When Gurvinder Sandhu bought airline tickets for himself and his girlfriend, Veerpal Kaur Sidhu, for a trip from Toronto to Melbourne, Australia, via Houston and Auckland, New Zealand, it didn’t occur to him to ask about the paperwork they would need to travel.
If he had done so, they might have departed on the flights they booked instead of being grounded at the Toronto airport — and he wouldn’t have had to seek help in getting a refund.
Their case is a reminder: Always, always, always do your homework. Find out what documents you need to travel overseas and obtain them prior to your departure date. And that’s your responsibility — even when you book your trip through a travel agent.
Sandhu used the online travel site CheapOair, a division of Fareportal, to book the tickets on Air New Zealand. According to Sandhu, a CheapOair representative told them that the tickets were refundable and that they would have to pay a small penalty if they canceled and rebooked their flights. Says Sandhu: “I was never told how much the penalty would be.”
Something else Sandhu claims that he and Sidhu were never told was that to make their connection at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston for the Houston-to-Auckland leg of their trip, they would need transit visas to enter the U.S. They found this out the hard way at the Toronto airport, when they were not permitted to board their flight from Toronto to Houston.
Sandhu and Sidhu contacted CheapOair two hours prior to the flight departure from the Air New Zealand ticket counter. CheapOair’s agent agreed to cancel the tickets for the outbound journey and advised them that they could rebook or change the flight at any time for a small fee.
But when they asked CheapOair to rebook themselves on a direct flight from Toronto to Australia, CheapOair quoted cancellation fees of $1,200 per ticket. Its representative told Sandhu and Sidhu that the penalty fees for canceling this type of airfare are “enormous” because “the airlines want to recoup their lost revenue.”
We have accepted our responsibility for the cancellation, but think $1,200 per ticket for tickets worth $1,486 is excessive. We have lost a fair amount of money because we had to buy the last minute direct flight to Melbourne. We ended up paying $3,200 for the new tickets and lost another $500 due to changed hotel bookings, domestic flights to Perth and other bookings for the various activities that were planned. The least we can ask for and expect is $1,486 tickets that we didn’t use and are still waiting to be refunded.
They might have escalated their complaint to executives of CheapOair and Fareportal using our executive contacts for Fareportal, but Sandhu contacted our advocacy team for assistance in getting full refunds for their tickets.
Unfortunately for Sandhu and Sidhu, CheapOair’s terms and conditions disclaim legal responsibility for travelers’ failure to have available the documents required to enter other countries, including those through which they are passing to catch connecting flights:
VISA AND ENTRY REQUIREMENTS
All customers are advised to verify travel documents (transit visa/entry visa) for the country through which they are transiting and/or entering. Reliable information regarding international travel can be found at www.travel.state.gov, and also with the consulate/embassy of the country(s) you are visiting or transiting through. CheapOair will not be responsible if proper travel documents are not available and you are denied entry or transit into a Country.
Your transaction with CheapOair does not guarantee entrance to the country of destination. Traveler understands that CheapOair accepts no responsibility for determining passenger’s eligibility to enter or transit through any specific country. Information, if any, given by CheapOair’s employees must be verified with government authorities. Such information does not imply responsibility on CheapOair’s behalf.
When our advocates reached out to CheapOair on behalf of Sandhu and Sidhu, we received the following response:
In order to submit a claim to the airline, the passenger must present a letter from the Embassy showing that they applied for a visa and were denied. Since the passenger noted they were unaware of this step, I’m assuming they don’t have this document.
When making an online reservation it is advised in our Terms and Conditions that the passenger is responsible to obtain any travel documents needed. … The U.S. requires citizens of many countries to have a transit visa and unfortunately it is the responsibility of the passenger to ensure they meet U.S. government requirements when traveling to/through the U.S.
The agent handling the case has tried to reach the passenger multiple times to let them know that the airline would not accept their claim for a refund but was unable to reach anyone.
We also inquired whether the $1,200 cancellation fees CheapOair had quoted were change fees or fare differences between Sandhu and Sidhu’s original tickets and their replacement tickets. We were told:
The $1,200 quoted to change the ticket could have been a combination of fees and the fare difference. It’s hard to say for sure because they ended up not going with that option so the exact breakdown isn’t noted in our system.
Since they made a completely new reservation on the day of their flight, the original [tickets are] still valid and can be applied towards another trip (subject to change fees per the airline fare rules) up to one year from the date of booking.
Sandhu and Sidhu may still be able to apply their original airfares to future flights. We hope that if they do so, they remember to acquire all the necessary travel documents prior to their flights. Meanwhile, our advocates are sending this in our “Case Dismissed” file.