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Call for Action: How to make sure third-party travel sites don't mess up your plans

Local woman gets money back after call for action

Call for Action: How to make sure third-party travel sites don't mess up your plans
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Call for Action: How to make sure third-party travel sites don't mess up your plans

MADISON, Wis. - If you’ve ever used a third-party travel site to book your vacations, a Madison woman has a warning over a costly mistake one website made that took years to correct. 

Asmeret Adhanom has three young daughters. She flew them to her home country of Ethiopia to see her brother get married, and she says while they have great memories from the trip, the flight there was a nightmare. Asmeret says she bought her tickets through CheapO Air online. When the family got to the airport, her two youngest daughters – 11 and 5 at the time - had been booked on a separate flight to another airport in Ethiopia. 

“How could a 5-year-old separate from mom and [fly into] another airport?,” Asmeret said. 

She had to pay out of pocket, on the spot, in the airport to get her daughters on the same flight with her. And while she says CheapO promised to repay her, that was three years ago. The company spent three years communicating with Asmeret and our Call for Action volunteers with no resolution until News 3 Now got involved.

Within the last week, representatives from CheapO told News 3 Now in an email it planned to reimburse Asmeret the money she spent at the airport on new tickets. 

“Researching this case allowed us to understand how the mistakes occurred,” the company said in its statement.  “When Ms. Adhanom made her original booking, it appears she made an error when selecting her connecting airport.  When she called to have the mistake corrected, our agent unfortunately missed reissuing the updated tickets for two of the passengers.

“We hope you and your team understand that this is in no way reflective of our company's normally stellar customer service and values.  We take our relationship with our customers, and our responsibility to them, very seriously.  We do everything we can to work on behalf of our customers and we are very glad we were able to resolve this case for Ms. Adhanom.”

We asked the Better Business Bureau if there’s a lesson to be learned from Asmeret’s story when it comes to booking travel through third-party sites. Spokesperson Tiffany Schultz said you shouldn’t necessarily avoid using them. 

“There are people who have great experiences through those sites – Expedia, Booking, CheapO, Kayak,” she said. 

BBB hasn’t had any complaints when it comes to CheapO. Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has had three, but a spokesperson with DATCP said they were all billing-related, not similar to Asmeret’s story. Here’s a look at the number of complaints the department had with other travel sites. 

Here’s some advice from both the BBB and DATCP when it comes to booking online. 

1.    Do your research – this sounds obvious. Specifically, check social media posts to see what others have to say about the company, and how well the company responds to complaints. Also check reviews and complaints on watchdog websites like BBB.org. 

2.    Double-check a site’s deal with the airline’s website, and consider booking directly through the airline to avoid any potential reimbursement problems with the middle man. 

3.    Watch for phony travel websites that might offer unrealistic ads. While this wasn’t the issue in Asmeret’s case, there are reports of websites set up to steal personal information and payment from unsuspecting consumers. 

Do you have a consumer complaint or issue? Call our Call for Action volunteers every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. at 608-270-2833. 

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