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Monday, November 30th 2020

"I'm a travel junkie who's hooked on deals from YVR." - Chris Myden

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
Tel: 416-922-7000
Fax: 416-413-9270

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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14 Responses to "Why you should *never* use airfare.com to book a flight - and my apologies for a deal that didn't pan out"

    Has Jason been here?
       Jason on February 28th, 2011

    So which sites are good and which are bad? You have mentioned airfare.com is slow to have the flight ticketed. What other sites are like this that should be avoided?

    Has Mike been here?
       Mike on February 28th, 2011

    I booked one of those flights - I'm just very thankful that I didn't go ahead and pay for a vacation rental, internal flights, etc.

    Has Chris_Myden been here?
       Chris_Myden on February 28th, 2011

    Jason: In general, I stick to the following sites:

    - the airline's own site (delta.com, aircanada.com, etc)

    - orbitz, expedia, travelocity - when you book on one of these sites, it's virtually the same as booking directly with the airline and your ticket is processed quickly.

    In terms of airfare on a major carrier, if a deal is to be had, 99% of the time it will be available on these sites anyways, so it's not usually an issue.

    In terms of charter flights, you sometimes need to use a Canadian based site, like ITravel2000, RedTag, etc. And they're usually pretty accurate *after* you click on 'verify price'. But avoid them for flights on major carriers.

    Anyone else, I would usually avoid, or find it unnecessary because a better option is available. But in this case airfare.com was offering a consolidated fare from AirCanada that wasn't available anywhere else.

    Has Citi been here?
       Citi on February 28th, 2011

    I really appreciate this. Use the web power to share good news (deals :)) and also share bad news - so they know they are not just losing several customers, but many others who read this and spread this.

    Has st been here?
       st on February 28th, 2011

    Hell ya! Id like to see them get what they deserve... and I think this site generates enough traffic for that to happen. Good job, sorry about your flights though!

    Has 148jules been here?
       148jules on February 28th, 2011

    AC should have honoured the fares! I doubt that AC would have lost too much money from however many fares were bought at that amazing price.

    Has anne been here?
       anne on February 28th, 2011

    So had money already been charged to creidit cards? If so is it ppossible to get it back?

    Has djb been here?
       djb on February 28th, 2011

    Another thing to consider is mistakes that happen during the manual ticketing process, like errors on names. So if the price is the same, I try and book directly with the airline.

    Has Summer been here?
       Summer on February 28th, 2011

    I've always been weary of those types of companies... I even decided to book a flight for $100 extra off the airline's own site instead off of a company off orbitz because I was scared something would happen, I wish there was some sort of blacklist/whitelist... maybe you should start one! =]

    Has Chris Myden been here?
       Chris Myden on February 28th, 2011

    Anne: Yes, all money was refunded. Believe me, it would be a different sort of rage if they hadn't :)

    Everyone who booked was contacted by airfare.com and told that although our booking was cancelled, we could simply buy a new ticket, at 3X the price!

    Has Jill been here?
       Jill on March 2nd, 2011

    As a major fan of travel I'm excited to know someone is keeping a close eye out for deals out of YVR! Way to go Chris! I saw your post about the cheap fares to Buenos Aires and shared the info with some colleagues who considered buying a ticket to do a mileage run! Thankfully no one booked. I am appalled at the outcome. How can Air Canada do that to customers who have paid in full. Especially when customers can't contact the airline and cancel a booked trip and get a full refund!!! I would be lodging major complaints with the airline if I was you. And what about about anyone who may have booked hotels, excursions etc in Argentina that were non-refundable?? Air Canada needs some kind of serious overhaul, because they seem to stumble from one screw-up to the next.

    Has Chris_Myden been here?
       Chris_Myden on March 2nd, 2011

    I agree Jill, to me the issue is still unresolved. The consolidator (airfare.com) blames Air Canada, and Air Canada blames the consolidator. But it's the consumer that's affected, and it shouldn't be allowed to happen.

    I've sent an e-mail to the four executives at Air Canada that might be able to offer a response:


    Lise Fournel
    Senior Vice President - E-Commerce ?

    Susan Welscheid
    Senior Vice President, Customer Service

    Craig Landry
    Vice President, Marketing

    Claude Morin
    Vice President, Global Sales

    I have yet to hear back, but apparently AC execs are usually pretty decent about following up on issues like this.

    Has Fiona been here?
       Fiona on March 2nd, 2011

    That's crazy behavior from both airfare.com and Air Canada, sneaky sneaky!

    Well done for bringing it to light Chris and kudos for the name-and-shame of execs involved, some serious compensation is needed for disappointed would-be travelers .

    Thanks for all the great deals you post up, we've just moved over from Ireland and getting back home looks pretty expensive so I'll be keeping an eye on your tweets in the next few months!

    Has Lorena been here?
       Lorena on March 22nd, 2011

    I worked as a travel agent for many years. For what I see the blame is on airfares.com. If I came across a good deal I made sure to ticket the fare ASAP, otherwise it could change within minutes. What happened with airfare.com is that they did hold the seats for you, but when they were ready to ticket it (2 days later) the price had changed. Once the price has changed there is nothing a consolidator nor a travel agent can do to change that. It is unfortunate that Skylink's wesite (airfare.com) doesn't have a live booking agent and bookings have to be confirmed manually. For future reference, if you do choose to book through airfare.com again (because they happen to have another amazing deal) I would give them a call as soon as you make the reservation and have them ticket it right away.

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