Hotwire ran a fare sale with Korean Air last summer which brought us back to the third-party booking service after years without booking on one. We were reminded just how difficult managing reservations can be through OTAs when airline schedules change.
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Korean Air-Hotwire Exclusive
In June of 2018, the airline ran an exclusive sale with Korean Air for business class fares from New York City or Washington DC to Bali. The deals were good but not mistake level territory starting at $1870 to about $2200.
For our family of three, we secured tickets from DCA with two adult tickets just shy of $2000 each and our five-year-old daughter coming in at about $1500. It was affordable enough to book after some thought and replace an award booking over the winter – but it wasn’t drop-what-you’re-doing cheap.
The promotion worked well for both brands. Hotwire brought some premium passengers back into the fold who may consider them for travel needs in the future. Korean, filled some planes in low season during travel dead periods and introduced new premium flyers to their brand.
I typically avoid OTAs (online travel agencies) as Matthew recommends, it’s just easier to communicate directly with the airline, one company controls the ticket. Had the fare been available on Korean’s own website we would have booked it there instead.
Hotwire had the ability to control the schedule change to the extent that they could switch the dates and extend beyond a 24-hour connection using Korean Air waiver. Beyond that, the ticket was out of their control. While all of the Hotwire staff members were pleasant, they were not US-based and their command of English and understanding of the concepts were limited. Calls to Hotwire followed a familiar pattern:
- Explain the unresolved issue.
- Hotwire agent attempts, in vain, to solve the matter on their own system.
- Hotwire agent speaks to a supervisor, only to determine that they must contact Korean Air directly.
- After 60-90 minutes on the phone, the change is made semi-successfully, any remaining error will not be discovered for another 24 hours as the systems update.
- Rinse and repeat.
Ultimately, the solution was simple. We called Korean and got the ticket issues resolved with them directly. When doing so, we could be sure that no matter what, the carrier that would fly us would have the ticket correct.
At one point, Delta (who controlled the domestic legs), Hotwire and Korean Air all showed different itineraries. I confirmed on the phone with Korean agents twice prior to departure that the route and seat assignments were correct, and again on their website.
We arrived at Reagan National, checked in with Delta and our bags were checked through. My wife noticed that the tags only printed to Seoul and not onward to Bali. She raised this and indeed, the agent had missed entire segments which reflected the ticket issues shown on Delta’s website. Producing the receipt from Korean put her back at her computer, she then produced the correct bag tags but not onward boarding pass from Seoul, normal for some international connections.
Even after departure, Hotwire never showed the correct itinerary on their website and hadn’t sent the proper changes to Delta or reconciled the issues.
The Problem With OTAs
The issue I have found when booking with Online Travel Agencies like Hotwire is that none of the parties involved ever seem to have full control of the ticket. Korean Air couldn’t make the schedule changes unless prompted first by Hotwire. When calling Hotwire, they could make a date change but not a route change, even when permitted by the carrier – they had to call Korean to get the change made.
To compound the issue, OTAs aren’t clear on what they do and do not control. Seat assignments could be added only by calling Korean Air directly, the same with adding frequent flyer account numbers.
Customers don’t know which vendor is responsible for what. Consumers spend an inordinate amount of time only to discover that another entity needs to be involved. Worse, the carrier and OTAs don’t seem to know which is within their control either, until they attempt to solve a matter only to be blocked by the other.
Hotwire and other OTAs could improve their customer experience by outlining which entity controls which aspect of the experience. The OTAs could provide easy and clear links or phone numbers for aspects of the ticket they cannot affect and better train their staff on the process.
While I was willing to buy this one itinerary through Hotwire, I won’t add them to a regular part of my process for bookings and that, for them, was a lost opportunity as I fear I am not the only one.
Have you had similar experiences with OTAs like Hotwire? Do you have suggestions for how they could improve the process? What do you do with tickets that never seem to be properly reissued?
It’s not just OTAs like Hotwire; I had a similar problem with Aeromexico on a ticket I’d booked via Citi ThankYou points. I suppose Connexions, Citi’s contracted TA, is technically an OTA, but they’re no better. Very long story short a schedule change that wound up bouncing me back and forth between AM and Citi resulted in my return ticket from Quito back to the US being completely cancelled. I had to shell out $3k for a same-day business class ticket with the promise of reimbursement. I spent two hours in the AM office in Quito getting written confirmation of my refund. It came about three weeks after my return, but not without hours of effort.
I had great experiences with Connexions when they operated the Chase UR portal. Nothing too complicated, but I had a couple air tickets that needed to be changed or canceled due to schedule changes, it was quick & easy, done correctly the first time.
Consider yourself lucky. I do t think it was entirely their fault; much of the confusion was due to me being shuffled back and forth between them, as described in the article. But ultimately AM cancelled my rebooked return ticket for the sale if changing my outbound when I was delayed. Connexions customer service is mostly fine, but they suffer from the same drawbacks as Expedia and the line when something gets screwed up.
Most otas are under one roof. There is not much competition. Similarly for all the dating websites. All belong to one guy, Barry Diller. This is v what happens when competition disappears.
I’ve had mixed experiences with OTAs. On less complicated routings, I’ve had them proactively fix schedule change and IrOps issues better than I’ve ever seen an airline handle them. One recent trip I’d booked for a client who required me to use Expedia, had me going to Burlington, VT. Mechanical issues wound up canceling my CLT-BTV flight, but within 3 minutes of a flight alert from AA telling me about the cancellation, I got a message from Expedia telling me I was now departing an hour later on DL, heading DEN-JFK-BTV instead of DEN-CLT-BTV.
In truth, I was only on AA because of the client’s lowest fare requirements, so being able to fly DL instead was a win and I actually arrived only 3 hours later, which is better than AA, who couldn’t have gotten me into Vermont until close to midnight, if not the following day entirely. Since I had early meetings and was only there for one full day, that would have quashed the whole trip.
OTAs work fine when things go fine -and your ticket does not change. I had one from Orbitz with AC and when my work changed, I needed to change the flight out. Happy to follow the COC and pay the change fee. Neither AC nor Orbitz would do it.. They just said you had to talk to the other. Both ignored the ticket terms and COC. I finally filed a complaint with the DOT, which wound up in an email exchange where I was able to show that what both said about alternative flights was simply not true from either website. When the DOT caught that, I got a full refund. Which I used to buy the alternative flights I wanted on AC for the same price.
But I learned a lesson. Never, ever buy an airline ticket with an OTA.
I had a nightmare experience with tripsta.com when trying to refund a ticket for a friend who couldn’t join me. So we were both booked on QR, but a schedule change meant my friend couldn’t join me. In the meantime tripsta.com went out of business. Tripsta.com said on its landing page clearly that any already-booked tickets are still valid and any changes/cancellation needs should be directed to the airline. I called QR and they refunded the ticket to the method of payment on file (tripsta’s account), but I didn’t see my money. It was impossible to get QR to do anything with the ticket/refund (said everything I’d under the control of the now-defunct OTA) and all I was given by them a number to call which was obviously dead and had a recorded message in Greek.