JustFly let me book an illegal route — now I want a refund

Using an online travel agency (OTA) to book a vacation in Asia seemed like a good idea at the time to Mitchell Knutson. But when things went wrong, this traveler claimed that the OTA sold him an illegal ticket. He wants our help to get it to reimburse his $1,000 loss.

Do-it-yourself travel can work very well. But this case is an important reminder that if you want to go the DIY route, it’s your responsibility to be on top of all the details.

Knutson used JustFly.com to book tickets for himself and a friend for a trip that included time in Thailand and China. Things were fine until they tried to board a flight in Thailand to start their return trip. The route included a stopover in Shanghai, where they planned to visit Shanghai Disneyland.

They were not allowed to board their flight because Knutson had missed an important detail. While he and his friend had valid passports, they did not have a visa for China. The check-in personnel for the China Eastern flight said that a visa for China was required. Otherwise, upon landing in China they would be immediately deported back to Thailand at their own expense.

Knutson called JustFly for help. But after several hours on the phone, the best the OTA could do was to offer to try to fix things for an additional fee of more than $2,000.

The alternative offered by China Eastern suddenly seemed to make more sense: Book a new one-way ticket home with a stop, but no stopover, in Shanghai at an additional cost of $400 each. They also had to spend an extra night in Thailand to make it work.

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It was an expensive mistake, totaling about $1,000 when you add in the extra night in Thailand, the lost deposit on their hotel in Shanghai and the prepaid Disneyland tickets.

Knutson was angry with JustFly, claiming it had sold him the tickets illegally and therefore should reimburse all of the additional costs. When he got home he filed a complaint with the Department of Transportation, accusing JustFly of “shady” business practices. The DOT referred his complaint to the company, which denied the claim, saying that the fault was his.

After getting nowhere with the DOT or the OTA, Knutson contacted us. While we can’t help him, it’s useful to our readers to explain why we are treating this as a “Case Dismissed.”

First let’s look at the terms and conditions on the JustFly website. It says right off the top in Section 1:

As a traveler, you must know and understand the applicable legal requirements related to travel, including passport, visa and health requirements. We will assist you in this regard, both through our website and with live support. However, the ultimate responsibility for obtaining this information and complying with any and all passport, visa, health or other requirements remains solely and exclusively with you.

A few paragraphs further on is the following:

You agree to release us from any claims relative to the travel products and services detailed on our website, including but not limited to claims that these travel products and services are not or were not suitable for you.

You will find similar terms and conditions on the websites of just about every OTA and airline. Justfly didn’t do anything illegal or wrong. The company was under no obligation to make sure Knutson was making a suitable purchase. He wanted to buy tickets and it sold them to him.

He could and should have found out ahead of time about any visa or other requirements to visit China. The U. S. State Department has a link that explains visa requirements for Americans traveling to other countries. This link on the State Department site explains the visa requirements for China.

Knutson could also have looked at the website of the Chinese embassy in the United States. It provides even more detail on China’s visa requirements and explains the application process.

Regular readers of this site know that we have written about this kind of situation many times, and we always recommend contacting the embassy of any country that you plan to visit to make sure of entry requirements before you buy your tickets.

When our advocate explained to Knutson why we could not help him, his reply was reasonable.

Thank you for taking time to respond to this. It’s unfortunate nothing can be done now, but I know for next time. I traveled internationally a few years ago and the site I used had a warning pop up about needing to have the right visa requirements, which I thought would be standard practice for travel websites. This didn’t happen when I booked for my latest trip, so I was very thrown off when everything happened abroad.

It would be a real service to their customers if all OTA’s and ticket-selling sites did pop up an alert about checking visa requirements. But they’re not required to, so some don’t.

It was a painful lesson for Knutson but a good reminder for the rest of us. Regardless of whether you are using an OTA or a travel agent, it’s your responsibility to find out what documents you will need for overseas travel and to obtain them before you go to the airport.

Abe Wischnia

Abe started his working career as a television news reporter and newscaster before moving to corporate communications and investor relations. Now retired and having learned useful tips from Elliott.org, one of his volunteer activities is writing for us.

  • Bill___A

    OTA’s aren’t babysitters. I don’t know why he even imagined the ticketing was “illegal”. The only “illegal” thing was him, since he didn’t have a visa….although I believe China allows visa free stopovers in certain cities, including Shanghai now…..for some nationalities.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    The OP has traveled internationally in the past; therefore, he is aware that visas are required for some countries. He made the mistake of not checking the visa requirements for the countries that he was traveling to.

  • y_p_w

    China is one country where US citizens are required to have an advanced visa. This is certainly not worthy of advocacy. I’d helped a friend buy a ticket to China and obtain a visa. The airline website wasn’t specific that a visa was needed, but evidence of a ticket or itinerary was needed to get the visa. Any US who has visited China knows this.

  • Noah Kimmel

    agreed, nothing “illegal” about what they sold him. It is a perfectly legal and valid trip for passengers who have the required visas. No different than any other international flight. Plenty of free Timatic apps out there to help you determine what docs you need — https://www.skyteam.com/en/flights-and-destinations/visa-and-health/

  • SirWIred

    Yeah, blaming the lack of a popup reminding him that international travel is different from a ticket to Boise is pretty weak sauce. Does he also think the manufacturer of a car is responsible when it fails to remind him not to speed?

  • Mel65

    Or maybe more on point, reminding him that he’s required to have a driver’s license and insurance.

  • Mark

    Curious – China has had 72-hour transit without visa (TWOV) provisions at Shanghai since 2013 – this should have been sufficient for one night at Disney, assuming the OP had a US passport?

  • Blamona

    Illegal ticket? He’s got to be joking–his mistake, he pays

  • Dutchess

    I’m missing the part where this is an illegal ticket? Last time I checked it’s perfectly legal to transit through China as long as you have a visa. As the airline said, it’s up to the passenger to make sure they have the necessary travel documents for the countries visited.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Depends on where his departure from Shanghai was headed. If it was outside China, and not to Thailand, then it should qualify for TWOV. If it was an an intra-China flight (i.e. to Beijing, for example), then it wouldn’t qualify.

  • Mark

    Yep, you’re right. The implication of the article was that he was flying onwards to ‘home’ (USA?) – however if their onward flight from Shanghai wasn’t directly back home, but involved a transfer elsewhere in China, they could have come unstuck.

  • jsn55

    “Online Travel Agents” are really just order takers, they take your booking. I call them OBAs, online booking agents. They are often useless in the face of a problem, in fact, they usually make it worse. Theirs is a numbers game, they make commission on 19 tix and the 20th guy feels cheated and won’t come back. They don’t care. As long as the travelling public does not see the reality of booking travel, these issues will just go on and on. Anyone can create a slick website. It’s the consumer’s responsibility to know who he’s dealing with. Book direct, avoid the problems … if you do have a problem it’s much easier to work it out with an airline or a hotel directly.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Not all trips to China require a visa, but it’s up to the passenger to determine that.

  • BubbaJoe123

    It’s more like make commission on 9,999 tickets, the 10,000th won’t come back.

    Expedia books more tickets in a day than any brick and mortar TAs will book in a lifetime.

  • y_p_w

    Well – I looked it up, and there’s something a little more complicated now. I’ve been to China several times and always had a visa. These days most US citizens are eligible for 10-year visas.

    However, they now how up to a 144-hour (6 day) transit visa that would allow one to stop over in Shanghai (and other specific cities) provided they don’t leave the municipality. Eligibility includes US and Canadian citizens.


    4.Q: What are the procedures an eligible foreign passenger needs to undergo to apply for 144-hour visa-exemption transit?

    A: An eligible foreign passenger, while going through check-in procedures from abroad to travel to Shanghai or Lukou International Airport in Nanjing or Xiaoshan International Airport in Hangzhou by air / vessel / train, needs only to produce his / her own valid international travel document and onward air / vessel / train ticket to a third country (region) with confirmed date and seat to the carrier’s agent, and the carrier in turn will submit the passenger’ information to the corresponding immigration inspection station in China for examination. Once the latter confirms the passenger’ qualification, it will process the passenger’s application for 144-hour visa-exemption transit upon his / her arrival.

  • BubbaJoe123

    That’s why I said that not all trips require a visa. TWOV (Transit Without Visa) applies in a number of cases, but you have to have the right travel plans (need to fly from Country X – China – Country Y).

  • y_p_w

    I don’t know if there’s enough info available to say. However, assuming that this was a US citizen (and the return was to the US) then yeah someone messed up by not bringing up the possibility of a temporary permit, which would have been 6 days starting last year.

  • justanotherguy

    Was totally with Abe and his explanation of non-advocacy until the last sentence…

    Regardless of whether you are using an OTA or a travel agent, it’s your responsibility to find out what documents you will need for overseas travel and to obtain them before you go to the airport.

    If I’m putting the trip together myself online, then the onus and the risk is entirely on me to make sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed- totally agree.

    If I hire a real live, actual person, travel agent- then the biggest thing I’m paying for is making sure that the trip goes smoothly, and that I don’t need to worry about the details.

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