Have you booked flights through the online bookers Tripsta or AirTickets? If you have, there is a potentially serious problem. Tripsta/AirTickets is a Greek-based company, but sold flights worldwide through the internet. They seem to have been very good at getting people to pay them for tickets, but much less effective at paying the airlines for them. As a result they ran up an airline debt of €59 million for May 2018 alone, with no funds available to meet this. They agreed a settlement plan with the airline trade association IATA, which would have meant the outstanding balance was paid off by 2020, and in the meantime new bookings were only allowed against company or customers own credit cards, so no further debt could accrue.
Now Tripsta/Air Tickets has claimed that its main supplier, the Global Distribution System (GDS) company Travelport has pulled the plug on it. Most Tripsta staff have been fired, and a subsidiary Travelplanet24 is now only selling ferry tickets.
Despite public statements that some staff have been retained to deal with refunds and rebookings, internet discussion groups are full of passengers complaining that they cannot contact the company at all.
What’s my advice?
- If you have a confirmed booking though one of the Tripsta companies, check that it still exists and that you can access it through the airline website. Keep checking every day or so as sometimes what appears to be a firm booking is actually an unconfirmed reservation, and at some point the airline computer system will come along and clean up unconfirmed reservations. Check in on line at the earliest time possible.
- Don’t even think about trying to change or cancel a confirmed booking made through this company. Just live with what you’ve got, or write it off to experience, unless the airline is willing to do this directly for you (and many will not be).
- If you have paid Tripsta for a flight and it isn’t confirmed, contact your credit card company or bank and ask them to charge the amount back. This may or may not be possible depending on regulations in your country of residence. You’ve little or no chance of getting anything back from Tripsta.
- Don’t make ferry bookings through Travelplanet24 – there’s no guarantee that this subsidiary will be able to meet its obligations to ferry companies – though I’m not saying that it can’t, why take the risk?
- Don’t make flight or ferry bookings through online resellers at all in future. Book directly with the airline or shipping line if you want to do it on line, or if you need agency services, call in and talk to a real live travel agent. That way you log out or walk out with a confirmed booking, terms and conditions are explained, you don’t end up paying for things you don’t want, or not getting things you do want (like baggage allowances, or seat reservations).
- If you think online resellers are cheaper – think again. Tripsta didn’t buy blocks of seats cheaply from airlines and resell them to eager travellers, they waited until someone had spotted a price on their website and asked them to make a booking, and then logged on to Travelport to make the actual booking. Often the price on Tripsta’s website was out of date, or didn’t include hold baggage, and the customer ended up paying more than they expected, indeed more than they would have paid if they’d gone direct in the first place.
- If you still insist on ignoring this advice, at least look to see the registered address of the online reseller and work out how you could get redress if things go wrong, before using them. Some countries have historically poor consumer protection and/or financial conduct rules. On this front, exactly the same situation occurred in 2014 when another Greek online ticket seller, airfasttickets, failed to meet its obligations due to lack of liquidity.