Airline website booking traps

We expose the website traps and surcharges that can blow out the cost of that bargain basement airfare.
 
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01 .Air tariff control

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If you’re not careful, a bargain basement airfare may cost more than you expect. Our review has found inconsistent approaches to opt-in and opt-out provisions such as travel insurance, car hire, checked baggage and carbon offsets.

Booking your next domestic flight online would seem to be a convenient way to secure cheap travel deals – after all, online booking systems appear designed to make accessing air travel easier and cheaper.  

However, many airlines bombard you with lengthy forms, often prefilled to include unnecessary optional extras. CHOICE shows you which sites to be wary of and how to avoid paying for options you don’t need.

In this report, you will find information on hidden extras using the online booking systems of:

For more information about Airline travel, please see General travel.

Video: airline-surcharges

CHOICE looks at some of the unexpected charges associated with airline travel in Australia.

Playing it safe

Travel insurance can be important for overseas and domestic travel.

Regardless of their questionable opting in and out policies, you should work out whether the cover provided by the airlines is right for you, or whether you should look elsewhere. It’s worth checking your options before you commit – after all, the one-size-fits-all policies that some airlines offer may not cover you for pre-existing issues, if you’re over a certain age or in other circumstances.

Always read the product disclosure statement before buying any travel insurance. And you may actually already have credit card-provided travel insurance. Check with your provider – you may be covered if you pay with your card.

Jetstar

Jetstar’s online booking system is inconsistent. Consumers must opt in to agree to:

  • Terms and conditions
  • Prepaid parking
  • SMS itineraries
But consumers must opt out of:

  • Loyalty club membership
  • Seat selection
  • Checked baggage
So make sure you click the right box if you’ve only got carry-on luggage.

CHOICE staff member Linda Magee recently booked a family trip with Jetstar. While the fare seemed cheap at first, she was shocked to find a number of extras she hadn’t realised she’d opted in for had been tacked on to the end of her bill. “I selected seats without realising they would cost extra,” she says.

“It doesn’t look like you have to pay something on top of the fare when you go through the steps, so I couldn’t believe it when I saw it on the bill at the end. By the time I realised what had happened, I’d wasted so much time on the booking process that I didn’t really have time to start again.”

But this was just the beginning; Linda was then stung by a $60 credit card payment fee. “I don’t have a Jetstar credit card, but I didn’t realise that it would cost me that much more to pay with my regular card. I paid up, but I won’t be flying with them again.”

A spokesperson told CHOICE: “Jetstar clearly discloses any charges and provides customers the choice to customise or remove any offering. We disclose this fee and fee-free payment options so there are no surprises.”

Qantas

Although Qantas has recently taken a blow to its reputation, the national carrier’s online booking system is the most transparent and easiest to navigate. 

Consumers have to select whether they accept terms and conditions, want to purchase travel insurance or carbon offsets or receive emailed flight specials or have their flight details remembered by the website for next time.

 
 

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Regional Express

Rex, the airline servicing Australia’s rural flyers, can also be tricky to navigate. Consumers opt in to receive their itinerary via SMS and for additional services such as transporting unaccompanied minors. 

But if you’re in a rush, you may not notice you must opt out of buying travel insurance.

As with all policies, customers can cancel their purchase within 14 days, but this is a trap to watch out for.

Tiger Airways

If you’re not careful with Tiger’s online booking system, you may be paying for extras you neither want nor need. 

Users opt in for terms and conditions and the carriage of sports equipment, but opt out of checked baggage. “The booking options available on Tiger’s website are based on customer demand,” says spokesperson Vanessa Regan.

Interestingly, sometimes during our testing we had to opt out of travel insurance, while other times buying travel insurance required going to a separate site. A pop-up advertising the option to switch to flexible ticketing, which allows flight changes but is very pricey, also interrupts the booking flow.

Regan says consumers need to be aware of the options they’re selecting in the booking process. “We encourage people to select carefully to ensure they tailor their travel needs correctly at the time of booking.”

Virgin Australia

While most of Virgin Australia’s booking system is straightforward, there is some trickiness. The box to opt in to Velocity Rewards, Virgin’s frequent flyer program, looks an awful lot like the terms and conditions box.

Inconsistently, customers must select whether they agree with terms and conditions, wish to check baggage, offset their carbon footprint or pay for extras such as seat selection, yet travel insurance is automatically selected, so you have to specifically opt out if you don’t want it. CHOICE member Kym Vercoe alerted us to this practice. 

Virgin spokesperson Melissa Thomson says customers who buy travel insurance without meaning to can cancel their policies. Virgin even sends customers an email informing them of their purchase and allowing them to reverse it after an online booking is completed.

“We’re fully supportive of travel insurance and thoroughly recommend it to all of our guests. But if they wish to, they have 14 days to cancel the travel insurance.”
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