A “technical issue” screws up a vacation again and again. Now what?

By | January 15th, 2017

Carmel Rawlins used an online travel agency (OTA) to book the cheapest fare for a one-way trip connecting through five countries on three different airlines. All the connections required collecting and rechecking bags. What could possibly go wrong?

Hers is a complex case involving technical issues between the OTA and an airline in the booking process, delayed communications across multiple time zones, banks in different countries, and differing refund policies between the OTA and an airline. It’s also a reminder that if you’re going to use an OTA for a complex itinerary, you have to be prepared for the unexpected.

Rawlins and her partner were in Panama and wanted to get to the Philippines before heading back home to New Zealand. The itinerary she booked online involved multiple carriers to get from Panama to Mexico, Mexico to the U.S., U.S. to China, and then China to the Philippines.

She used Kiwi.com, an OTA formerly known as Skypicker.

“Our unique flight search algorithm allows our customers to combine flights from airlines who do not normally collaborate onto a single itinerary, often resulting in significant savings,” its website promises.

The savings were important to Rawlins, who was traveling on a tight budget. She got Kiwi’s payment confirmation right away but didn’t realize that she never got a booking confirmation. That was when the problems started. Kiwi says there was a “technical issue” in the booking process that that kept the payment from going through to the airline. Kiwi’s agents kept trying to book the flight but were unsuccessful.

Then came the communication problems. Kiwi says that after 11 hours of ticketing efforts, they sent Rawlins an email about the technical issue. They say they considered phoning her but decided not to because of the six-hour time difference between Panama and their headquarters in the Czech Republic.

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Rawlins says it was 14 hours before she learned about the problem. By the time she reached Kiwi by phone, the cheap seats were filled and the price for the remaining seats had gone up to a level she could not afford.

This was a major disruption to her plans. “The thing is, we had already booked our onward flight from the Philippines to New Zealand and our transport to get to Mexico for that date from Panama,” says Rawlins. “We had to figure out another way of getting from Central America to Philippines in the very small time frame we had.”

Because Kiwi could not book the flights at the promised fare, the agency offered to refund the 638 British pounds (about $807) she had paid for the tickets. They were honoring the promise made in the terms and conditions on their website. They also offered vouchers worth 50 euros (about $54) to both Rawlins and her partner for the inconvenience (not something we see too often in the complaints we receive).

She could have taken the refund as a credit to her Kiwi account to apply right away to other travel. However, she opted to have it transferred back to her original card. But, according to the OTA, that would take up to ten days because it involved banks in different countries. That became a factor in her next problem.

It turns out that she was still waiting on a refund from Kiwi involving another ticket purchased six weeks earlier. Kiwi says her refund was delayed because the OTA still had not received the refund from the earlier airline. So with the latest problem, her bank account was depleted. She turned to a family member, who transferred money to her account so she could buy new tickets.

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Can you guess who she used for the new booking? Kiwi.com, which had yet another “technical issue” with an airline’s website.

This time it did not calculate the charge for checked baggage. So the amount she paid did not include baggage fees. Kiwi says that its agents found out about this only 18 hours before the flight. They emailed Rawlins to inform her but didn’t call because, again, it was in the middle of the night her time.

Rawlins says she didn’t learn about the baggage fee problem until she checked in for the flight at the airport and was told there would be an additional 72 euro charge per bag. That was money she didn’t have. Only then did she check her email to see that she had been notified by Kiwi that she would have to pay for the bags. The email promised to reimburse her for those charges. She says that had she known ahead of time, she could have left her baggage with a friend in Mexico to be shipped later. Instead, she had to abandon her bag and its contents at the airport.

She was enraged. But the way she handled things with Kiwi did nothing to help speed her refund. Rather than using the tips for resolving consumer disputes on our website, her emails to the company were angry, rambling rants. She “shouted” frequently using all caps and lots of exclamation points. There was even an F-bomb. It’s hard to imagine anyone on the receiving end of those missives wanting to help her.

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So, after two months of getting nowhere, she asked for our help. Our advocate contacted Kiwi about Rawlins’ refund. After four weeks and no response from the agency, he reached out to them again.

This time, Kiwi replied and apologized for each problem, recounting each point where something had gone wrong. While still blaming those unexplained “technical issues,” the agency acknowledged that they could have done a better job of communicating with her. Kiwi promised to send her the previously offered refund and vouchers. They also offered her 72 euros for each of the bag fees she would have paid and an additional 200-euro voucher for future travel.

So in addition to the refund of the unused tickets, Kiwi offered her cash and vouchers totaling 474 euros (about $510). This was after more than three months had elapsed. While she had originally asked our advocate to help her get more than twice that amount, she accepted Kiwi.com’s offer.

But wait, there’s one more thing. Kiwi sent the 144 euro payment for the bags to an account that Rawlins had closed while all this was going on, so the money didn’t get to her. At the time of this writing, she is still waiting for that payment.

  • Rebecca

    This is just too much for a Sunday morning. About halfway through I realized that in less time than it would take me to think about this, I could make blueberry pancakes. Without my head spinning.

    This is not by any means a knock on the author. I was following this insane story only due to his explanation. Credit where credit is due here. He did a great job. I hope his head didn’t spin too much.

  • Alan Gore

    A trip this complicated should have been arranged through a travel agent – a real one.

  • cscasi

    “But wait, there’s one more thing. Kiwi sent the 144 euro payment for the bags to an account that Rawlins had closed while all this was going on, so the money didn’t get to her.”
    Not astute thinking; especially when one used that account for purchase(s) and is expecting a refund of some sort, which the agency almost always refunds to the account used.
    Glad they got some of their money back. I just cannot imagine what she kept using Kiwi what with having used it before and had issues. Another lesson learned, albeit the hard way.

  • JimLoomis

    Would someone please explain to me again why it’s ever–that’s spelled E-V-E-R– a good idea to use an on-line travel agency?

  • MF

    Sure Jim, people use an OTA so that they can help others learn to N-E-V-E-R use an OTA. Just like driving on the highway at 5 mph over the limit, the ‘volunteers’ come blazing past to trip all the speed traps for you, such a great public service!

  • Bill___A

    What I’m thinking would probably get my comment nuked. But why show such loyalty to a company that continually messes up?

  • Blamona

    Okay, she’s responsible for some of this (sorry) she sounds like she complicated things on her own too–not having money for checked bags (really? What if a bigger emergency happened?) considering leaving bag in Mexico to ship (oh yeah she’ll get it) using same company to book tickets ????? Closing account when waiting for a refund, wanting a refund double amount, wanting a refund instead of credit (and then using to book), not reading emails until she’s at the airport?

    I could go on. For such a complicated Travel she made it more. Her actions don’t make sense, and the company refund what it should have. She has a part in this too!

    I’ve traveled like this before, and you must be prepared for emergencies anyway.


  • Jeff W.

    So if I understand this correctly, they are in Central America and use an OTA based in Europe to head to Asia and with a final stop in Oceania. What could possibly go wrong with this situation?

    This case is a text book example of “penny wise, pound foolish”. This should have been handled by a real travel agent or agency that can handle this very complex itinerary.

    And while she has a right to be mad about the €72 baggage charges, with an itinerary such as this, if that is money you do not have, then you should not be taking this type of trip. There are too many moving parts and things can wrong on any portion of this journey. You need a cushion for such things.

  • joycexyz

    Let me see…she used an OTA (headquartered in the Czech Republic, no less!) to book complicated travel plans. Then, when things went awry, she used them again? Excuse me, but what’s that popular definition of insanity?

  • Rebecca

    That’s exactly why I quit and just made pancakes!

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    I can’t imagine how patient the advocate must be to read through all the customer’s rants and try to figure out what the problem was in the first place, because I got a headache half way through reading this! If I had virtually no money I doubt I’d book a world trip in the first place, and if I did, I would not use a web site.

  • Mel LeCompte Jr.

    I think elliott.org has found their poster child.

    Your mom can fuss 1000 times about kitchen safety, but sometimes you just gotta touch the hot stove to learn.

  • MF

    I love the CSR doublespeak – “Technical Issue” = Customer Service Fail !
    Isn’t this just another variation on the old shopworn ‘blame the computer, not the company’?
    Not to shill for any company, but my wife booked two weeks in Europe last summer with TripMasters & they actually did very well fixing two issues that arose while we were on the road.

  • The Original Joe S

    “I just cannot imagine what she kept using Kiwi”

    If I were to answer that with my opinion, I’d be considered “rude”…….

  • The Original Joe S

    Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. But, you’re being RUDE! ha ha ha

  • The Original Joe S

    I’ve gotten addicted to waffles……

  • The Original Joe S

    Oh, how rude! Saying that the OP is a…… GENIUS!

  • The Original Joe S

    CycleAZLindyB would say that you are RUDE!

  • The Original Joe S

    Sit on it! Ha ha ha! How RUDE!

  • joycexyz

    Just shaking my head in disbelief…

  • The Original Joe S

    Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. It’s RUDE to point out truth! Ha ha ha……

  • jsn55

    Using a faceless internet entity to book complex travel just because it’s the cheapest? So sad. Save up just a little more money, boys and girls, before you plan a lovely trip. Using OTAs is not a good idea.

  • SierraRose 49

    Had a great laugh with your reply. Sure needed it after reading this story. Thank you!

  • SierraRose 49

    Well, I waited until Sunday night to read this story, but quickly determined I needed something stronger than blueberry pancakes to keep me from howling. My head no longer spins, but my vocal cords work great. Always enjoy reading your take on some of these “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” stories.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Because the vast majority of the time it works fine and can save you money.

  • DChamp56

    There’s an old saying, “Good service ain’t cheap, and cheap service ain’t good”. (replace the word “service” with whatever you want.
    Sure if you search enough, you can find a good price, but at some point, it’s going to bite you.
    I’m having a had time feeling sorry for the OP here for many reasons, sad to say.

  • LonnieC


    Walk away….

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