No Ticket. No Support. No Fun.


There is scant documentation that the ticket is invalid for travel; only because I knew Saudia could pull up the full details could I find out for sure.

It was either a very, very nice sale or a mistake fare. Either way I’m not all that surprised that the airline did not want to honor the ticket I was issued. Even sold by a US-based OTA the DoT regulations probably do not apply either. And so my very cheap business class trip from Asia to Canada is not to be. I’m mildly annoyed about that, but also accept that this is what happens with these fares. That said, I’m very, very frustrated with the way the cancellation was handled, both by the airline and the OTA.

There is scant documentation that the ticket is invalid for travel; only because I knew Saudia could pull up the full details could I find out for sure.
There is scant documentation that the ticket is invalid for travel; only because I knew Saudia could pull up the full details could I find out for sure.
For starters, no indication or notification that the ticket was suspended. I only found out when I logged on 5 days later to check flight times to book the connecting segments I’d need to finish out the trip. Even worse, some two weeks later after it was clear that the ticket would not be reinstated I received another confirmation email from the airline stating that the ticket was confirmed. I think they’re trolling me.

Separate from that was the pain in communicating with either party. The OTA could answer the phone quickly – I never waited more than a minute for the initial rep to pick up – but that agent inevitably was unable to do anything with the reservation. I was stuck waiting for a supervisor for more than an hour on average over the handful of calls I made. More than once I sat down for a meal with the call on hold, able to finish a leisurely dinner without an agent coming on to the line. And, even as I would eventually reach the correct supervisor, I found that the call would magically disconnect. Sometimes they’d call back. Sometimes not. And no way to know which it would be until it happened.

There were the claims that the ticket was never issued, despite the fact that the ticket number was clearly in the reservation record. There were other, similar misstatements of fact. It was a customer service nightmare and no one seemed to care.

The airline was a similar mess, though in other ways. Again, calls were answered quickly but for some reason the call center in Bahrain was assigned my case. Other offices (with toll free or cheap phone call service) refused to touch the reservation. And so I’d sit on Skype listening to agents spout off a variety of excuses, including that I did not have the proper visa (Visa on Arrival is readily available for my layover; no visa required at the origin nor destination), that I had a duplicate reservation (one paid/confirmed, one just held) so they canceled both and, eventually, that it was a fare error made by the OTA or by the airline but that it was not going to be honored, even after agents assured me that cancelling was a mistake and that the trip would be reinstated.

Perhaps worst of all was the smug replies from the OTA, informing me that it would be willing to refund my fare paid without any fees, as if that was doing me some sort of favor. No effort to challenge the airline on the suspect claims of an “error” in the fare. No answers as to why I was not notified. No real help at all.

After a few tweets over the course of the effort, increasingly frustrated with long hold times, dropped calls and the inevitable “it must not be our fault” comments from agents I eventually heard back from someone who possibly could actually help, not the actual company twitter account (that reply finally came another 2 hours later, more than a week after I first reached out) but the personal account of the Director of Communications. Maybe I was finally making progress. Nope. The reply was reasonably timely, I suppose – only 3.5 hours from when I sent my trip details to the email response – but absolutely no help offered in terms of getting the trip fixed, short of me buying a new ticket.

So, why use an OTA? After all, they always cause problems, right? That is actually not my experience. OTAs can offer mixed carrier itineraries or access to other fares which airlines do not sell directly. And, strangely enough, sometimes dealing with the OTA is easier than dealing with the airline, particularly on smaller carriers. If nothing else, at least I wasn’t paying 25 cents/minute to call the carrier for hours at a time, though my Skype balance did take a hit. And it is not like the airline was willing to deal with the situation directly, either.

So, at the end of all that, what’s the verdict here? Mostly that customer service does matter. And I had a lot of shitty customer service in the past couple weeks. But not enough to say “never again” to the vendors involved. I know better. 

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

6 Comments

  1. It sounds like the central problem is lack of an escalation process, or perhaps the need to consolidate and track your case via the many avenues you attempted. That is, when you try support avenue #3, the agent should see what happened after you tried techniques #1 & #2. But that’s pretty tricky when an OTA and an airline have their own separate support mechanisms.

  2. Is there a reason you’re withholding the name of the airline and OTA involved? There’s no deal left to protect, and it’s not useful to read about customer service shortcomings if we don’t know who was involved. Basically, without names, this is just a random story of vague actors failing to provide customer service.

    I’m not sure about others, but your blog is valuable to me (and I appreciate your effort in making it that way) because it provides data points that I can take into consideration when making travel decisions. With no data here, we may as well be talking about an experience with a sale at store in the mall, making this of little value.

    1. Adding that I just noticed you said “Saudia” in the description of the e-ticket photo, which I missed the first time around – but even knowing that still doesn’t really help.

  3. The benefit to most of the readers is knowing who you were dealing with. That is the information that benefits the reader, and always makes me feel better. For example I had a similar experience with Orbitz years ago on a fare to NZ, which they turned out not honoring. I had also purchased trip insurance through the site. They refunded the price of the ticket promptly enough, but told me the insurance wasn’t refundable and I begged to differ with them. Finally after several hours on the phone I got it resolved,but won’t use them to this day.
    The adage in Customer Service is that the customer shares a good experience with an average of two people, with a bad experience they share it with an average of eight, I try to beat the average

  4. I have had similar problems with that OTA. On a recent LH DFW-FRA flight I had a ticketing issue. I called Expedia from the airport ticket counter only to be told that LH does not work on Saturdays and I need to call back on a Monday. Never mind that my flight was leaving in 2 hours time. Expedia and Priceline, have the world’s worse customer service. I’d rather call the IRS than these guys, seriously. IRS agents are generally professional, speak good English and are clear on what they can and cannot do.

    Just for fun a quick glance at my conversation with the Expedia rep:

    Me: The airline told me my flight coupons are out of sequence. Can you help me?
    XP: You want to apply a coupon to the reservation?
    Me: The airline told me my flight coupons are out of sequence. Can you help me?
    XP: How much is the value of the coupon?
    Me: Can you please look at my reserveration? PNR is XXXXX
    XP: Let me consult my resources…3 mins later. What coupon do you want to apply?
    Me: Never mind. Can I get a refund on my service fee you charged?
    XP: You want to refund your ticket?
    Me: Thank you and have great day.

    OTAs are a necessary evil, but boy if somebody would start an OTA with halfway decent service, Priceline, expedia and the like would go under in no time

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