Maybe I won’t be home for Christmas

Question: We are supposed to fly to Australia for Christmas to be with my wife’s parents, but we’re not sure if we’ll be able to make it. I hope you can help us.

Last summer, we booked our domestic flights from Melbourne to Cairns on Jetstar Airways through We received a confirmation from CheapOair and my wife even spent 40 minutes on the phone with their billing department, to make sure the transaction went through. She also phoned CheapOair two days later to verify the transaction and received assurances all was clear.
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A one-year wait for an Air One refund

Question: I’ve been having trouble getting a refund from a flight that was canceled. I bought a ticket through CheapOair for a nonstop flight from Chicago to Milan for $670. A few months later, I got an email from them that the flight had been canceled.

They offered a substitute flight that was in no way comparable, so I called them and requested a refund. They said I had to take it up with the airline, which was Air One out of Italy, so I called them and they said no, that I must request the refund through CheapOair.

I then spent about an hour on the phone with CheapOair, explaining my situation over and over again with different agents that I was transferred to. Finally I spoke with someone who confidently said, yes, it would be no problem for me to get a refund, but that it might take up to 12 weeks.

More than three months later, I still hadn’t received my money, so I called the CheapOair agent I had spoken to before and no one seemed to know who she was. I spent another hour being transferred from person to person at CheapOair and the consensus with them was, “What refund? You need to request that through the airline.”

So I spoke with someone at Air One again and they very firmly repeated what they had said before — that they would definitely provide a refund but that the proper channel was through CheapOair. Many phone calls and many hours later I still had gotten nowhere with CheapOair.

It’s now been almost a year since I first asked for a refund. Help! — Dani Lind, Soldiers Grove, Wis.

Answer: CheapOair should have helped you get a quick refund from Air One. As your travel agent, CheapOair should have advocated for you, rather than sending you directly to the airline for help.
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सहयोग गर्नुस्! Stranded in Kathmandu after my online agent canceled my ticket

Jack Vanesko thought the instructions to the online agents at CheapOair were clear: They were supposed to cancel his traveling companion’s flight from New Delhi to Lhasa. Instead, they canceled both tickets.

“When I became aware that this had happened, I made daily e-mail and phone requests to have them reinstate the flights,” he says. “I was assured repeatedly that this had been done, and this was being handled by the concern team. It was, in fact, never done.”

Needless to say, Vanesko’s trip was a nightmare, and he missed the Tibet tour. (I’ll get to the unpleasant details in a moment.) Question is, does CheapOair owe him anything for having screwed up is reservation — and if so, what?
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“We feel pressured to refund the ticket costs”

When a company does one of its customers wrong, the last person to feel bad for it is usually me. But this CheapOair case has left me deeply conflicted. It involves William Bensinger’s flight from Seattle to Antalya, Turkey — a flight that didn’t happen for reasons beyond his control. And beyond the control of his online travel agency.

The biggest problem started when Delta 232 had an eight-hour mechanical delay in Seattle.

I called CheapOair to ask what to do since we would miss out flight in Amsterdam on SunExpress 103 to Antalya. Since the ticket was issued by Turkish Airlines, CheapOair agents assured me that when I arrived in Amsterdam, Turkish Air would rebook me on one of their flights.

This information was totally incorrect.

In fact, he says, Turkish Air wouldn’t rebook him and he ended up spending the night in Amsterdam and paying another $505 for two one-way tickets to Turkey.
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“CheapoAir made my mother cry”

tallinAnd they were not tears of joy at having found a bargain. Elizabeth Hutton’s mother, Mary Ellyn, bought a round trip ticket from Cincinnati to Tallinn, Estonia, with stopovers in Newark and Stockholm. But something was wrong with the reservation, and she had to pay for another flight.

Does that sound familiar?

Despite repeated attempts to contact the online travel agency, CheapoAir wouldn’t help.

“They ripped my mother off,” her daughter wrote to me. “They refuse to reimburse her. And what’s worse, CheapoAir made my mother cry.”
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CheapOair’s Roy: “We do face a challenge when users ask us for refunds”

roy2Sneharthi Roy is the senior vice president of operations for CheapOair, a Web site that sells discounted airline tickets and hotel rooms. I asked him about the low travel prices we’ve seen lately and some of the possible pitfalls of buying travel in a buyer’s market.

In American vernacular, the word “cheapo” can be used to describe someone who is frugal and knows how to save money — which is usually thought of as a good thing — but more often than that, someone who is a miser. When you decided on the name CheapOair, what were you trying to convey?

When deciding on a name we wanted to convey value, savings and pricing to the users as well as have a catchy name which the user could remember, there were also not too many domain names available which would convey such a message. We also wanted it to be a bit on the humorous side, since travel should always be a bit of fun.
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Your airline ticket’s no good here

Aviacsa AirlinesQuestion: I need your help getting my money back for a plane ticket I had to pay for twice.

Here’s my story: I bought tickets online through from Philadelphia to Tapachula, Mexico. When we arrived in Mexico City, Aviacsa Airlines representatives told us that Cheapoair hadn’t paid for the last leg of our trip. So I had to buy new tickets. Two members of our group also had to pay again.
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Online travel agencies: bad, and getting worse

There’s bad news for anyone who is considering booking a trip online: the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index from the University of Michigan finds customer satisfaction has fallen to an all-time low. The online travel industry’s aggregate scored slipped from 76 to 75 last year, a drop of 1.3 percent. It’s the lowest reading since the ACSI began tracking online travel agencies in 2002.

Here’s how the major online agencies did:

Expedia (75) – 3.8 percent
Orbitz (73) -2.7 percent
Travelocity (73) -1.4 percent

(Only Priceline is on the rise, posting an increase of one point, or 1.4 percent, to 73. That’s up 10.6 percent from 2002.)

It’s interesting to compare these numbers to the Transportation Department’s annual complaint data. (Normally, people don’t know to gripe about bad service received from an online agency, so the fact that these numbers even exist must say something about the state of online travel.)

1. Orbitz (45)
2. Travelocity (35)
3. Expedia (30)
4. Cheaptickets (22)
5. Cheapoair/Priceline (tie) (16)

Why is customer satisfaction on the skids? The survey offers a few theories.

Online travel is an industry in flux. The “big three” online travel aggregator sites – Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity – once had a competitive edge on all fronts. They offered the convenience of booking air, hotel and car from one site with search capabilities and comparative information not offered elsewhere. And, they were offer able to offer discounted pricing not available directly from travel supplier sites. But this is no longer the case.

At the same time, customers are holding online agencies responsible for bad travel experiences, even when they aren’t directly to blame.

Fulfillment is out of the control of these companies. They may sell a ticket and provide excellent service, but if a change needs to be made or there is a problem with the schedule, they may bear the brunt of consumers’ ire, instead of or in addition to the airlines, hotels, or car rental companies involved. These aggregators are trying to innovate with traveler updates, travel support, and unique features like Travelocity’s Road Trip Wizard, but it may not be enough to stave off eventual marginalization.

Marginalization. That’s another way of saying one of these online agencies will go “buh-bye.”

A closer look at the best and worst airlines of 2007

Here’s an important footnote to the airline industry’s year from hell. A closer look at the Transportation Department’s 2007 report card shows some carriers were likelier to lose your luggage, deny you boarding, get you to your destination late and provoke a written complaint. And some airlines were above it all.

Here’s a birds-eye view of the DOT’s report, by category. I’ve broken it down into in an easy-to-understand blog posting so that you can sort the winners from the sinners and make a more informed booking decision.

Which airline is likeliest to lose my luggage?

No surprises here. The Hawaiian carriers outperformed everyone else. Low fare carriers did better than legacy airlines. And regional carriers continued their underperforming streak.

Mishandled baggage (reports per 1,000 passengers)


1. Hawaiian Airlines (3.41)
2. Aloha Airlines (3.88)
3. AirTran Airways (4.06)
4. Northwest Airlines (5.01)
5. JetBlue Airways (5.23)


1. American Eagle (13.55)
2. Comair (11.40)
3. Atlantic Southeast (11.24)
4. Skywest (10.87)
5. Mesa Airlines (10.46)

The industry average for mishandled baggage was 7.03, compared with 6.73 in 2006. Two years ago, the top performer was Hawaiian (3.14) and the airline with the worst record was Atlantic Southeast (17.37).

Which airline will oversell its flight and bump me?

Among the best performers, there were no surprises except one: United Airlines. Legacy carriers routinely overbook their flights and then deny passengers boarding. But United seems to have gotten its act together. Delta, on the other hand, does not. It joined the bottom-feeding regional carriers.

Involuntary denied boardings per 10,000 passengers.


1. JetBlue Airways (.02)
2. AirTran Airways (.15)
3. Hawaiian Airlines (.17)
4. Aloha (.29)
5. United (.71)


1. Atlantic Southeast (4.50)
2. Comair (3.15)
3. Delta Air Lines (2.47)
4. Skywest (1.69)
5. Mesa Airlines (1.54)

The industry average last year was 1.12 involuntary denied boardings per 10,000 passengers, compared with 1 in 2006. JetBlue was the best performer in 2006, with .07 involuntary denied boardings, and Atlantic Southeast lost in the category, with 4.47 IDBs per 10k passengers.

Which airline am I most likely to complain about?

The legacy airlines were clear winners – I mean, losers – in the complaints category. If you were flying internationally, British Airways led by a wide margin.


1. US Airways (1,828)
2. American Airlines (1,617)
3. United Airlines (1,540)
4. Delta Air Lines (1,325)
5. Northwest Airlines (768)


1. British Airways (285)
2. Alitalia (173)
3. Air France (152)
4. Lufthansa (84)
5. Iberia (72)

Which online agencies am I most likely to complain about?

This is a relatively new category for the DOT report card. I would expect next year’s numbers to be higher, now that passengers are aware they can gripe about their online travel agency, too.

1. Orbitz (45)
2. Travelocity (35)
3. Expedia (30)
4. Cheaptickets (22)
5. Cheapoair/Priceline (tie) (16)

Which airline runs on time?

Again, the Hawaiian carriers and low-fare airlines dominated, with a surprise appearance by Delta. Rounding out the bottom are two legacy carriers and the usual suspects — regional carriers.

Overall percentage of reported flight operations arriving on time


1. Hawaiian (93.3)
2. Aloha (92.2)
3. Southwest (80.1)
4. Frontier (77.6)
5. Delta (76.9)


1. Atlantic Southeast (64.7)
2. Comair (67.9)
3. US Airways (68.7)
4. American (68.7)
5. American Eagle (69.1)

The industry average for 2007 was 73.4 percent, well below the historical average (over the last 20 years) of 78.3 percent.

What to make of these numbers?

If you want a quality flying experience in the lower 48, go for a low-fare carrier. If you’re into pain, try a legacy carrier or better yet, a regional airline.