A Which? Travel investigation has found dodgy online travel agents are luring holidaymakers in with “too-good-to-be-true” deals before ramping up prices through a combination of questionable sales tactics.
These operators are often small websites – but they have access to huge audiences through popular search engines like Skyscanner, Kayak and Momondo, where their prices often appear among the cheapest fares.
Passengers who have used these providers after choosing what appeared to be the best deal for a flight have told Which? how they faced demands for more cash after making a booking – and were left high and dry if they insisted the agent honour the original bargain price.
Kam Hughes said she felt “blackmailed” when Checknfly demanded an extra £79 the day after she booked a £415 return flight to Vancouver to see her sick mother – and said it would cancel the flight if she didn’t pay up.
The company claimed the cost had gone up by £160 while she was making her booking – but Kam says the bargain price was still being offered online 24 hours later.
She refused to budge and booked with British Airways instead.
Which? also heard from a Gotogate customer who bought a flight to India for almost £200 cheaper than anywhere else but when he got to the airport on the day he was due to fly out, he was told at the check-in desk that he did not have a seat on the plane.
Gotogate initially refused to help, meaning the passenger’s friend flew to India without him. The company only admitted making a mistake “due to human error” and paid compensation after Which? made contact about the incident.
While the nightmare of being left without a flight is relatively rare, poor service seems to come as standard with some agents.
Gotogate makes customers pay extra for a prompt response to customer service queries or refund claims, charging £9.90 for “premium support” and £19.90 for “platinum support”.
It also charges over the odds for a flight compensation solicitor service, bag tracking service and a visa waiver for trips to the United States.
It’s easy to ignore these shameless add-ons, but there are other less obvious charges. Which? found a flight to New York with Norwegian Air, offered by Edreams, for £362 return, while the airline itself was charging £369 return.
A small saving that could end up costing more down the line – Norwegian charges £35 each way for luggage, but Edreams adds a sneaky surcharge of £13, bringing the price up to £48 each way.
Bravofly, part of the Lastminute Group, sells something it calls ‘Stress Free Web Check-in’ for around £3, depending on the cost of the flight. All this means is that it emails the boarding pass instead of customers checking in online themselves – for free.
Rory Boland, Which? Travel Editor said:
“Comparison sites are the best place to start your flight search but if you are offered a too-good-to-be-true deal, do a bit of research on the travel agent selling the ticket – a Google search might be enough to put you off.
“Even reputable companies have complaints, but if disappointed customers are consistently making the same complaint on online forums and social media, that should be considered a red flag.
“If you’re unsure, book direct with the airline or a well-established travel agent.”
Notes to Editors:
In April 2018, Which? checked prices from travel agents displayed on Skyscanner and Momondo for trips departing later this year. ‘Worthless Extras’ prices were also checked in April 2018.
Checknfly claimed it wasn’t at fault and that the price had increased by £160 while Kam was making her booking. ‘We were ready to bear half the loss and requested that Mrs
Hughes pay £79 in order to secure the flights,’ it said. ‘When she refused we processed the full refund back onto the card she paid from.’
Gotogate refunded the cost of booking a second flight and added compensation of just over £300. ‘We have many customers and, of course, make mistakes now and then,’ it told Which? Travel. ‘When that happens, we try to correct the mistake as soon as possible and compensate if necessary.’
The passenger had found Gotogate through Skyscanner. The price comparison site said that it does take responsibility for the behaviour of agents that it lists. ‘We log complaints, which then form part of the provider’s quality rating,’ it said, ‘and we will take action against providers who breach our strict thresholds, or have consistent patterns in negative feedback. ‘Our business is based on offering our customers the cheapest available airfare,’
Gotogate told us. ‘We then offer several add-on products so they can customise their trip.’
Edreams admitted that it does have a surcharge on luggage. It told us: ‘The prices we advertise via aggregators are always achievable but, of course, might increase depending on the additional services added to a booking.’
Bravofly defended its web check in service, claiming that it’s ‘a reasonable add-on for those who aren’t familiar with procedures of various airlines, don’t wish to navigate different websites, or have never booked a trip online before.’