Air fares not fair when travel sites advertise out of date prices

Skyscanner quoted me one price, but when I was sent through to Travelbag to pay it had gone up

I used the price comparison website Skyscanner to find the best deal for a return flight from London to Perth, Australia. I was quoted £701 and was sent to the Travelbag website, which confirmed the price and directed me to pay. By the time I had finished the fare had jumped to £722. I decided to go ahead anyway and again entered my details and clicked to confirm and pay. To my dismay a window appeared saying Travelbag was unable to confirm the flight and would contact me within 72 hours.

The next day I emailed and phoned, to no avail. A day later, after further calls, Travelbag rang to tell me the fare I had paid for was no longer available – it was now £763.

It seems quite unethical that a travel agent can hold a customer, having already authorised their credit card so they cannot look elsewhere, for three days during which time prices continue to rise. Moreover, when I checked back later Skyscanner and Travelbag were still advertising the lower price of £722. RK London

Not just unethical, but also potentially unlawful since consumer protection regulations require prices to be accurate and transparent. Guidance issued by the Office of Fair Trading and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) states that where companies are displaying prices based on a previous search rather than “live” prices, they must make this clear to consumers and explain that the latter will be displayed once they access the booking process.

“If travel companies do not display information in this way, they may be in breach of the regulations and customers can report this to us,” a CAA spokesman says. Skyscanner tells me it is not to blame because it displays prices it receives directly from travel agents and airlines, but promises it will, in future, keep a close eye on Travelbag’s figures.

Travelbag, meanwhile, says it is “at the mercy of airlines’ booking systems”. A spokeswoman says that “on rare occasions” the flight is no longer available at the advertised price, and an email is sent advising customers that their “reservation is being finalised” and confirmation will be sent within 72 hours. No payment is taken until confirmation, but the email neglects to mention that. Travelbag says it will “see if we can make it any clearer”.

As for your sighting of the cheaper “unavailable” price days layer, this “can be due to a number of factors such as flight seats which had been previously held by travel agents being released by the airline at a different price”, the spokeswoman says. Travelbag has now refunded you the £51 difference between the original price and the fare you were eventually charged as a gesture of goodwill.

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