Complaints over online flight booking procedures in Hong Kong soar in last year

Consumer Council calls for better communication between companies and their customers after fourfold increase in disputes over bookings

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 1:40pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 December, 2013, 4:13am

Complaints filed to the consumer watchdog about online flight bookings increased fourfold this year, leaving the Consumer Council calling for an urgent improvement in communications between companies and their customers.

The council revealed yesterday that it received 405 complaints from January to November compared to 110 in the same period last year. The complaints concerned airlines' own websites and travel agency websites.

"While I can't say that the companies are getting more cunning, there is certainly a need for the companies to improve communications with their customers," the council's chief executive, Gilly Wong Fung-han, said.

The amount of money involved in the disputes increased from HK$640,000 to HK$1.5 million. Wong declined to name any of the companies involved.

The number of complaints regarding ticket prices went up from 38 to 118, while complaints about delays in issuing tickets climbed from 21 to 166. The council does not keep track of how many of the complaints have been resolved.

In one case, a man bought five tickets to Japan through a budget airline's website at a total cost of HK$20,320. The site indicated that any change of travel date would be free, but when he later tried to change the date he was told he needed to pay HK$6,070. After he contacted the Consumer Council, the airline then explained that the low-fare tickets on the new dates were sold out and the surcharge was the difference between the fares. The airline later said other customers had changed their itineraries, making cheaper seats available. The man then paid HK$1,450.

In another case, a man paid just HK$3,650 for a ticket between Shanghai and Paris on a travel agent's website, but the e-ticket failed to arrive within the promised 24 hours.

It later turned out that the airline had made a mistake with its fare and had replaced it with the correct, more expensive offer. However, the travel agent had failed to pass the HK$3,650 on to the airline before the correction.

The ticket was eventually issued to the man.

The Travel Industry Council's chairman, Michael Wu Siu-ieng, said he believed that the number of online bookings had at least doubled since last year.

Tourism-sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said: "Now that people can book their flights through the internet at home after a long day at work, it is much easier."

But the Travel Industry Council's executive director, Joseph Tung Yao-chung, suggested Hongkongers book their flights with travel agencies at their offices so agents could address any concerns. "If you insist on booking the flights online, you will need to read all the terms of agreement carefully," he warned.