Yes. I know. The name “CheapOAir” should have been a clue. But my husband was relying on the Smuckers principle (You know… “With a name like Smuckers, it’s got to be good.”)
Tom figured a company called CheapO would surely be motivated to go out of its way to prove itself. And it’s true, he did save a few bucks booking through them. But we had no way of knowing at that time just what dealing with CheapOAir would cost us.
Our story begins innocently enough. Tom booked a trip from Los Angeles to Marsh Harbour, Bahamas through CheapOAir.com. His outbound leg consisted of a 10:40 pm JetBlue flight from LAX to Fort Lauderdale on April 22, followed by a Silver Airways flight from Fort Lauderdale to Treasure Cay, Bahamas the morning of April 23.
Driving to the airport on Saturday evening, April 22, however, Tom began to feel queasy. By the time we arrived at LAX, he was violently ill — literally vomiting in the car. (Sorry, Sweetie…) We waited in the airport parking lot for a few minutes hoping it would pass, but it soon became apparent that he wasn’t in any condition to enter the terminal – let alone board a plane! I turned around and drove home.
About 9:00 pm Los Angeles time (an hour and 40 minutes before the flight’s departure time), I called JetBlue. We could certainly reschedule Tom’s flight, they said, but since CheapOAir issued the ticket, changes had to be made through them. Fair enough.
Immediately, I rang CheapOAir and asked to change Tom’s trip to Tuesday night, April 25. They charged me $459 to make the change. According to the agent, $150 was an airline change fee and the balance was the fare difference.
At 10:39 pm Los Angeles time – one minute before Tom’s scheduled departure time – we received the email below from CheapOAir confirming the changes.
Tuesday, April 25
Tuesday morning, Tom still wasn’t well enough to fly. Once again, I called CheapOAir, and changed the flight – this time, to Saturday, April 29th. They charged me an additional $50, and sent me an email confirming the changes. So far, so good, right?
Except that a few hours later, a CheapOAir agent called back, saying “the airline” wouldn’t honour Tom’s ticket, because he was a “no-show” for his original April 22 flight. If he wanted to travel on the 29th, the agent said, Tom would have to buy a new ticket.
I explained that Tom was not a no-show. In fact, I said, CheapOAir had emailed me a confirmation of his flight changes before the original April 22 flight had even left the gate. “Oh, I understand,” the agent said. “Just a moment while I look into this.”
Fifteen minutes later, he returned. “I see what’s going on here,” he said. “Your husband was a no-show.” For more than ninety minutes, we went in circles, me explaining why Tom wasn’t a “no-show,” and the CheapOAir guy telling me he was.
Finally, I gave up and hung up. I called JetBlue. Their records indicated I had called well before flight time on April 22. The person I spoke with confirmed that Tom was definitely NOT a no-show. Furthermore, JetBlue’s records showed that after I called them on April 22, they had messaged CheapOAir, notifying them about the requested ticket change.
Although CheapOAir had to actually make the change, the JetBlue agent said, Tom’s ticket was absolutely still useable. “Insist on speaking with a supervisor and don’t give up!” she advised. In hindsight, I’m guessing this wasn’t her first experience with an unhappy CheapOAir customer.
I called CheapOAir and asked for a supervisor. The person who answered insisted she could help me. On the off chance she actually could (oh, naive me…), I explained the situation. She put me on hold for about fifteen minutes before returning to the line. “Aha!” she said. “I’ve figured it out! Your husband was a no-show for his flight.”
Ever felt the urge to drive a pen through your own eyeball?
When I insisted on speaking with a supervisor, the woman sounded peeved. She put me on hold, where I waited for more than half an hour. (Their hold music, incidentally, is the musical equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard. I’m pretty sure it’s designed to encourage unhappy customers to just give up and go away.)
Eventually, I was patched through to a man whose contempt oozed across the telephone line. Over his repeated belching, I explained the situation. To my delight, he said, “Oh, absolutely! I agree with you completely. Just hold on a few minutes and we’ll correct this.”
Ten minutes later, he was back. “I see what the problem is. Your husband was a no-show.”
Actual tears of frustration burned my eyes.
My gastrointestinally challenged friend continued, “It doesn’t matter that you called JetBlue before the flight left on April 22. You did not call CheapOAir to reschedule your husband’s flight until April 23rd.” Huh?!
“What was the date of the original flight?” he asked.
Frustrated, I snapped. “You have the file open, don’t you? You should know the date.”
“I know,” he said. “I just want to hear you say it.” Huh?!
He attempted to explain. I had contacted CheapOAir shortly after midnight Eastern time, he said. True – it was just past 9pm Pacific time when I called.
“And since Los Angeles is two hours ahead of the Eastern time zone,” he advised smugly, “that means you didn’t call us until after 2:00am on the 23rd!”
I must confess that at this point, based on his incoherence – not to mention all the belching – I did inquire as to whether the fellow had been drinking. He put me on hold – one imagines to Google “North American time zones.”
While waiting, though, I did a little Googling of my own. And I discovered dozens of complaints from equally frustrated CheapOAir customers. And though the details varied, the common thread was this: CheapOAir ran unhappy travellers in circles until, frustrated and exhausted, they simply gave up. (Remember that hold music?)
After forty-five minutes on hold, it occurred to me that the agent wasn’t coming back. Maybe it was last call at the local tavern.
I hung up and called JetBlue, where I was transferred to a supervisor, Christie in Salt Lake City. She reiterated that there was no problem with Tom’s ticket. She could see where CheapOAir had changed Tom’s itinerary from April 25th to the 29th, she said, but no ticket had been issued.
Christie explained that when a third party like CheapOAir issues a ticket for a trip with legs on different airlines, like Tom’s was, they have to arbitrarily issue the entire ticket on one airline’s ticket stock or the other. Only CheapO and the airline on whose ticket stock the trip is issued can make changes.
Because CheapOAir had chosen to issue the ticket under Silver Airways (the second leg of Tom’s trip,) JetBlue had no way to change it.
When I explained that CheapOAir was refusing to issue a new ticket, Christie suggested that I conference them in with her on the line, so she could authorize them to make the changes. I did this, and we got a guy named “Barry” who listened, said he understood completely and would issue the ticket for April 29.
The only issue, said Barry, was the airline’s $200 ticket change fee. “Wait,” I said. “The CheapOAir agent I spoke with on April 22 said that $150 of the $459 I paid was the airline change fee. And the follow-up email specifically says that the $459 includes the airline penalty fee.” No, he said. “That was the CheapOAir change fee. You were never charged the airline change fee.”
Christie said that, given all the hassle I had endured, Jet Blue would waive their $200 change fee. She generated a code and read it off to Barry, authorizing him to waive the fee on behalf of JetBlue.
Naturally, since nothing is ever straightforward with CheapOAir, Barry claimed he could not accept this waiver without approval from Silver Airways. He put us on hold to call them.
After Christie and I had waited together on the line about fifteen minutes, she noticed the time. It was past 6:00 p.m. in Florida, meaning Silver Airways’ office was closed. She telephoned two separate Silver Airways numbers, and both times reached recordings saying the airline’s offices were closed for the day.
Shortly thereafter, Barry returned to the line. He was on hold with Silver Air, he claimed, waiting for an agent. Sure, Barry.
After fifteen more minutes of holding, Barry returned to inform Christie and me that Silver Airways was closed. However, he assured us he would contact them in the morning, finalize everything and call me back.
Christie said she’d be off work the next day, Wednesday, but she told Barry and me she’d made detailed notes in my file (I literally heard her typing it all in) and any JetBlue supervisor could help us. Christie also gave me her office telephone number and extension, in case the problem wasn’t solved on Wednesday.
Just before 11:00 pm that evening, out of the blue, I got a call from a random agent from CheapOAir. He had “just gotten off the phone with Silver Airways,” he claimed, and they “categorically insist that your husband was a no-show and has forfeited his ticket.”
Knowing that Silver Airways was closed (it was now 2:00 am in Florida, where their offices are located) and had been since before my conversation with Christie and Barry earlier that day, I politely informed this caller that he was a liar and hung up.
Wednesday, April 26
Of course, on Wednesday morning, the minute I went to prepare the dog’s breakfast (there’s a joke in there somewhere…) Barry called and left me a voicemail message.
He had spoken with Silver Airways, he said, and, “they refuse to accept Jet Blue’s waiver code.” Furthermore, he claimed to have called JetBlue, but they said they had no record of Christie’s call with us. He promised, however, that he would wait until Christie returned to the office Thursday morning, and call her himself. Riiiight.
Wednesday afternoon, just out of curiosity, I called Silver Airways and asked to speak with a supervisor. I spoke with a very nice man who checked the records and said that they had no record of any CheapOAir agent having called them about a waiver code.
The Silver Airways supervisor reiterated what Christie had told me. That although he could see where CheapOAir had changed Tom’s itinerary to the 29th of April, they hadn’t actually issued a ticket. When I told him I’d spent hours on the phone with CheapOAir, but they wouldn’t cooperate, he told me that CheapO was legally obligated to issue Tom a new ticket.
“That’s all well and good,” I said to him. “But I can’t very well go to New Delhi, or Mumbai, or wherever they are and force them, can I? What do I do if they just plain refuse?”
“Report them to the credit card company for fraudulent behaviour,” was his reply.
Thursday April 27
By 9:15 am on Thursday, I had received no call from Barry. So I steeled myself and called CheapOAir. The guy who answered my call identified himself – I kid you not — as Pinocchio.
Pinocchio listened to my story, put me on hold for a long time, then came back. “I’ll have to put you through to a supervisor,” he said. “The supervisory team is well aware of your situation.” I’ll bet they are.
For almost an hour, I waited on hold. Finally, a “supervisor” took the call. CheapOAir could not issue us a ticket, she said, because both JetBlue and Silver Airways had reported Tom as a no-show. Despite my usual protestations, she told me Tom would have to buy a whole new ticket.
I informed her that I was DONE. If she could not solve this problem on this phone call, my next call would be to the credit card company to report CheapOAir for fraud.
Insisting that Silver Airways was refusing to permit her to issue a new ticket, she offered to conference in someone from Silver to explain it to me.
“Are you telling me,” I asked, “that if Silver Airways is willing to have you issue the ticket, you’ll do so?”
“Absolutely!” she said. “Hold on while I call Silver.” She put me on hold for about half an hour. Odd, given that whenever I have called Silver Airways, I’ve never had to wait more than a couple of minutes for an agent.
Finally, that bloody hold music got to me. I decide it wasn’t worth the stomach acid. I gave up, hung up and had begun searching for alternative flights on Expedia.com (which, by the way, I’ve used dozens of times, without incident) when the phone rang.
It was the woman from CheapOAir! She had a rep from Silver Airways on the other line, she said, and she asked the Silver Airways agent to tell me why they wouldn’t allow CheapOAir to issue a ticket.
The Silver Airways agent – God bless her – asked me to explain the situation. After hearing my story, she told the CheapOAir lady that she needed to issue Tom a ticket.
The CheapO lady wouldn’t budge. Tom was a no-show, she insisted. I hadn’t called to make the flight changes until April 23rd, she said. I reminded her that I had an email dated April 22nd at 10:39 Pacific time, indicating the changes had been made.
“Read the whole email,” she snapped. “You may have received it before the flight time, but the email clearly says that the itinerary isn’t final until it’s confirmed by the airline.”
I shouted into the phone, “The airline is confirming it now!”
The Silver Airways agent tried to reason with CheapOAir. I had done everything I was supposed to do, she said, everything I could do. And she was very clear that CheapOAir owed us a ticket.
The CheapOAir rep just plain refused to do so. I was furious! Why then, I asked, had she wasted more than an hour of my time on the phone waiting for and speaking with Silver Airways, when, regardless of what Silver said, she didn’t plan to issue us a ticket.
“Different people at Silver Airways tell us different things,” she whined.
“Well THIS Silver Airways person says to issue us a ticket!” I replied.
On and on, around and around, this three-way discussion went. Nearly an hour later, when neither I nor the lady from Silver Airways could convince the CheapOAir agent to issue Tom a ticket as they were legally required to do, the Silver Airways lady gave me her office phone number and told me to hang up and call her directly.
When I did, this kind soul, Ms. Murray, said she would make the necessary changes to ensure Tom got his ticket. And she did just that. Within 10 minutes. No lies. No talking in circles. No horrific hold music. No begging. No pleading. No tears.
All told, between calls to CheapOAir, JetBlue and Silver Airways, and combinations thereof, I spent more than twelve hours on the telephone. Agents from the latter two organizations were professional and friendly. Even when they couldn’t solve the problem, it was clear they wanted to help.
CheapOAir? Their representatives could not have been less interested in helping me. And it wasn’t just one bad agent. It was every single person I spoke with. It was hour upon hour of excuses, insincerity and runaround.
They stole my time and, but for one wonderful Silver Airways agent, would have stolen more than $1,400 from us.
So, dear reader. If you’re ever considering using CheapOAir, please contact me.
I will immediately come to wherever you are and whack you into unconsciousness with a brick.
Trust me, the experience will be immeasurably more pleasant than dealing with CheapOAir.