Terry Duryea had used FlyFirstClass.com to buy discounted first-class tickets before, so he didn’t hesitate to buy tickets through the site for a trip from San Francisco to Helsinki.
Maybe he should have hesitated.
This time, Duryea found an entire segment of his trip missing. Although we can’t help him fix it, his case is an important reminder to investigate any online travel agency that claims to offer deep discounts on business class tickets to determine how it does business.
When Duryea visited the FlyFirstClass.com site and requested tickets to Helsinki, the company sent him an itinerary that he accepted. He paid for the tickets and eventually received the group’s tickets for their outgoing flights, but not their return flights. A representative assured Duryea that return tickets would be issued before the scheduled return dates.
Unfortunately, the company issued tickets for the return from Zurich, not Helsinki:
We received an electronic ticket for our return flight from Zurich to LAX on Swiss Air and leg from LAX to San Francisco on United, but we never received the ticket for the first leg from Helsinki to Zurich which was to be on Finnair. We received a PDF of the e-ticket booked through Air Canada, but it was from Zurich to San Francisco ….
We received a separate email from Jessica … stating that the ticket from Helsinki to Zurich would be coming, but we never received it. We checked with the airlines the night before our departure to confirm that no tickets out of Helsinki had been booked in our names.
Duryea’s wife attempted to contact FlyFirstClass.com by phone but did not get a response. She emailed the company and got no response. Six hours before the flight they needed to take was scheduled to depart Helsinki, she purchased tickets from Helsinki to Zurich online from Finnair and paid $1,679. She immediately followed up her previous email to FlyFirstClass.com with one that provided the cost of the tickets they purchased and a request for a refund.
FlyFirstClass.com responded, but I wouldn’t call their response “professional”: “OmG. Last I heard they sent your tickets. Im so upset about this whole deal. This never happens.”
After returning to the U.S. Duryea followed up on his request for a refund and was told that the “refund is being processed,” but it never made it to Duryea.
Based on this experience with FlyFirstClass.com, Duryea decided he didn’t want to do business with the company again. That’s understandable, but he had already requested tickets to Bali in February 2018, and accepted the itinerary that the company provided. Once Duryea accepted, the company immediately wanted payment, and it told Duryea if he wanted to pay by credit card it would cost $350 more than the quoted price. So Duryea wired $11,020 to FlyFirstClass.com.
Duryea called the airlines shown on the itinerary the company provided and learned that no tickets had been booked for them. Even though he previously accepted and paid for the itinerary, he demanded his money back and expected a refund within 30 days, based on the company’s promise that if you are due a refund it will be issued within 30 days.
The problem was that FlyFirstClass.com has another clause about refunds that Duryea didn’t consider: “Tickets are NON REFUNDABLE. If you have made payment to issue a ticket and you decided to cancel your reservations during the ticketing process, there are still no refunds. The funds paid by you will be used for your future travel.” The company offered to provide him with future flight credit but not a refund. And the refund for the flights he purchased from Helsinki to Zurich never came. This is when Duryea asked for our help.
The company offered to provide him with future flight credit but not a refund. And the refund for the flights he purchased from Helsinki to Zurich never came. This is when Duryea asked for our help.
This part of Duryea’s case interested me because he says the itinerary was sent to him in December 2016 for flights in February 2018. The airlines would not have loaded flight information or started selling tickets for February 2018 by December 2016. So Duryea paid cash for flights that didn’t yet exist. Had he paid for these flights with a credit card he might have been able to file a chargeback, but he paid cash and remains at the mercy of the company to decide to do the right thing and reimburse him for tickets it hadn’t booked more than a year after it promised to do so.
This is another thing I find interesting about this company. In its ticket rules it encourages its customers to request tickets at least six months in advance, but then also notes both on its site and in its communication with Duryea that it may not book tickets until very close to departure because of seat availability.
In another not-so-professional email to Duryea regarding the request to cancel this itinerary, FlyFirstClass.com stated:
We don’t have your money. They were mileage tickets. You bought someone’s mileage tickets. They won’t give it back.
So please stop asking. Your wife knows these are mileage tickets and has saved 10s of thousands buying them. When a ticket goes wrong which hardly ever does there is no recourse.
Please go read our rules and regulations sent to you years ago.
The only thing we can do is give you a credit on future tickets.
So it seems this company is purchasing frequent flier tickets or miles from passengers and reselling them to its customers, which is prohibited by most airlines, and tickets issued in this way can be canceled by the airlines — with no compensation. Some airlines will also disable a frequent flier account and confiscate all the miles in the account if it learns that the passenger has participated in this process.
We couldn’t help Duryea with his attempt to cancel and get reimbursement for the future travel, but our advocate agreed to help him with his request for a refund of the tickets he purchased from Helsinki to Zurich.
The company confirmed a round trip itinerary between San Francisco to Helsinki, and that’s what Duryea paid for and expected. But that’s not what the company delivered, and I’m not sure how it expected Duryea to get from Helsinki to Zurich without an air ticket. By car, it’s about a 30-hour drive, and it takes at least 39 hours by train. Duryea was promised he would receive the ticket no later than “the day before travel,” and not receiving it by that time left him no option other than to purchase a ticket. Even if he had known the company did not issue the ticket, who wants to drive 30 hours or spend almost four days on a train, just to catch a flight?
In response to our advocate’s email, the company said “All he bought was a short flight to connect home on the long international tickets. We fulfilled basically the whole trip except a short flight.”
“Basically”? My blood started to boil when I saw that response to our advocate. Would I pay a hairdresser for “basically” cutting my hair, but forgetting a long part on the left side of my head? Would I pay for a car that didn’t have a rear bumper but it was “basically” finished? Would I pay for a house that was “basically” finished but didn’t have a floor? The answer to all of these questions is obviously “no,” so why should anyone pay for an itinerary and then pay again for a part of that itinerary that was missing?
The company’s also excused its failure by noting that the group flew during “high season peak travel dates,” and said that Duryea “didn’t have a clue about how our service works.” Both excuses are irrelevant when the service isn’t delivered in full — and the failure puts a guest 30 hours away from where they need to be.
The company representative also told us that the company is 20 years old and we should check for ourselves. So I did. While a website can be created to say anything it wants, the company actually lists a founding date of 2002, which isn’t quite 20 years. We were also told that we would be “hard press[ed] to find more than one
complaint.” So I Googled the company and found multiple travel sites and blogs discussing complaints about it. Many of the complaints included flights that the company promised to confirm in business or first class but were actually booked in economy class.
Although the company promised it would process the refund for the Helsinki to Zurich flight, Duryea has still not received it and the company has stopped responding to both Duryea and us.
Since Duryea can’t file a chargeback for the $11,020 he wired to the company for the upcoming trip to Bali, he contacted his local police department. He says it told him that this sounded like fraud and encouraged him to contact the FBI. His only other recourse would be contacting an attorney to see if he has a court case.
To be fair there are also stories about successful flights — Duryea also admitted he worked with the company in the past with no trouble. But be sure to protect yourself so if the company fails to provide you with the tickets you can get your money back.