as in cheapest fare. It was always to be said as ‘lowest fare’ or ‘least expensive fare’. The word cheap sent the message of something being inferior or poor quality. At least… Read more »
Frank Vaughan

…and I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that they lied to you when they said no supervisors were available.

I’ve spent many years workig in and supporting call centers, and there is always an availabe manager — even when there is an all manager meeting.

I would have serious doubts about doing business with a company whose call center employees lie to me.

Nick Barnard

I’d be amazed for this at an Indian call center, but at the office I work at (which shares some characteristics of a call center.) we often don’t have a manager on the right team available, but we’ll always offer to setup a call back.


Well this client definitly got their moneys worth with the concierge service from you!

So what fare did they end up getting and through whom?

I had a recent issue with Travelocity, (name entered wrong by them,) and ended up being ping-ponged between Travelocity and the airline each saying “it’s up to them to fix it.” After an hour of that nonsense I thankfully found someone in PR that fixed it immediately and offered a credit for the problem. But the average traveler doesn’t know how to track down email addresses at various company headquarters or blog about it until it’s noticed by the “social media response team” or whatever they call it. I hate Indian call centers, not because of any communications issue, rather… Read more »
Brett, as you know I had this exact same thing happen to me with TACA and cheaptickets.com about 2 years ago. I booked first, called to confirm, was in coach. Turned out that Cheaptickets sold us an A fare, which for most domestic airlines is discounted first class, but for TACA it’s a discounted coach fare. I called every day and was eventually upgraded to some sort of VIP customer service. They finally admitted it was their mistake (after I told them about the fare class mess-up). They were able to put us in business class for 4 of the… Read more »

This should be an important lesson for all, do not buy airfare tickets (a significant purchase) on websites with silly and juvenile names like ‘CheapOair.’ I travel a ton for business and some for leisure and i ALWAYS book directly through the airline. I avoid on-line or brick and mortar travel agencies at all costs. I might pay a few bucks more but at least I know the vacation I’ve been planning for my family for the past 6 months is safer.


[…] Flier relays a story about booking what appeared to be a premium class fare online but learning that the operating […]


I try to avoid Cheapoair because of their awful customer service and misleading practices, but sometimes they are the only online travel agent that can book a complected itinerary. When I must use them I first look up the flights I want on ITASOFTWARE.COM then make sure everything matches on cheapo air before I purchase.


When any company decides to sell a product (a seat, and two simple cabins) under such wonderful “bucket” inventories as F, P, A, C, D, Z, Y, B, M, E, U, H, Q, V, W, S, T, K, L, and G (did I miss any?), what do you expect? [Has LH ever used “umlauted” letter codes?]

Fare codes are even worse. Cranky probably worked on one: LA3PN9SCREWSOUTHWESTORWHOWEVERELSETRIEDTOUNDERCUTUS!”

There, I feel better! Keep up the good work!

Nick Barnard


That’d be sweet. Perhaps not that one specifically, but you could make codes to give a nice nod to a specific city a la the 7×7 flights being more common to go into SeaTac and 1776 going into WDC etc..

David M

I’d extend the recommendation to check with the airline when dealing with a brick-and-mortar agency too, especially when dealing with someone offering a lower fare. There have been cases where travel agents sold tickets but pocketed the money and never actually bought the ticket, leaving the customer to discover at check-in that they had no ticket.


I’m with Allan. Buy through the airline. I’m always surprised by how many people buy through these other sites. What’s the point? Cut out the middleman.


Tim – you’re forgetting that sometimes an airline has an unexpectedly big number of empty seats which they want to sell, so as to get some revenue rather than none. Airlines will often sell these seats at prices much lower than on their own website, in return for some very restrictive conditions (no changes, no refunds, etc, not even if you’re in hospital !). If you’re absolutely sure you will want to fly in a month’s time, and you can save $350 per person, would you really turn it down ?

David, the reply link is your friend. Here’s what I always do: I run a search on kayak or Expedia or IATA Software, or preferably all three (overkill, I know, but it’s fun). I then copy down the details for the best fare for the time I’m willing to go, and run over to the airline’s website and buy it there. I have never — never — not seen the identical fare on the airline’s website that I saw on the other websites. Maybe I’m just exceedingly lucky, but I’ve never seen a discrepancy between the two. Until I do… Read more »

Tim – the UA site is notoriously bad for not advertising discounted fares. Kayak and Cheaptickets always beat the Unitedairlines.co.uk prices – best case scenario is £10 more. In trying to book a roundtrip to SAN I’ve routinely been faced with paying nearly £100 more if I want to book direct with UA. It was never this bad – I blame CO!!

Mark Lenahan
Tim, what David describes is “distressed inventory”. If you fly mostly on Fridays and Mondays, or on more successful routes, you might never see any distressed inventory. A half empty flight on a Tuesday is not necessarily distressed, if the revenue managers got enough $200 to $400 tickets on that flight then they are happy, why discount to $50 to sell 4 more tickets when you can get some guy buying a ticket for $400 at the ticket desk in the airport? In short – an airline won’t want to sell distressed inventory via GDS or their own site –… Read more »

That would be moral, not morale.
Sorry for nitpicking, but I’m a grammar freak.


I use CheapoAir all the time to purchase international tickets for myself and my family and have found them to be amazingly inexpensive and have never had a problem. It is difficult to get ahold of them by telephone, but not impossible and they’ve spent a lot of time with me on the phone finding the best fares.

Stephen Dutton

Many Companies are using the Indian Interface to create a firewall, you can book, but don’t you dare ring the Airline, people think they are but they are not, this is an escalating problem, and the big problem for the companies is that they believe their own glorified Public Relations, its our “Great Service’, point is “service” is just that servicing your clients, and using mantra trained Indians is about as far away from their self belief Public Image that “were here to help you!” as they can possibly get.


cheapoair stole from me. they suck at customer service. I booked a ticket but i made a mistake so i called right away, and they said they couldnt do anything, of course after a whole day trying to contact them