Take care when booking online

South African customer discovered ‘finger trouble’ caused airline tickets to triple in cost

File picture.
File picture.
Image: Pixabay.com

For many of us, the first online purchase we made was for airline tickets.

The liberation of being able to do that on your home computer in your PJs in the middle of the night, was mind-blowingly liberating.

Still is. But it does require us to pay attention while we’re paying those fares.

I’ve taken up all manner of finger-trouble cases in recent years; the man who entered his surname as his first name as well, women who entered their married names, while their ID document still reflected their maiden name, and many who’ve booked the wrong month.

February/March – where the dates and days are an exact match – and June/July because they look so similar are fairly common mix-ups.
Most airlines will allow consumers to change “finger-trouble” bookings within 24 hours with little to no penalty; after that more punishing penalties apply.

When John Chapman sat down in March to book three return tickets from Cape Town to Bologna, Italy, with Turkish Airlines, he thought was getting a very good deal indeed; a total of just under R20 000 for all three tickets reflected and he confirmed and paid.

But the amount which was debited to his credit card statement was more than three times that, R64 700.

That’s when his mistake became apparent.

The Turkish Airlines international site has the US dollar as its default currency, but allows consumers to select from an array of other currencies. Chapman spotted SAR among the options at the start of his fare search, assuming it was SA rand, when in fact it’s the Saudi Riyal.

When he called the airline to explain what had happened, he was told that he’d chosen the currency himself and as such, he could cancel for a refund, but with the usual hefty penalties.

I took up the case with the airline, having spent some time on the Turkish Airlines site.

Firstly, I asked, why there was no ZAR (South African rand) in the currency option list, given that South Africa is clearly a significant market for the airline?

And why wasn’t there a warning, when a user – especially one whose browser identifies them as South African – clicks on SAR as a currency option, that it is Saudi Riyal?

Ebru Kaasakiz, the airline’s Cape Town-based sales and operations manager, said the airline had withdrawn the rand as a currency option on its site because of its extreme fluctuations.

“Although we make the assumption that the currency options are quite clear, especially on the last page before confirming and accepting the terms and conditions, we will communicate with our head office and the people responsible for our website to investigate options that will give a

much clearer indication to the client which currency they have selected, and we certainly take on board your suggestion of a warning regarding the currency selected,” he said.

“We are also disappointed that the matter regarding the Chapmans was not managed

professionally and efficiently and offer our apologies.”

Then came the really good bit: “We will arrange a full and prompt refund with our assurances that the matter is being addressed so that our clients don’t have a repeat of the frustrating events that occurred.”

Excellent. I’m sure Chapman isn’t the only South African to have made that mistake on that site.

CONTACT WENDY: E-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za Twitter: @wendyknowler