- Posted August 27, 2014 by
London,, United Kingdom
Beware: Fake Airline Websites. Are You Booking Flights To Africa With A Site Run By A Travel Agent Posing As Airline?
I happened to be in need of a flight ticket last Christmas season to attend my best buddy’s wedding in South Africa at his native home town Johannesburg. I was really excited since I was to be the best man and it turned out to be the best wedding ever, after my own of course!
I got my passport ready, packed up the essentials for my trip and decided to surf the internet for travel and tour packages since I wanted to make this tour a proper travel adventure after I was done being the best man. It took me 2 days to narrow down the list of places to see and things to do. Then I went on to search bargain flights and hotel deals in order to plan within my budget limit.
I came across one website southafricanairwaysuk.co.uk and called up the number given online, thinking it to be the airline. I was surprised to find out two facts in dismay, one that it was a site run by a travel agent and it was not the airline’s official website, second that the prices displayed online were exclusive of taxes and after adding up around £300 on top of displayed price, the actual payable amount would be £798. It was way above what I wanted to pay. I went online again and found the official South African Airways website flysaa.com. It was strange that their price was higher than what I found with the agency whom I booked with.
Being disappointed after calling up 8 different agents including the fake airline website, I thought of Travelhouseuk whose blog (travelhouseuk.co.uk/news) I have regularly been contributing to. They got me the same ticket for £685 (cheaper by £113, this sure was not a discount for my past affiliation). Though their procedure involved a few security checks regarding payment, to be fulfilled by the client, it was made very easy by the agent who explained every little detail. To cut it short, it was an eye-opener and what I learned, from my ordeal of online search and from a little research with the help of my booking agent, is that:
1. You may find numerous websites including an airline’s name, but there is only one official site, the rest are fake airline websites created by travel agents.
2. Many travel agency websites display prices exclusive of taxes, which is a violation of UK laws.
3. They sell tickets for an unreasonably high profit margin, except for a few agents.
4. They do not have online booking engines, so you have to call them up for quotes and that’s where they play you with their tactics.
5. The victims include a majority of such travellers who are looking to change their return flight date for the tickets they bought from UK, when they search online, they get caught in the web of such agents thinking them to be the airline. These agents charge unreasonably high date change fees from you, and pay the actual applicable fee to airline on your behalf in cash. So you keep thinking that the airline charged you a massive amount for the change, when in fact you got cheated.
6. Travel agents, who do not have a recognised brand name or goodwill as a business, usually make such websites because they are not famous or generally well-known, so they piggy-back on the airline’s brand image and trust among public to steal airline’s clients.
Apart from fake airline websites and misleading advertisement, the main reason which led me to decide writing about it, on a public forum, is that the airlines do not take any action against such websites. I have found that there is not just one such website, in fact it seems to be a common practice by travel agencies to create websites with similar names to mislead the public into believing that they are the airline and capture their business. This one was a worrisome fact that the imposter websites are searchable online and visible in Google results which makes the general public prone to all the dangers of online fraud and cheating by the travel agents.
I am not declaring all such sites to be fake businesses, the travel agent who runs such a site may be a legitimate business in UK, but the tactic is unlawful. I guess the only reason they may be able to getaway is the disclaimer in small font that they are not the airline but a retail agent, evading legal proceedings. The cases of fraudulent online travel agencies that ‘run away with your money’ or ‘give you a fake ticket’ are a different case study altogether. Loads of literature is available online about those scams. My case, of a fake airline-website, is different because it includes a “passing off claim” where a travel agent is falsely posing as an airline through such websites.
Have reported this incident to trading standards and watchdog, I have not heard from them in a month. I have run some search on the airlines that fly to Africa, and have listed their official airline websites here. If you find any other website, apart from these official websites, leading you to believe that its an airline website, you will know that it is being run by a travel agent posing as an airline.
SOUTH AFRICAN AIRWAYS (www.flySAA.com)
ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES (www.flyethiopian.com)
TAP PORTUGAL (www.flytap.com)
ETIHAD AIRWAYS (www.etihad.com)
QATAR AIRWAYS (www.qatarairways.com)
KENYA AIRWAYS (www.kenya-airways.com)
AIR FRANCE (www.airfrance.com)
BRITISH AIRWAYS (www.britishairways.com)
AIR MAURITIUS (www.airmauritius.com
ARIK AIR (www.arikair.com)
SN BRUSSELS AIRLINES (www.brusselsairlines.com)