Barhite: Watch for fees when making spring break plansWritten by Brandi Barhite | Community Ombudsman | firstname.lastname@example.org
Just when I thought I was saving money by booking part of my spring break trip through a website, I ended up with a “travel agent’s fee.”
When this $21.99 appeared as a line item on my credit card statement, I started to rant.
“I didn’t even use a travel agent!” When I had used the skills of a travel agent in the past, I had talked to her, met with her and knew she was a real person.
Then, I looked into this alleged “help” from a travel agent, and I calmed down. Perhaps this service fee was justifiable, albeit annoying and hard to find.
First off, it is completely legal — and fairly routine — to pay a service fee if you use a website to plan a trip, according to John Pittman, vice president of industry affairs for American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA).
There are many different types of travel agents and agencies, he said, and many charge for their specialization, including those who put together options that allow you and me to book from the convenience of our laptops.
When I went back to examine my booking price, clicked on another link and looked really, really closely, I noticed that the fee was within the total price; the travel agent’s fee just happened to be itemized on the credit card statement.
I thought this seemed tricky; however, “as long as the total and full price is revealed to you” at the time of checkout, it is acceptable, Pittman said.
I contacted Marita Hudson Thomas, director of public relations at Orbitz Worldwide, to learn about this popular website’s policy. Orbitz Worldwide includes the online travel brand CheapTickets.com.
“There is a service fee on airline tickets booked on Orbitz.com for multi-carrier itineraries and flights that originate outside of the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean that carry a non-refundable fee which is shown as a separate line item on customers’ credit card statements,” she wrote in an email.
“Customers do often save when booking with Orbitz because they get benefits that they would not get if booking direct with an airline, offline travel agent or even with another online travel company,” Thomas said. “At Orbitz, not only will customers not pay a fee on single carrier flights, they also have the advantage of Price Assurance. If an Orbitz customer books a flight or prepaid hotel room on Orbitz … we immediately start tracking to see if another customer books the same itinerary at a lower price.”
Pittman said travel agents add value to a trip. They can get deals that you and I wouldn’t otherwise be able to secure. Travel agents can also provide advice; the best deal doesn’t always mean the lowest price. But if you are worried about their business practices, he suggested checking to see if they are members of ASTA, which takes complaints and enforces a code of ethics.
“And don’t stop there; go to your local BBB site and look at the rating,” Pittman said. “And ask around, ask your friends and see who they use.”
Maybe that is what I should have done.
Email Toledo Free Press Community Ombudsman Brandi Barhite at email@example.com.