On your next Google search for “best airline ticket prices” you may want to think twice before clicking on any link to an online travel agency that promises discount travel vouchers, cheap airline tickets or free airfare. Most of the time it really is too good to be true and you would be better off searching for deals on well known, trusted websites.
A recent Google search placed the online travel agency site JustFly.com on my radar. With 80 percent off and a lowest flight price guarantee—is it really too good to be true? Sounds like an awesome deal, right? Let’s hold back the reigns for a moment.
Keeping due diligence in mind
With a little bit of web research, you can generally learn the good, the bad or the ugly about a specific website. Though a site may appear aesthetically pleasing and professional—not all websites are created equal.
As an example: Let’s look at JustFly (while keeping due diligence in mind):
This year the Better Business Bureau (BBB) reissued a warning to consumers ()as they did during the previous year). The BBB first warned about JustFly during the summer of 2015 when the online travel agency only had 37 consumer complaints. But,during the spring of 2016—consumer complaints skyrocketed 85 percent to 250. As of this writing JustFly has more than doubled consumer complaints—up by 294 to a whopping 544 consumer complaints.
The BBB states JustFly has claimed “addresses in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, and Rocky Hill, Connecticut, but it appears that neither is an actual business location.”
For more insight into why consumers should pay close attention to “due diligence” be sure to read this intriguing account of a family-vacation-misadventure by NYT “Haggler” columnist David Segal here. Though Segal reached out to the company—locating and speaking to the actual owner infused a labyrinth of roadblocks.
The domain JustFly.com has been online since January 1998—back then the original owners were in the business of selling hanggliders and the archive page from January 27, 1998 indicates that they also held hang glider annual competitions.
In 1998 JustFly used the email address: JustFly@interpath.com. Back then, Interpath was a first tier ISP for commercial and residential Internet services and offered services in three states: North Carolina, South Carolina and Northern Virginia (including Washington DC.) So, we can assume that the company “JustFly” was a concept that originated within one of these three states.
If you also Google search the above email address you will find a cached document that leads to email@example.com of Kill Devil Hills, NC.
Next, we look up the business name at the Department of the Secretary of State’s website in N.C. Here is where we discover that the name of the originating business was: Just Fly Aviation Gear Incorporated. The business was dissolved in July 2011 for failure to file an annual report with the state of N.C.—but, with a little history diving—we now have the names of the original owner(s) in tow.
Moving on from the now dissolved N.C. company search above, we locate one of the original owners relocated in Port Orange, FL as co-MGRM (manager-managed) of Pea Island Ventures LLC (2014). Both owners of this company originate from Kill Devil Hill, N.C.
Obviously, we could keep digging deeper rabbit holes and discover more travel-type agencies linking to various difficult-to-find owners —but, we won’t go there. For the purpose of this article we are simply concentrating on due diligence and history diving in order to determine whether we should purchase the “best airline ticket prices” or stick to “tried and true”.
If an online travel agency is “legitimate,” this does not mean their business practices are always good.The appropriate time to check out a company is “before” you purchase your tickets—not afterwards.
When you go online searching for “best airline ticket prices,” you should keep these five questions in the back of your mind:
- Did you check for valid online reviews [and not the padded fake five-star reviews hosted on little known domains.]?
- Did you peruse online forums such as: Tripadvisor Travel Forums and Flyertalk forums?
- Did you review Better Business Bureau (BBB) for consumer complaints?
- Does the online travel agency have a verifiable “physical” brick and mortar location (not a virtual one)? If it is a subsidiary, do you know who the parent company is?
- Are reservations “refundable” or “non-refundable? If non-refundable, steer clear of this travel agency.
There are many contenders for the “worst online travel agency award.” You should practice due diligence, perform some focused history diving and always do your research prior to purchasing airline tickets online.