Here’s the predictable result of using third and fourth-party booking agents

Our advocates wish Daniel Owsiany had read our columns about online travel booking agents before he reserved his flight. Had he done so, he could have avoided the extremely complex mess he finds himself in now.

We’ve published numerous stories about the hazards of booking complicated trips — especially international ones — through third-party booking agents. Owsiany went even further than that and used one that involved a fourth party in his reservation — one that assessed a surcharge of its own for the booking.  Owsiany says that this company hid these fees during the booking process.

Owsiany’s case should warn anyone looking for cheap overseas travel fares to read the fine print with the utmost care. And know what you’re committing to purchase when you click the confirmation button, because even our advocates may not be able to handle such a complex case.

How many booking agents does it take to make one reservation?

The saga of Owsiany’s booking began when he did an airfare search for round-trip tickets from Panama City to Amsterdam on Momondo, a Danish company that markets cheap overseas air tickets. He selected a KLM flight advertised for $627. Momondo’s website took him to Bravofly, which is part of lastminute.com, a Swiss online travel booking agent. From there, he connected to KLM’s website to make the reservation. KLM then charged a seat reservation fee of $24.

When he received his credit card statement, he discovered a euro equivalent charge of $657. He called Bravofly the following business day, where he learned that the additional amount charged was a credit card surcharge by Momondo.

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Hidden fees?

According to Owsiany, neither Momondo nor Bravofly had disclosed the seat reservation fee or the credit card surcharge.

Owsiany asked our advocates for help in getting the extra fees refunded to him — which we’re not going to do.

Our executive director, Michelle Couch-Friedman, pointed out that both American and European airlines regularly charge fees for all classes of seats. KLM discloses these fees in the “Fees and paid options” section of its website, where it discloses the amounts in euros. And neither Momondo’s nor Bravofly’s sites indicate that their customers can reserve seats in advance at no cost.

Owsiany replied:

Despite your statement that paying for standard economy seat assignment is the modus operandi in today’s airline travel, I have never run into this Catch-22 before. I find it quite annoying, especially when it is not disclosed prior to the ticket purchase. It seems a deliberately deceptive scam, and makes it nearly impossible to shop online for discounted fares.

Our advocates do not recommend a credit card dispute here

He indicated that he planned to dispute the credit card charge.

Our advocate, Dwayne Coward, responded:

If you completed the purchase in euros, then that is what is going to be charged to your credit card. What you’re eventually charged in dollars will depend on the currency exchange rate used by your credit card company. Unless the company charged you a different amount than was confirmed, I do not see how we will be able to mediate a successful resolution.

So we’re not going to try to dig through all the layers and complexities of Owsiany’s case.

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But since a future traveler may bring us a case with multiple layers of responsibility and foreign countries and currency, we’re asking our readers:

Should we dig through all the layers of similarly complicated cases to assist consumers who purchase complex itineraries through online travel booking sites based in foreign countries?

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Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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