As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new outdoor mask guidance on Tuesday, many are looking to finally take the trips they missed out on last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But before you book your next flight or change one, the Better Business Bureau is warning passengers to be careful about booking flights online.
In a new announcement shared exclusively with “Good Morning America” Wednesday, the BBB is telling passengers to beware of dealing with a third party that charges extra fees instead of dealing with the airline directly.
“Consumers need to be careful when they’re online,” Katherine Hutt, chief communications officer for the BBB, told "GMA." “Searching for an airline or other travel service, they may come across a website that looks like it’s the real deal, but it could be a third party that’s going to charge an extra fee for a transaction that you could have done for yourself for free.”
Kathleen Marcozzi, a customer of American Airlines, said she came across this issue recently when she needed to rebook her family’s flight from Orlando, Florida.
““I googled 'how do I get a person at American Airlines.' And then I called the number that came up,” Marcozzi told “Good Morning America.”
When she dialed the number that she found on Google, Marcozzi said someone answered right away and said they were a representative of American Airlines. But things went south when the “representative” told her it would cost $400 to change her flights. Marcozzi said he also sent her a document to sign from a company called Travel Service Pad and was told that she would lose her flight if she didn’t sign the document.
“I said, ‘I’m not signing this,’” said Marcozzi, who ended up calling American Airlines directly and was able to change her flights free of charge.
Now, experts like Hutt are warning customers how easy it is to be directed to third parties online when booking or rebooking flights.
“You look up, rebook my flight and you put in the airline’s name and a number comes up,” cybersecurity expert Theresa Payton said. “Chances are if that travel company has purchased a Google ad and put in the search engine terms, things like the airline name rebooking flights, that ad will be one of the first results returned to you.”
Hutt says one way to avoid being in a sticky situation when rebooking your flight is to do your homework first.
While Marcozzi says she avoided paying unnecessary fees, in the past year, 19 complaints about Travel Pad -- also known as Globehunters -- have been filed to the BBB. On the BBB’s website, the travel agency has a “D” rating and customers have complained about its advertising practices, sales practices and billing issues.
Travel Service Pad and Globehunters, denied ever misleading customers to “GMA.”
“We never say on the call that we are the airline," Travel Service Pad and Globehunters said in a statement to "GMA." "We never charge the customer without the customer actually acknowledging all the flight details and change fees by signing the document sent to them from the agent.”
Complaints about the company are currently being investigated by the Florida Attorney General’s office.
Here are some tips that the BBB recommends before booking a trip:
Verify the booking site
Before you purchase tickets, the BBB says to read all the fine print, cancellation policies and refund policies. Also, research the relationship of the booking site with the airlines. If you’re still unsure, you can always call the number where you purchased the original ticket or go to the airline’s website and contact them.
Check the website security
The BBB says to look for the https:// on the website before entering any personal or financial information. Also, always use a credit card to retain the ability to dispute and cancel the transaction.
Save everything from copies of confirmation messages and email communication to text messages and anything related to the transaction. In addition, verify the customer service number provided in the communication.
Research the airline
When in doubt, see if the airline uses third-party booking sites and compare flights and prices.
Research complaints, reviews and ratings before booking. If you’ve spotted something that looks questionable (whether or not you’ve lost money), report it to BBB.org/ScamTracker, which can help others avoid falling victim to scams.