Online booking pitfalls: Ticket sales saga shows why you need to check the T&Cs

2017-11-17 13:30 - Kavitha Pillay
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Cape Town – There’s nothing like a good flights deal to get you amped for an adventure abroad.

In fact, flight specials are a major reason why many travellers choose to make local and international visits, considering that they usually cost a bulk of the overall holiday - keeping in mind that Black Friday will be happening next Friday, 24 November.

Coupled with the perfect accommodation package, tailor-made by a travel agent to suit your needs and you’re pretty much sorted for a fantastic getaway.

ALSO SEE: Stress-free travel planning: Tips for booking the best long-haul flight deal

But this was not the case for one of Traveller24’s readers who found himself in the midst of an unfortunate bookings situation that saw his holiday plans shattered. And there is a lesson to be learned for all potential travellers, looking to book tickets online. 

Khalil Kharwa booked an Emirates flight to Dubai with online travel bookings company BudgetAir, paying by credit card and receiving an SMS notification from his bank that the transaction had been completed.

but his elation to securing what he considered to a bargain deal quickly turned sour as he receiving an email notification message from the company saying that his request failed.

“During the booking process, the airline provided us incorrect seat availability for the price you selected; regrettably we were unsuccessful to rebook your seats,” says BudgetAir in its message to Kharwa.

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BudgetAir’s Customer Service also responded saying that they have cancelled his booking request and would be refunding his payment.

According to BudgetAir, the refunded payment would take “up to 5 working days” before it reflects in Kharwa’s account due to “processing time required by the banks and credit card companies”

Even though the bookings company apologised for the inconvenience caused, Kharwa expressed his disappointment to Traveller24, saying he does not believe there “was a seat issue”.

Booking through a third party

Kharwa contacted Emirates for an explanation on the incorrect seat availability and requested that his ticket be reinstated as he was “looking forward to” this trip. However, Emirates Customer Sales based in SA says that they cannot assist him with his query as his “contract is with BudgetAir”.

“Emirates cannot investigate an error that has occurred on a third party website. This needs to be checked with BudgetAir directly,” it advised via e-mail.

Emirates Customer Sales explains that it cannot answer for errors on a third party website and that in such instances, customers need to enquire with booking agents.

SEE: Online holiday-planning disruption: To book your own or not?

Kharwa also contacted the Association of Southern African Travel Agents (Asata) who referred him to the Board of Airline Representatives of South Africa (Barsa) for assistance.

However, Barsa says that although Emirates is a member of the airline body, it does “not get involved in complaints against any of our airline members”.

As a general rule to customers, Asata advises travellers to ensure peace of mind and always “Book via an Asata-accredited travel company.”

Fares subject to change at short notice

An Emirates spokesperson told Traveller24 that “Airlines offer various fare categories like flex, semi-flex, saver, super-saver etc. and they carry certain inventory levels. The availability of such fares may change at a short notice based on the booking frequency. Agents booking such fares do it in real time and therefore fares are not guaranteed until the tickets are issued.

“We do note that in this case when the booking request could not be completed as the requested fare was no longer available, the client was duly refunded.

“We make every effort to advise our customers if the reservations cannot be ticketed as expected. Hence it is very important for customers to ensure that they provide the most up-to-date contact details when making the booking through any channel. Also it is advisable that travellers call the airline directly after making a booking to reconfirm the itinerary."

Changes or cancellations - read the T&Cs

Every now and then we are all guilty of skipping through the fine print, and T’s and C’s when it comes to online purchases, but travellers are advised to always read the terms and conditions of flight bookings to avoid cancellations and disappointment.

Unlike purchases that are made at a store whereby the advertised price to the customer will remain, travellers are advised that when booking flights online, prices are subject to change based on each booking agency's and airlines’ terms and conditions.

SEE: New comparative bus and airline site launches for SA travellers

According to BudgetAir, sometimes tickets are offered on its site but it is not possible to issue the ticket for the indicated price or booking category because fares and booking categories shown on are posted on the site “via fully automated processes and these fares and booking categories are continuously subject to price changes”.

“If you do not receive a ticket and/or voucher or a booking confirmation within 48 hours after the booking then an employee of shall contact you by telephone or by email within three working days after the booking,” says the bookings agency, adding that an employee of BudgetAir “can discuss potential alternatives with you”.

SEE: Travel agent vs DYI: 3 Scenarios to consider

BudgetAir also says it “reserve the right to reject these bookings and to fully repay the advanced travel sum”.

“Bookings are basically guaranteed if the tickets and/or vouchers were issued and paid by on behalf of the travel supplier.

“ does reserve the right to renege on the issue of the tickets within two working days after receipt of the payment and the issue of the tickets at the fares or booking categories offered and sold by the same.”

This is because the indicated fares and booking categories are determined by the travel supplier – Emirates in this case - and are uploaded on the website of a third party.

“When uploading and posting these fares and booking categories incorrect fares and booking categories may be posted – due to, for instance, system errors – as a result of which tickets and/or vouchers are issued at an incorrect (such as a too low) fare or for an incorrect booking category”, explains BudgetAir.

In the end, Kharwa was not entitled to the flight ticket as the online bookings agency refunded his payment within two working days of the contract, as per their T&C's.

While booking directly with airlines might seem like a work around to pitfalls of online bookings, the airlines themselves have their own T&Cs regulating bookings -  and it appears that the don't count you chickens before your tickets have been issued moral of the story applies here. 

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