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Some "legitimate online travel agencies (OTAs)", besides running their legitimate business, are running a scam.
I'll explain the scam using as example: TRAVEL.SCAM (a ficticious OTA). For the record: EXPEDIA tried to scam me me using many of these tricks.
How does it work? The mechanism of the scam is complex, involving poor customer support, lies, ignoring customers complaints, use of "web based" e-mail system, use of "automated message", "fine prints" and "term and conditions" and "separate terms and conditions".
At a first glance there is nothing illegal but the way they use all that is to scam customers.
1)TRAVEL.SCAM will charge your credit card for whatever you book (hotel, flights, vacation package, trip insurance), then you are on your own. Is something happens, (canceled flights, loss of your ticket -even if they are responsible for the loss-) they don't take responsibility. So, far this is legal. Where is the scam? In some cases, TRAVEL.SCAM will fail to provide the service you paid for but they will do anything to keep the money they charged in your credit card. They use a lot of tricks to do that:
2) Poor customer support: This is very typical. There are plenty of examples of customers that try to contact the customer support team but are put on hold for hours before talking to a real person. Once you are able to talk to someone, you have to give him/her a number (itinerary or booking number) and explain you case. They will tell you that they are going to solve your problem and they are going to contact you. Most of the time they never call you (lies) you will have to call again. Again you will have to spend time giving your number (itinerary or booking number) and explain you case.
3) Some OTA uses a "web based" e-mail system. This sounds great, once you are logged in your account you just need to "click" a button and a new window appears showing a box where you can write to TRAVEL.SCAM. It looks very friendly, you don't need to type the e-mail address of the company, just write and submit your message. Where is the trick? You will not have a copy of the message you sent to them. Most of the time they will not answer you message (ignore customer) or will send you an "automated message" like this: " Dear TRAVEL.SCAM customer We have forwarded your request to the appropriate department and you will receive a response from that department within 72 hours. If you have further questions, feel free to reply to this e-mail or contact TRAVEL.scam customer services at 1-800- WHO CARE -and reference case ID . You can also visit the TRAVEL.SCAM "Customer Support" page for more customer service information. Thank you for choosing TRAVEL.SCAM Sydney TRAVEL.SCAM Cuustomer Support Team Of course, most of the time nobody will take care of your case and you will have to call again and send new e-mails. Where is the trick? If you use a "web based" e-mail system to send a message to TRAVEL.SCAM they will later deny that. You will not have any proof that you were trying to contact them. Never use "web based" e-mail system.
4) Fine prints. This is typical, completely legal but abusive.
5) Terms and conditions. Again completely legal but abusive. Where is the trick? One of the most tricky point is something like this (called "governing law") : "This agreement is governed by the laws of the State of Alaska , USA (for TRAVEL.SCAM). You hereby consent to the exclusive jurisdiction and venue of courts in Spring County, Alaska , USA, in all disputes arising out of or relating to the use of this Web site". This means that if you want to dispute your case against TRAVEL.SCAM in a court room you have to do it in Alaska. If you live in NY it will be pretty expensive to do that. In most of the cases, you will decline and travel.SCAM will your money (in a tricky or fraudulent way).
All these tricks give online travel agencies the freedom to lie and scam people. They have the freedom to deny a service you paid for, they have the freedom to give you a room completely different from what you booked. They have the freedom to lose your ticket or not to arrange your trip. They will simply blame the hotel, the airline or someone else. They have to freedom to charge your credit card with fees. Believe me, they are using them. Even if you have proof that TRAVEL.SCAM failed to provide the service they will deny and try to keep your money unless you sue them in Alaska If you bought a "trip insurance" and you want to cancel your trip they will tell you that your insurance does not cover that. Even if they told you before by phone that it will. But you didn't read the "fine prints" (more lies and "fine prints". Even if you are right they will tell you the opposite. In this example, the TRAVEL.SCAM makes money by selling "trip insurances" that are useless because they will refuse to honor (even if you are right). Again, if you want to dispute in a court room be prepared to travel to Alaska (abusive "terms and conditions"). By using all these tricks they can charge "fees" for whatever they want, then is going to be difficult for you to recover the money they charged in your credit card. You will have to provide proof to your credit card company that it was TRAVEL.SCAM 's fault and not yours to be reimbursed. In summary, TRAVEL.SCAM makes money in a legitimate way (as expected if you are lucky) and in a fraudulent way (by not providing the service you paid for) and by using all the tricks mentioned above to keep your money.
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