OTA Hijinks: A fare too good to be true


It was a deal too good to be true. I was searching for a way to both affordably and comfortably get between New York City and Belgium on short notice and one outlier showed up on SkyScanner, a one-way nonstop fare home that appeared far too low. I was skeptical but I clicked through and sure enough the price was legit. Except not really.

The price is far too low, but I was looking for a deal
The price is far too low, but I was looking for a deal

That the fare was unreasonably low was the first red flag on this purchase. Second was that the OTA explicitly warned me that US DoT protections would not apply to the purchase, despite traveling to the US on a US carrier, albeit with an EU airline flight number. I was offered the option to pay $10 extra for those protections (mostly the ability to fully refund within 24 hours, which I wasn’t going to use) which was sketchy but, again, I’m on a budget and the price was right. And so I bought the ticket.

My booking confirmation shows only the one-way trip; the return is completely hidden.
My booking confirmation shows only the one-way trip; the return is completely hidden.

It is a Delta flight, albeit carrying an Air France flight number. But for seat assignments and such Delta handles the details so I logged in to my SkyMiles account and imported the reservation. And that’s when I finally figured out the scam. I had been sold a round trip ticket despite requesting a one way trip. The OTA performed the search as a round trip itinerary and hid the return half from me at every step of the process. Every confirmation, receipt, search result and flight details page showed only the one segment. But the Delta site clearly showed all three (the return has a connection).

What the booking looks like on Delta's site, showing the full itinerary.
What the booking looks like on Delta’s site, showing the full itinerary.

Fortunately I knew that there were the extra segments on the PNR because when I got to the gate in Brussels airport I was subjected to the “security” questions, one of which was, “So, you have a return trip booked as well. Do you live here?” I can imagine an unwitting consumer who scored a cheap one-way being all sorts of confused by that line of inquiry, believing that they had only the one segment. That’s all sorts of bad.

Oh, and when I bought up to Delta’s Comfort Plus (not worth it to me this trip other than for the power outlet which I might have secured in a regular seat but it was critical so I paid for it) the transaction was charged in rubles.

Got rubles? Because that's how I ended up paying for my seat upgrade on this bizarre ticket.
Got rubles? Because that’s how I ended up paying for my seat upgrade on this bizarre ticket.

And, yes, I considered booking the return as a proper round-trip and getting an extra flight back to Europe; I do that all the time (in the middle of one right now, actually). But this was a work trip being expensed to a vendor so making it into a personal junket is not something I am keen to do. Turns out the OTA didn’t care at all, breaking the rules and taking its cut. And it is not just via SkyScanner that it shows up this way. Performing a one-way search directly on the site returns the low fares of a return trip with no disclosure to the customer that it is a violation of the airline contract of carriage to fly the itinerary that way.

Searching directly on the site offers plenty of absurdly cheap one-way trips, hiding the fact that they are actually return journeys.
Searching directly on the site offers plenty of absurdly cheap one-way trips, hiding the fact that they are actually return journeys.

I guess the good news is I now have a one-way trip to Europe I can try to use, though I’ll need to change the dates and it is unclear if the change fee is worth it for that.

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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, LinkedIn and .

17 Comments

    1. Why would they receive a debit memo? Pax was a no-show for the return… travel agent can’t control that. Though, if airline knew they were selling it this way it might be an issue, but it’d probably be a breach of contract issue rather than debit memo

      1. An OTA selling tickets to purposefully contravene fare rules is almost certainly liable to receive a debit memo. It isn’t just that the passenger no-showed; it is that the ticket was sold without telling the passenger what they actually bought.

        1. Yeah, I guess so. Seems interesting that it was pricing the extras in rubles – maybe an indicator they’re not the ones actually issuing this – and therefore not the ones being DMed?

          1. Ahh, two types of DMs – one for “mistakes/omissions”, one for “breach”. Guess airlines have it somewhat easier than others when it comes to enforcing their contracts/agreements 😉

    1. haha sorry, missed the link. Kiwi.com were formally Skypicker – their model is basically multi-ticket bookings, and they’re not always very clear about that either. I saw one ticket that would’ve ended up being AKL-SYD & SYD-DXB-LHR, it had an 8-9 hour layover in SYD. Didn’t tell you very clearly it was a sep ticket, so not sure what would’ve happened if someone who needed a visa to enter AU took that flight with say, checked bags they had to claim and check again (outside customs)! QF probably could’ve handled it, but different airlines may have been an issue.

      1. I also think it might have been a Russia point of sale and that’s why I got the message about not honoring the DoT 24-hour refund rule. So issued by them but forced to a different POS to drop the price, whether through currency arbitrage or something else.

  1. A little sketchy, but you ultimately got home no problem, right? Sounds like a win and all that matters if you actually got the ticket at that price.

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