A suburban couple is out hundreds of dollars after missing a scheduled flight and they have a warning for other consumers: always find out who you are talking to when attempting to cancel a flight.
Kathy and Paul DeCarlo of Johnsburg made big plans for their 25th wedding anniversary: a trip to Las Vegas to renew their wedding vows. Kathy said it was the first time the two had travelled alone in sixteen years.
The couple’s departure was scheduled for the afternoon of April 5. But on the way to O’Hare International Airport, Kathy and Paul got stuck in a traffic jam caused by an accident that killed a construction worker hours earlier.
“We had left in ample time to make it,” Kathy said. “I think it was four miles in three hours and we knew we weren’t going to make it.”
The couple said while stuck on Interstate 90 they searched for “Spirit Airlines” on a smart phone. They said a website that included “spirit-airlines” popped up on their phone. They called the number that appeared and said the person on the other end of the phone answered “reservations.”
“I tell them we can’t make our flight and why we can’t make our flight,” Kathy said. “They’re leading to me to believe I am on the phone with Spirit Airlines.”
According to Kathy, the agent they were speaking to booked them a later flight on another airline at a cost of $840.
“I wouldn’t call and rebook myself someplace else because I’ve got an extra 800 dollars laying around,” Kathy said. “I’m rebooking myself on what I think is Spirit Airlines.”
Kathy said she had already purchased trip insurance and bought new airline tickets expecting a credit with Spirit. Kathy and her husband made the later flight and enjoyed their anniversary celebration in Las Vegas.
A few days after returning home, however, Kathy and Paul said they learned the travel website they contacted was not, in fact, working for Spirit Airlines. The couple also found out no one had canceled their original flight.
The result: no refund or credit for the original $740 they spent on Spirit Airlines tickets.
Kathy later contacted the travel company and demanded answers.
“He said, ‘We’re a Spirit Airlines representative’,” Kathy said. “What does that mean?”
The travel company later told NBC 5 News it books flights for Spirit Airlines and it is up to customers to ask them to cancel other flights.
Kathy is urging consumers who may find themselves stuck in similar situations to always ask who they are speaking to when contacting travel companies, especially travel websites that pop up during online searches.
“We were just so panicked,” Kathy said. “I just trusted everybody.”
A spokesperson for Spirit Airlines said he was sorry to hear about Kathy and Paul’s inconvenience, but the airline had no contact from the passengers or the online travel site until three days after their return.
“We always advise customers to take extra caution when booking or rebooking,” the spokesperson said.
Travel expert Csilla Dali said passengers who are considered “no shows” by airlines often lose-out on their return flights.
“The system is set up to automatically cancel all the flights afterwards,” Dali said.
Dali, who owns Hoffman Estates-based Global Voyages and serves as Midwest chapter president of the American Society of Travel Agents, said travelers should check-in with their airline 24 hours prior to departure to avoid any confusion.
“When they do that they do get access to the airline’s reservation system, phone number, reservation numbers,” Dali said. “Everything that they know is on their boarding pass.”
Dali also reminds travelers that most cancelled tickets have some sort of value (minus exchange penalties) that can be used within a year of purchase.
Still, Dali said Kathy and Paul should have been advised of all their choices before being talked into buying new tickets.
Kathy said the link she used to change her original flight is no longer listed and the phone number she dialed alternates between a travel company, a car dealer and a sign company.
Spirit Airlines said it works hard to protect consumers from suspicious websites. But it appears to be an issue that won’t go away.
The spokesperson said, “Unfortunately, once we get one of these sites shut down, another one pops right up.”