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Tonight I tried to book a long trip for 4 through justairticket.com.

I found they had the lowest prices by far - international. So I booked. Was happy. 10 mins later. Cell phone rings.

Brian (justairticket) calls me from a New Jersey number but obviously he was in India. Brian asks me if I want to upgrade or take faster flights for more money. I say no. Brian then tells me my flight is not available for the price. I then threaten to call AMEX and he then offers other tickets for the same price.

So didn't book through them as you might suspect. (2 hours later the tickets still available on their site for same price)

With the seemingly 100s of booking sites what can travelers do to make sure they are dealing with a legit site? Also is there any recourse when you get duped?

Note: I was sent to this site from kayak.com - which has to be one of the largest airline booking sites in the world. What is the use of looking for low fares if I cannot trust any of those sites?

Update! My last call last night ended with me telling Brian that they had committed bait and switch and that I was reporting him to the BBB and NJ police. I have done both. Just 2 mins ago - some 11 hours after my conversation with Brian, another justairticket.com rep (from India) calls me from 201-942-1029. He informs me of the new deals. I tell him I have reported his company for fraud. He continues to tell me about deals I could have!

Update#2 I go on their website. The same exact flight is STILL BEING OFFERED for the SAME PRICE. So they tell me that I can't have it after I buy it then still advertise the same thing on their site. I cannot believe I live in the US and there is no one I can call to watch a crime happen and take care of this. It is one thing for them to have committed bait and switch - they are openly still committing it and too dumb to understand the complaints against them.

Update#3 Jersey City Police called me back - AMEX suggested I file fraud report with the police due to justairticket having brick and mortar. JCP tells me that they doubt they find anything more than a few empty boxes at this place. Then the detective verified that he still sees the fraud taking place. And then says that due to US regulations there is almost nothing he can do. He says that even seeing the issue it still falls under civil crimes and it is hard for the police to enforce anything no matter how guilty the company is. So it looks like this question is pretty important - what can consumers do to protect themselves (especially in the US where there seems to be little to no regulation)?

Update4 - JC Police have actually followed up. They are sending a cease and desist order to justairticket.com on the addresses they have list in Jersey City and have an official fraud case open on them (I got a case #). The detective said that I had a rare case of the crime still happening and their real issue is that they called me and every time they called me confirmed they were in NJ. He said without that they would have been stuck. He said his expectations are really nothing but he said he hasn't seen a more solid case than this with evidence so the local DA team wants to use it as an example...

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    "they had the lowest prices by far" ... the biggest red flag there is for buying airline tickets online. – user13044 Nov 6 '15 at 8:01
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    They do have Indian people in New Jersey you know. – OrangeDog Nov 6 '15 at 11:14
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    IATA - the International Air Transport Association - have a process for becoming an "accredited agent", with various quality control and policies. Most "legit" flight bookers and travel agents are IATA accredited, I think guarantees a certain level of quality assurance. I'd post this as an answer, but that's literally all I know on the subject. – user568458 Nov 6 '15 at 14:47
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    It looks like that particular site is registered with the American Society of Travel Agents - asta.org/agents/… - here's ASTA's code of ethics and here's the address to complain to if you think they've broken that code (which it sounds like they have) – user568458 Nov 6 '15 at 15:27
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    @OrangeDog - Yes understand that. But when a helpdesk calls you with super super thick Indian accents and you talk to 3 people total with the same accent - they are not in NJ. Also the company didn't even pay for the good English speakers in India. – blankip Nov 6 '15 at 16:18
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You could check what country they're headquartered in and if they have a Better Business Bureau (or local equivalent) rating/listing. You can also check online for reviews or even ask on Travel.SE if your initial search doesn't bear results.

In terms of recourse if you're duped (assuming you mean they took your money but didn't give you tickets), after contacting their customer support to make sure it's not a fixable error, you can file a credit card chargeback to get your money back and complain to the BBB or a similar local business registry regarding the company's fraudulent behavior. Documenting your experience on a high-traffic travel forum online will help others avoid getting scammed, too, as they might see your story when they search for the website.

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    I understand all of this. I can look at reviews. I can contact BBB. They were in the US. All sites have terrible reviews some worse than others. Bait and switch is a heavily enforced type of fraud in most of the US. Me being duped not only cost me time but cost me windows of buying tickets and having to get reissued new cards. – blankip Nov 6 '15 at 7:22
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Further to my initial comment: "they had the lowest prices by far" ... the biggest red flag there is for buying airline tickets online, buyers need to research a variety of sources and compare pricing. With airfares, prices are set by the airlines and as such most online booking sites will show the same airfares.

When you come across the website that has appreciably lower airfares than anyone else, then you need to be suspicious and look into them more. There are four common scenarios that could be applicable: 1) They are a consolidator with legitimate discounted fares; 2) They are showing the lowest fare for that city pair not whats available; 3) They are selling tickets that were "bought" with frequent flyer miles; 4) They are simply con artists and criminals.

Consolidators are becoming less common, as airlines don't really give them that huge of a discount anymore and people can find similar airfares online. They usually mention that they are consolidators and you will likely see notices about the restrictions that come with their fare, such as zero frequent flyer miles. They are also the primary advertisers in the Sunday travel sections of big newspapers. They will usually have their seller of travel licenses posted for several states. They are usually right up front about the fact that you need to request your flight and they will confirm it later.

Businesses selling frequent flyer ticketed fares are pretty easy to spot because they almost always push their killer offers for business class and first class airfares (like $2500 for a $9000 first class seat). These folks, same as consolidators will tell you to submit your request and they will confirm it later. But these tickets are against airline frequent flyer policy and you could be denied boarding on your first flight or even billed for the flight.

Number two is basically bait & switch, but most of these businesses have things worded such that they aren't really guilty by the letter of the law (hence the police comments about not being able to do much).

Determining if they are legitimate, after you have been suckered in but before you push the "book it" button...

  • Do a quick search of the bigger air travel forums - flyertalk.com, tripadvisors.com's air travel forum.

  • Do a quick search on google for Problems with Company Name, etc.

  • Most states allow you to look up business licenses for "professional" categories under which travel agencies usually fall.

  • Check with the BBB for feedback on the company.

Unfortunately, just because they show up on mega-search platforms like Kayak.com, does not mean they are 100% above board. Businesses can be "legal" and also "unethical".

  • I think this is a really good answer. A few follow up questions... Is this mainly a US issue due to our lack of internet regulation? Also why do sites like expedia and kayak - which I used to trust at one point in time - do business with these leaches? If you look at the partners for kayak, I am not sure there are many you can trust. – blankip Nov 7 '15 at 5:32
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    I dont think it is a US issue, online fraud exists all over the world and there compaies specializing in "business addresses for rent" specifically for virtual businesses. A criminal could easily have a business address in several different countries. Companies like Expedia do their own booking, so don't deal with these shady companies. Kayak on the other hand is simply a specialized search engine. They make their money from ads and referrals. – user13044 Nov 8 '15 at 12:24
  • I've come across sites that claim—on EVERY flight—"only two seats left at this price!" I don't buy from them either. – WGroleau Dec 6 '16 at 23:56

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