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.
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.