|Risks in online booking|
There is probably no bigger truism than “if something looks too good to be true, it probably is”. For, there is a price for everything. And if there is a deal going that is cheaper than other comparable deals, there is, more likely than not, a catch somewhere. As there are deals, so are there takers for them. The thing is, if you are going into the deal, you should do so knowing what the catch is, what you are walking into. The recent phenomenon of travel and airline ticketing Web portals selling tickets for cheap and disclosing the name of the airline only after the payment has been made is a case in point.
The Web portals have been pushing the envelope of the acceptable in this case, but, at least technically, seem to be largely in the clear. Ishita Bose, a Kolkata-based lawyer, says: “It is clearly shown on these websites that unless you make the payment, the name of the airline and schedule will not be disclosed to you. Even after that, if one goes ahead for such a deal just because of the discount offered, I feel he is making an informed choice and the website cannot be blamed for further inconvenience. The risk will entirely be yours.”
Even then, there were takers for these tickets, primarily people who were paying out of their own pockets and were travelling for leisure. Take the case of Nikita Arora, a Mumbai-based event management professional. She was on cloud nine after booking a Delhi-Mumbai round trip ticket for Rs 7,400 in the first week of March under makeMytrip.com’s “Special Fare” scheme. The next cheapest rate available at that point of time for her intended flight date was a around Rs 11,000. That was a cool one-and-a-half times what she paid.
The initial euphoria, however, evaporated fast enough. Soon after she paid for her tickets, she realised she had bought seats on Kingfisher Airlines flights. The airline was in trouble and cancellations and delays in flights were the order of the day. “If I had known it was a Kingfisher flight, I would never have booked it because the airline was going through a rough patch and anytime flights could get cancelled,” says Arora. The catch was that these are non-refundable tickets and there was no guarantee either from the Web portal or the airline that the flights would not be cancelled. Arora’s flight on 23 March was delayed twice and finally took off at noon instead of 9:00 am in the morning.
Airfares have increased substantially over the last two years or so, to a great extent because of the increase in prices of aviation turbine fuel on the back of the rise in global oil prices. So, once-cheap airfares are not so any more. But time is short. With rising incomes, if one can afford to fly, one does so to save on time. What Arora did was take a chance. So have many others. And many of them have not had a glitch.
In fact, Kingfisher Airlines, for one, has been offering comparatively cheaper tickets ever since word about their troubles spread and passengers with tight schedules started avoiding it. Then, it went into this know-after-you-pay kind of arrangement. Says Arora, “I was grateful that it didn’t get cancelled though they rescheduled the flight twice. Since it was a personal trip, it was okay. But if it was an official one, the delay could have landed me in trouble.” She has sworn not to buy a flight ticket again without knowing which airline she will fly.
Meanwhile, Jet Airways lodged a complaint with the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) alleging that such special deals offered by Web portals are trying to push Kingfisher Airline tickets. In response, on 28 March 2012, DGCA issued a notice asking all airlines to immediately stop participating in any such schemes because it was in violation of the Aircraft Rules, 1937.
According to the rule, all airlines should publish flight tariffs on their website or in two daily newspapers and put it on display in their office premises. However, it is not clear how that would apply in times of flexible airfares. “DGCA has been constantly endeavoring to ensure absolute transparency in display of airfares by the airlines or agents and aiding the end user to make an informed choice,” said a spokesperson with the regulator. Soon after the DGCA notification, two portals, MakeMytrip.com and Yatra.com discontinued the scheme while goibibo.com continues to have it but states clearly on its website that Kingfisher Airlines tickets are not part of the deal.
Airlines and websites participating in such deals are likely playing by the word of the law. Still, if you have a complaint against an airline you can either inform DGCA (http://dgca.nic.in/) or email its complaints division at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are unhappy with a web portal, your recourse, if any is in the consumer court.Points to remember:
• The risk will be yours if you fall for lucrative deals with opaque conditions
• The lure of heavy discounts may land you in trouble, be on your guard
• Dubious deals by travel sites are out to cash in on unsuspecting flyers. Don't let your ignorance be your undoing. Be informed
• Do not rush for heavy discount deals just because it is tempting
• Do due diligence and read the fine print before buying one
• If you find anything abnormal, lodge a complaint with the DGCA