Booking a flight online

Despite the existence of a clear legal framework, online flight bookings are often combined with obstacles and financial traps.


Today, journeys start in front of a computer. Arrival, accommodation, tickets - nothing that cannot be booked at home. Especially when it comes to flights, the Internet seems to be full of bargains that seem to good to be true.


Flood of complaints


Opposed to these bargains stands a flood of complaints regarding air travel: The ECC-Net counted 5.960 in 2013 alone. A practical test of online search platforms reaffirms this negative impression, even though strong legal regulations exist on what has to be displayed at online bookings in order to avoid misunderstandings and unwanted extras.  


Watch out for contact details...


Consumers often don't really know with whom they are actually concluding a contract. They start their search at a price comparison website, get forwarded several times, e.g. to an online travel agency or directly to the airline. Who is their contract partner then? Regarding the carriage, which means the flight, it is the airline.


...and contract partners.


If they book the flight and the accommodation at the same time, they conclude contracts with the airline and the hotel. This is important when it comes to complaints: You can save time if you don't go the long way over a service platform - they are often just consuming nerves and phone fees! During the booking process, watch out for contact details and later directly address the right contract partner.


Check before the final click


Airlines often demand that claims and corrections are handled by the online travel agency which booked the flight. But, as we often hear from frustrated consumers, they are wether not reacting or not helping. If you book directly at the airline, you may save service fees which are often charged by online platforms. Consumers are also confused about when the contract is concluded.


That is, when the airline or the travel agency confirms the booking (in most cases via mail). But: You as a consumer are bound to the booking as soon as you enter your personal data and click on "book with costs" - and not after entering your credit card number! Due to this mistake, it happens that consumers book twice. Caution: Typing errors while entering personal data often lead to rebooking fees.


Look out for preselected extras!


One of the most common claims concern facultative costs which mean fees and expenses that are not applying for every consumers, like for baggage, excess baggage or travel insurances. According to an EU regulation, consumers must be enabled to select these extra expenses by clicking on them ("opt-in").


As a European-wide check has shown, many booking platforms don't comply to this EU regulation: The services are preselected and need to be clicked away by the consumer ("opt-out"). This is against the law and often confuses consumers about the costs of their flight as they are not aware of booking extras.


All costs and expenses which cannot be avoided need to be displayed at the very beginning of the booking process. When it comes to creditcard and service fees, this is not done properly in many cases.


Beware of permanent insurances


Another problem may offered travel insurances become: Some of them are only for a singular journey, but others apply for a whole year or longer. Many consumers have wondered as the price got debited from their bank account a second time. If you mistakenly registered for a permanent insurance but recognize your mistake in time, you can withdraw from the contract.


Cash, immediately!


Offered payment options are another source of problems. According to the law, every provider needs to offer a payment option without fees. Some of them do this with offering a rare system like "Entropay" by or their own credit card like Common payment options like Visa or MasterCard are combined with fees. An example: Consumers booked a cheap flight to Paris at Checkfelix/Opodo, but were charged 12 Euro per person (48 Euro in total!) for paying with their credit card.


Even immediate payments are sometimes charged with heavy fees. Another strategy is extremly short payment periods, like at Elumbus, where the price gets higher if you don't pay at the same time.


Online booking takes time


To book online may be cheap, but it takes a lot of time, as consumers tell us. They often need to search for the right flight at the right time at several online platforms, where they need to enter their personal data again and again and again, and then they have to wait, wait, wait... And the hours fly away. This can take a lot more time then booking at an actual travel agency.


EU-wide review of travel websites


As a reaction to the flood of complaints of European consumers, consumer agencies targeted the websites 2013. 552 websites were checked, nearly 70 per cent didn't apply to European consumer policy. In Austria, nine providers were controlled, six of them were inadequate.


The most common claims were about a lack of information regarding the services provider - for example, no contact details (especially mail addresses) - or uncertain details about complaint procedures. Or facultative costs were only provided with an opt-out option.


About 20 per cent of the checked websites had incomplete price declarations which didn't state all unavoidable costs. The good news: Most of the faulty providers have in the meantime settled their faults, the others are currently working on these changes.


What to watch out for when booking online:

  • Service fees: Compare offers via different online platforms and also check them directly at the website of the airline. This may spare you a lot of money.
  • Contractual partner: With whom do you conclude the contract? Find name, address and contact details. Even if you book with the help of an intermediate trader, you should have all contact details of the hotel and the airline in case of claims.
  • Facultative costs: Pay attention to the final price. Additional to the cheap flight, airport taxes or other fees for baggage, seat reservation or insurance may occur.
  • Cancellation: The cancellation of a booked flight is - if possible - in most cases associated with costs. Read the cancellation information carefully!
  • Service packages: Observe the details of such packages carefully! "In case of cancellation, no processing fee will be charged by us" doesn't mean cancellation cover!
  • Insurance offers: Don't simply agree! Content and extent need to be checked in detail. Many consumers already have an insurance they're not aware about (like via the European Health Insurance Card, Credit Card,...).


Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version