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It can be tempting to use an Online Travel Agency (OTA) to book your flights. After all, you will receive your miles and status credit regardless. But you might pick up some cashback (+ the occasional bonus), or a Skycanner search might have found a much lower fare from some obscure OTA. But recently I had cause to rue ever having booked some British Airways flights with Expedia, one of the largest (and presumably better) Online Travel Agencies.
Several months ago, I booked a return ticket between Dubai and London in Premium Economy. However instead of booking directly with BA, I used an Online Travel Agency – Expedia – for reasons I’ve forgotten.
Approximately 12 days before my flight, I logged into my Executive Club account and noticed this…
And when I attempted to “Manage My Booking”, I saw this…
I double-checked my Junk folders to see whether I had received e-mail notification of this cancellation. I hadn’t…
Because I booked with Expedia, I knew that calling British Airways would be pointless. This is the first element that readers should be aware of:
Airlines will generally not touch tickets booked with an Online Travel Agency until they pass to “airport control” 24 hours before departure.
Before calling Expedia, I made sure to check out my alternatives and it appears that British Airways had another daytime flight that day, with full-fare W class availability for Premium Economy.
Simple enough, right? Errr… not quite… no matter how many agents or supervisors I talked to – some of whom put me on hold and pretended to “liaise with the airline” – none would do anything more than reply “we can’t find any alternative flights for you, would you like a refund?” A Flyertalk member put it quite nicely…
These OTAs often only earn a few pounds on large value tickets and are simply too scared to re-issue a ticket due to a lack of training or fear of an ADM (agency debit memo) landing on their desk for several hundred pounds for making an error.
Because British Airways wouldn’t do anything, including liaising on a three-way call with Expedia, I was left with two options:
- Wait until 24 hours pre-flight, when the ticket would fall under BA’s control (and presumably a responsibility to get me to London)
- Accept the full refund
I chose the refund…
What Should Have Happened?
British Airways provides a very useful “trade support” webpage to allow travel agents to understand BA’s varying policies on schedule changes, cancellations, etc.
Unfortunately, however, this information is close to useless if your travel agent refuses to read it or discuss your issue with British Airways.
Moreover, Expedia should have informed me immediately of the flight cancellation. They didn’t… Again, according to British Airways’ Trade Support guide…
We will notify you of cancellations via your GDS. ‘UN’ will identify the cancelled flight in the PNR. If the cancellation is within 48 hours of departure, we will not notify you in your GDS.
If we have informed you of flight cancellation at least 14 days before the scheduled date of departure, please notify passenger of the cancellation as quickly as possible and at least 14 days before the scheduled departure date of the cancelled flight.
Why does 14 days matter? Because the airline is not required to pay EU261 compensation for cancellations more than 14 days in advance. (as those who suffered through recent strike-related cancellations can attest) But for compensation purposes it doesn’t really matter whether notification occurs outside of that 14-day window, or if it even occurs at all!
The Bottom Line
Whenever you are tempted to book any flight with an Online Travel Agency, it is worth remembering the following…
If something… anything… goes wrong outside of 24 hours before departure – whether it be cancellation, schedule change, bad weather, etc. – you will come to regret not having booked direct with the airline! Changes that would require 5 minutes effort by an airline agent will take hours to fix via the OTA!
Lesson learnt for me – never book with an OTA unless absolutely necessary. How about you? Any horror stories of booking flights through an OTA?