Troubleshooters investigate complaints against CheapOair.com

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A popular website that claims to offer cheap airfare is under fire. Hundreds of customers allege the company is failing to provide refunds due to coronavirus cancellations.

CheapoAir.com is owned by Fareportal Inc. The Better Business Bureau has received 1,421 complaints about it in the last three years.

A total of 809 of those were from just the last 12 months, the majority of those related to COVID-related cancellations and refunds.

Rick Heuser is a frontline hospital worker and his wife is pregnant. She wanted to visit her sister in South Korea before they had their baby.

"I looked online and I found this company CheapOair, found a really good deal," said Heuser.

Heuser bought four tickets through CheapOair for $4,000. But when COVID-19 hit, the airline canceled the flights.

"Official cancellation from China Eastern. I tried to contact CheapOair. I put in a request through the website," he said.

CheapOair's own email says "Per DOT rules to be eligible for a refund of a non-refundable ticket, the airline must cancel the flight prior to your scheduled departure date and time." That is exactly what happened to Heuser but CheapOair still told him it would not process his request.

"I think it's horrible especially during this pandemic,' he said. "Made me really upset, really angry."

Heuser is not alone. The Better Business Bureau says "Please be advised that due to the high volume of complaints received for this business, BBB publishes 1 out of every 5 complaints..."

The Troubleshooters contacted CheapOair, who told us, in part, "The global pandemic significantly affected our ability to receive phone calls... CheapOair has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau... our performance in customer care is excellent."

"I would never recommend this company to anybody," said Heuser.

CheapOair also tells the Troubleshooters,"When cancellations occur, we must abide by the airline's policy in place at the time of the cancellation transaction regarding the involved flight or flights. If the airline is not classifying the canceled flight as refundable we must abide by their decision."

The Troubleshooters have asked if CheapOair will reverse its decision and give Heuser his money back. We are still waiting for a response.

CheapOair Statement ...

The customer booked their flight on November 26, 2019. One January 27, 2020 the customer called to cancel. At that time the customer's departure date of June 22, 2020 was not part of the airlines refund plan. Our agent advised the customer the refund would be in accordance with airline fare rules at that time. So the refund would have been for the cost of the tickets, less a $160 per ticket airline penalty for cancellation, and our agency fees of $125. The customer indicated they would speak with the other traveler and get back to us. We did not hear back from the customer. The next contact we had regarding this customer was on March 30, 2020, when we received two chargeback notifications from the financial institution. Once a chargeback is received, we are not allowed to address the case at all, and must wait until the chargeback resolution is determined. It is possible the customer tried to call us during this time, but as I shared in my earlier email, our call centers were overwhelmed and we were having extreme difficulty receiving phone calls.

In any case, the airline fare rules did subsequently change and the matter could have been resolved quickly, but we could not initiate as the chargeback had already been filed. The chargeback did of course come back in the client's favor, and the amount of $4068.36 should have been credited by the financial institution to the customer. That transaction is between the customer and the financial institution, so we have no ability to identify if the customer has received that credit.

CheapOair is a reputable company and has been serving millions of customers since 2005. It is never our intention to harm our customers in any way. The pandemic caused a huge upswell in demand for services, and some unhappy customers has been the very unfortunate outcome of that. In this customer's case, timing played a big role, as described above. We are trying in every way possible to address each customer's need, and deeply regret the difficulty this customer experienced.

Pandemic notes

The global pandemic significantly affected our ability to receive phone calls. In a matter of days our incoming call volumes went from an average of 30,000 per day to over 250,000. Our systems were taxed and hold times and unintentional dropping of calls became a big problem. Within days we created an online coronavirus information page with instructions for customers that were having trouble reaching us via phone.

Adding to the situation, CheapOair is actually a global operation, with call centers in New York, Las Vegas and our two India offices. This is not an outsource situation. All of our agents are Fareportal employees. Our New York office, which includes a call center, had to vacate our workspace on March 13th. Las Vegas followed and shortly thereafter, when the Indian government began enforcing lock downs to combat the virus, thousands of our agents there were unable to get into the office to field phone calls. This escalated the difficulty our customers were having attempting to cancel or reschedule their reservations via phone. We moved as quickly as possible to create an enhanced online coronavirus related cancellation form, and began reaching out to customers via direct emails and our social media portals to get the word out. To address urgency, we started by prioritizing those customers with flights booked within the next two weeks, and continued from there. Our efforts in this are ongoing and we continue to service all incoming requests.

We take our customer relationships very seriously, as evidenced by the numerous customer service awards we have won over the years. CheapOair also has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau. With millions of transactions each year, inevitably there will be some customer service related issues, but our performance in customer care is excellent. We understand that it can be very frustrating for customers when airline policies preclude our offering refunds, but in those cases we must follow airline policy. CheapOair maintains a very large customer care team who address each and every customer inquiry thoroughly and as quickly as possible. The surge in customer need caused by the virtual shutdown of travel in March was a challenge for every company in the travel industry, including CheapOair, but we remain committed to providing our customers the best quality of support.

BBB Statement ....

They are a BBB Accredited Business since 2015.

Their business profile notes that they have 1,421 complaints closed in the last three years, with 808 in the last 12 months. BBB of Metropolitan New York follows BBB system-wide policies that guide publication of complaints. Responding to complaints is one of BBB's accreditation standards and complaints received by BBB from consumers about their marketplace transactions with Fareportal have been resolved or answered by the company. There are no unanswered or unresolved complaints.

In terms of their BBB rating: please see the overview of ratings here: https://www.bbb.org/overview-of-bbb-ratings. There are number of factors considered in the BBB rating system. Complaint volume is one factor.

Should consumers who contacted you have complaints they can always file a complaint with BBB.

BBB has information published online regarding complaint handling during the COVID pandemic. Consumers filing complaints will find a category that they can choose for COVID related complaints

Regarding Fareportal, Inc. there were 508 complaints opened by BBB of Metropolitan New York between February 1 and today, 482 were flagged as being COVID-related by the complainant. BBB publishes complaints according to policy when closed.

https://www.cheapoair.com/

https://www.cheapoair.com/support/coronavirus-alert#support-form

https://www.cheapoair.com/giftcards/Refund

https://www.bbb.org/us/ny/new-york/profile/travel-agency/fareportal-inc-0121-89212/complaints

https://www.bbb.org/us/ny/new-york/profile/travel-agency/fareportal-inc-0121-89212/customer-reviews

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