[UPDATED] PLEASE HELP - Vulnerable to travel scam - Airfare.com / Singapore Airlines / Bank of America
UPDATE 10/4: I have received the refund from Airfare.com and have closed the claim with Bank of America.
UPDATE #2: Airfare.com claims to be issuing me a refund, but they took my money instead. I’ve filed a claim with Bank of America.
UPDATE: CBS Consumer Watch is following this case and has advised me to pursue a refund. I have also been contacted by A.J. Knight from Airfare.com, who tried to assure me that my tickets are secure but also gave another excuse for the customer complaints and also gave conflicting information on their cancellation policy. I am still pursuing a refund per CBS Consumer Watch’s suggestion. The call log below has been updated with these details.
I, Tiara S. have been working on bringing my partner Phia W. to Malaysia as a Christmas present. She is low-income, never been outside the US, and is super excited about this trip. Our mission has become a community effort and has been shared by the likes of LGBT women’s web magazine Autostraddle, author Julie-Ann Peters, media personality Asha Gill, singer/songwriter Darren Hayes, and author & activist Kate Bornstein. Here is the Autostraddle article:
After some searching on Hipmunk.com, I found a relatively good deal with Singapore Airlines via Airfare.com and booked my ticket - leaving SFO for Singapore on the 14th of December and returning on the 7th of January (via a layover at Hong Kong). However, it was only after booking these tickets that I learnt about a persistent customer complaint (via Airfare.com’s Facebook page and other travel websites): they arrive at the airport only to find that their booking has been cancelled by Airfare.com without their consent. Some people have also reported overcharging and unresponsive customer service.
Links to complaints:
I have been constantly contacting Airfare.com to verify and clarify these complaints - they claim that the complaints are from competitors or from customers unable to pay (which I don’t entirely believe). I have tried to get Singapore Airlines to notify me before anyone tries to change my booking, but they said that the travel agency (Airfare.com) has the sole power to change bookings and that Singapore Airlines can’t give me sole control of ticket changes nor call me to approve or deny changes beforehand. I have also attempted to contact Bank of America to dispute the charges for fraud protection, but they told me that until the charges have gone through they cannot do anything.
Right now the charges are on “authorization hold” - waiting for a final amount from the merchant. There is the $3537.80 for the ticket, as well as two charges of $3.53 and $4.12 that are supposedly for verification purposes by Airfare.com and will be removed.
Currently I have e-Tickets directly from Singapore Airlines, as well as invoices/itineraries from WTC and C&H International. Singapore Airlines informed me that my tickets are booked and paid for - curious, as the charges are still pending on my account. On CheckMyTrip.com they said my ticket was booked through Sky Bird Travel and Tours, a company I have not dealt with personally.
I am deeply concerned that I have been left vulnerable to the actions of a fraudulent travel company. I do not wish to end up at the airport Thursday morning with my partner only to find that I have lost $3600 on cancelled tickets and that we are stranded at the airport. I am doing everything I can to mitigate this possibility, but I need help.
I am seeking the following outcomes:
1. My partner and I, together with Singapore Airlines, have SOLE CONTROL over the management of our tickets, including cancellations
2. Failing that, Airfare.com to CANCEL ALL CHARGES so that I can take the money and start over with airfare bookings
3. Bank of America to deny and reverse any charges by Airfare.com if they refuse to cooperate
I am available for media and broadcast interviews.
Company Contact Details:
Airfare.com: 4619 41st Street NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20016 - +1 703 379 1777
Singapore Airlines: +1 800 742 3333 (US Tickets and Reservations Office)
Bank of America: +1 877 366 1121 (Claims Department)
C & H International: 1400 K Street NW, Ste 1015, Washington DC 20005 - +1 202 789 1208
WTC: 4619 41st St NW, Ste 300/3rd Floor, Washington DC 20016 - +1 703 379 1777
Sky Bird Travel and Tours: 24701 Swanson Road, Southfield, MI 48033 - +1 888 759 2473
I can be contacted at me[at]creatrixtiara[dot]com. Airline booking numbers and e-Ticket numbers available upon request.
Detailed call log after the jump:
Called Airfare.com to ask about ticket booking.
Called Singapore Airlines to confirm booking and request e-tickets. E-tickets were emailed by SIA.
Received email from Airfare.com about “urgent verification email”. Airfare.com says all is fine with my booking.
Notice charges of $3.53 and $4.12 on bank account. Called Airfare.com to ask. They say it’s for verification purposes and that they will be removed.
Called Singapore Airlines to ask about worst-case scenario - arriving at the airport only to discover that flights have been cancelled by travel agent (common customer complaint). Was advised to keep e-tickets on hand so that they can assist me at the airport.
8:45pm and 11:37pm:
Called Bank of America to attempt to dispute transaction. Fraud line claimed to be 24/7, but both times redirected to main call center which is closed.
Called Visa for fraud protection help. Redirected to Bank of America - no response.
Called Bank of America. Told to wait till charges (currently on authorization hold - waiting for final amount from merchant) must be posted before I can file claims. Given claims department number - +1 877 366 1121. Card is cancelled; need to get to BoA on Monday to get temporary card.
Called Visa. Sent to Bank of America fraud protection, who then sent me on to the claims department. Claims department says to wait till Tuesday to file a claim so that their system can be updated - claims can take 90 days to get processed and in the meantime temporary credit is possible.
Received call from Tyler at Airfare.com (ext 304) after sending email enquiring about customer complaints. He first claims that complaints are “verbal wars” from competitors, and then ticket cancellations are from customers that are unable to pay as they cannot hold tickets for more than 24 hours. He says that they cannot cancel tickets without the customer’s consent.
I requested that this information be sent in an email; Tyler claims that he does not have the authority to do so. He says he will send me an invoice ASAP.
Called Singapore Airlines confirming that booking is confirmed and paid for. Asked to be the sole person allowed to make changes and that any attempts to change my tickets pass through me first - was told that there is no way for them to notify me of any attempts to change my tickets by the agency. They are not able to call me to confirm or deny changes.
Transferred to supervisor Mitesh who told me the same thing - the travel agent has sole power over changing ticket details (they can’t even change it on their end) and they have no way of notifying me when changes happen. Mitesh rang up Andy from Airfare.com and had him on the other line. Andy said that changes cannot happen on their end without the customer’s consent. I asked Andy about customer complaints that tickets were cancelled without their permission; Andy hung up. Mitesh reiterated his inability to confirm or manage changes to my ticket on their end and said that all calls are recorded so if there are any issues at the airport he can be contacted for information.
Received call from Judy at CBS Consumer Watch who suggests that gaining control of the ticket via Singapore Airlines may not be possible but she suggests requesting a refund. Ahw says she will try to call Hipmunk to get a cancellation. In the meantime, she suggests asking Bank of America how it is possible that Singapore Airlines can say the tickets are claimed for when the charges have yet to be processed.
Called Judy at CBS Consumer Watch asking about consequences of cancellation. She speaks of researching other customer complaints who received responses from A.J. Knight, the Customer Service Specialist at Airfare.com asking disgruntled customers to contact him directly. One customer reports being hit with a $800 cancellation fee.
Judy suggests that I email A.J. demanding a full refund / cancellation of charges especially since the money hasn’t left my bank account yet.
Talked to Jake Cleary in person at Bank of America. He reiterated what other Bank of America staff have said - nothing can be done until the charges are cleared, but after that I can put a dispute claim. I did obtain a temporary new debit card to replace the one I had frozen.
Called Judy at CBS Consumer Watch with updates from Bank of America. She speculates that Airfare.com has bought tickets in bulk and are reselling them. She’s still surprised and uncertain about Bank of America’s policies.
Judy talks about contract law, about cancelling contracts within a particular grace period, and to look up the State Consumer Protection Agency for information. (Further research shows that while generally people can request refunds without needing a specific reason, for Internet purchases this only applies after products have not been delivered within 30 days.) She figures that since the charges have not gone through I could be counted as not being in contract anyway. She suggests writing another email putting the company on notice for a refund, with escalation to claim disputes if not agreed to.
Judy says that she is willing to talk to her Executive Producer about doing a feature, which I am keen to do.
Received call from A.J. at Airfare.com (note: he called from 2 numbers - 703 379 1777 and 202 787 1555) referencing recent emails including one from the Department of Travel (following a report filed by me on 9/28).
He claims that the negative reviews are from people who wish to give the company a bad name - they have been doing business for 30 years. He claims that cancellations have been due to customers not responding to requests for identity verification, therefore they can’t be billed and their orders get cancelled. I point out that many customers have reported of their tickets getting cancelled post confirmation and billing but he does not seem to believe me.
He says that during booking, their website talks about the verification charges and how there is a link to click on to verify the amounts. I told him that no such email ever arrived. He says that email was sent around 3pm on Friday 9/27 but there was also another email about verification charges in general that I had responded to.
He said that the verification charge only applies to people whose bookings involve more than one last name. He says that there has been a history of customers who book themselves and the biller/payer as passengers, travel on their own, and when the payer is asked for payment they say they have no knowledge of this transaction. I was not told of the multiple-last-names policy on booking.
When asked about the charges not being processed by the bank he claims that the airline has been given the “code” to claim payment from my account but often take time to do so, even if they say the tickets have been paid for.
He says that my tickets have a ‘green light’ because my identity is verified and I can pay for them, and that he will instruct his staff to not touch the tickets or call me. When I balked at not getting the option to be called he said that he meant for verification purposes.
I insisted on a full refund and he says he will ask his supervisor for the refund policy. I also demanded that all this information be sent to me in an email. This email has some of the information in the phone conversation as well as a note that if I want to pursue a cancellation I should email him before 6pm. It is unclear which timezone he is referring to.
(Note: the email he sends later states a cancellation fee of a minimum of $450/ticket, which is different from the fee quoted in the Terms and Conditions of their website, which is $350. The verbiage is also very different. I write an email pointing this out.)
Called Judy from Consumer Watch to ask for advice and followup; got a voicemail, so left a message. Judy is only available Mondays but the line is available Monday to Friday.