Why you should *never* use airfare.com to book a flight - and my apologies for a deal that didn't pan out
So on Thursday evening I reported a deal to Buenos Aires, Argentina and Santiago, Chile - both were showing up on airfare.com for an incredible price of $530 roundtrip after tax.
Airfare.com is large enough to be linked to from Kayak.com's search results, which gave them credibility, or so I thought.
I was pretty excited about it, and even booked a flight for myself to Santiago. But on Saturday (2 days later!), I received a call from airfare.com to tell me that my booking was canceled, and my confirmed booking with Air Canada had also disappeared!
Here's my confirmed booking from airfare.com
Booking successful. Confirmation number issued. 'Your tickets have been issued electronically'. Payment successful. Sounds pretty solid right?
And here's the screenshot of what my flight booking at AirCanada.com looked like from Thursday to Saturday:
Along with my itinerary ...
So for nearly 3 days we were all lead to believe we would be heading to Chile, or Argentina, with a confirmed booking. That is, until receiving news from airfare.com that our booking had been cancelled. And when trying to look at the booking at aircanada.com I'm now greeted with this:
So what happened? Who's to blame?
Airfare.com is basically a consolidator that buys blocks of flights from airlines like Air Canada. In this case, it was a legitimate block of fares that were offered by Air Canada to Airfare.com to sell at a certain price. Whether or not they meant to offer them at such a price is not clear. But regardless, they did.
So Thursday rolls around, and everyone books their flights through airfare.com and we're all lead to believe we'll soon be sipping wine from Mendoza. But probably sometime around Friday morning, Air Canada realizes what's happening and pulls the plug on the fares.
So here comes the real crux of the problem. Sites like airfare.com aren't advanced enough to have your ticket issued immediately from the airline. They basically rely on doing everything manually, which in airfare.com's case appears to involve using carrier pigeons to relay your booking information to Air Canada.
By Friday morning, Air Canada's contention was that the fares at that price were no longer available, so airfare.com couldn't honor the bookings.
This sort of delay between when a site like airfare.com receives bookings and when they are actually ticketed from Air Canada is unacceptable in 2011. It's also what likely leads to so many terrible things about airfare.com being posted on the Internet. People think they have one thing booked, and the next day airfare.com isn't able to offer that same price. The world of airfares moves quickly these days.
The other reason people probably hate them is the impossible to understand offshore labor that they use. Being in the tech industry, I'm pretty used to thick accents from overseas, but the two interactions I had with airfare.com 'support' were excruciating. I couldn't even understand my own e-mail address being read out to me.
In fairness to airfare.com, Air Canada shares some of the blame here as well. If you ask them, they'll say that 'airfare.com canceled the booking' but what they really mean is 'we changed the price back on them so they couldn't honor the booking'.
In 2011, an airfare booking should be near instantaneous, either you have it or you don't. You shouldn't be receiving a call 2 days later to be told that your booking is invalid.
So, the moral of the story is, avoid consolidators like airfare.com whenever possible (in this case it wasn't, the fare wasn't available on AC's site) . The less parties you have between you and booking directly with the airline, the less chance there is of something being screwed up, whether it's your name on the ticket, or the fare changing price a day later.
I'm sorry to anyone out there who thought they had a ticket to South America, only to find out a few days later they didn't. If you want to make a difference, just tell your friends and neighbors to avoid airfare.com like the plague.
You can also report them to the Toronto chapter of the BBB, their official company name is actually:
Sky Link Travel Inc
1027 Yonge Street
Toronto, Ontario M4W 2K9
And the CEO is Joe Bous - you can e-mail him: joe -at- airfare.com (And yes, he does read his e-mail, he responded pretty quickly when I mentioned I would be letting everyone in Canada know what I thought of the way they do business).
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