Sue Marcus was looking for a flight from Washington to Tulsa.
Instead, she found trouble.
Every time the American Airlines Web site asked her to select a return flight, it came back with an error message saying that the fare she’d selected was “no longer available.” She phoned the airline to finish the reservation. “A customer service agent told me that she couldn’t use the same Web system that the public sees, though she found a fare that was $50 higher than the flight I’d originally chosen,” says Marcus, a retired government worker from Fairfax.
When Marcus asked why this was, the agent said that bookings are made in “real time,” while the Web site updates aren’t. In other words, Marcus was seeing fares that had already been purchased by someone else. “The representative said that there had been lots and lots of complaints about this issue,” she recalls.
That’s true. Gripes about what some call the airline “bait-and-switch” scam cross my desk regularly. Passengers find an affordable ticket price displayed on an airline Web site or by an online travel agency such as Expedia, Orbitz or Travelocity, but the fare vanishes when they try to buy it. Passengers like Marcus then have no choice but to book a more expensive flight.