I’d like to alert travelers to a common problem that they may run into, one which is designed to bilk them from their hard-earned money and leave them powerless to do anything about it. But this “scam” isn’t perpetrated on the dangerous streets, nor is it orchestrated by hardened thugs and criminals. No, this hustle that entraps even the most seasoned travelers (including yours truly) is run by the airlines.
I know, you’re thinking that the airlines are the biggest criminals these days with the high ticket prices they charge combined with their ridiculously bad customer service. But there’s one more shell game they’re pulling on you.
Let me run down how it recently happened to me, putting me out more than $500 USD unnecessarily.
I was flying from Bangkok, Thailand back to Manila in the Philippines on December 8, 2017. Preparing my documents while I waited in the long check-in line at Bangkok’s huge international airport, I finally got up to the front.
The nice Thai Airways workers took my passport and started checking me in. She then asked me for proof that I was leaving the Philippines in the form of an outbound ticket.
Unfortunately, this is standard practice in many countries. It also makes no real sense. For instance, you can extend your tourist visa again and again, or take a bus across borders to leave the Philippines, or a ferry boat, or arrange your ticket while you’re staying in the country, as most people do. But they still need to see proof of exit, and the only proof they’ll accept is an outbound ticket.
Luckily, I was prepared, so I handed them my airline ticket I had booked through a local travel company. For a small fee, this travel company issues tickets but doesn’t pay for them yet, so you can get proof of exit without paying the full amount. Unfortunately, Thai Airways said that there was a problem with one of the dates on the ticket and it was invalid, although they wouldn’t clarify or show me.
So, I was faced with needing a new ticket right there on the spot to show them so I could get on my plane and leave that day. What were my options? Just passing through, I didn’t have a Thai SIM card so I couldn’t get online. And I tried to log in to their airport wi-fi, but of course, it didn’t work. The only way I could book a ticket in time, the lady told me, was to go into the Thai Airways office conveniently located right next to us.
Rushing into there, they told me that I could buy a ticket that was fully refundable, less a $75 service charge. That sounded good, and I paid (luckily I had a credit card on me), although the ticket was a whopping $540 because of that fully-refundable feature (normally it would have been around $180).
No problem. I paid, checked in, and got on the plane in the nick of time.
Well, when I went to call the Thai Airways cancellation number they’d provided, for a Philippines office located in Manila, I found it extremely hard to get through. After about ten attempts and two hours, I finally spoke to someone, who said they could cancel my ticket.
They took my ticket number and details, (supposedly) logged it into their system, and canceled the ticket. The lady on the phone said I’d receive that full $540 refund. I asked if I needed a confirmation number or receipt and she said no, the ticket number was the only info I needed. I asked her twice and three times to be sure, but she promised me it was canceled.
Guess what? When my credit card statement came, the charges were on there. Even when I called up and disputed them, I couldn’t get them off, as it was just my word against theirs if I’d called and canceled at all.
Be aware of this airline scam and prepare to book your own backup flight at the last minute if you ever need to! Get receipts and email confirmations for everything and don’t trust the airlines!