Anyone who travels more than a couple of times a year has run into this scenario. You go on the Internet or the airlines website. You find a flight you want. You see the price. You click “Purchase”. Then, the price jumps by a hundred dollars or so. Or, you get kicked out of the site, with the announcement that the fare is “no longer available”.

The fare that you thought was a great deal is what the industry calls a “ghost fare”; an airline price that once existed, but is now gone. The FAA has cracked down on the major Internet sites and airlines’ web sites, but these ghost fares are still out there. The bane of frustration for millions of travelers, and the reason why equal numbers have sworn off Internet travel shopping, is once again the topic of a story by Christopher Elliott, writer for Tribune Media Services. For those who still believe that the Internet is the best source of booking travel, or that the airlines will offer the lowest fares, please – PLEASE – read on…

Time to get real about real-time airfares

By Christopher Elliott of Tribune Media Services


Sue Marcus was looking for a flight from Washington, D.C., to Tulsa, Okla.
Instead, she found trouble.

Every time the American Airlines website 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, Va.

When Marcus asked why this was, the agent said that bookings are made in “real time,” while the website 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 website 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.

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