CHEAPOFLY is not CHEAPOAIR
Erin McBride’s sister, Natalie Gresko, was in Fiji with her family when McBride contacted us about the suspected fraud that forced her sister to buy new tickets to avoid being stranded in Los Angeles. Will we be able to help, or will we have to settle for passing on a warning to others?
Gresko booked five round trip tickets to Fiji on Fiji Airways through CheapOfly.com — a company they had not previously used. They were skeptical about the company, but an employee assured them that the company was affiliated with Fareportal, and Gresko sent full payment of $4,625 to the company via PayPal.
When the Greskos arrived in Los Angeles, a representative from Fiji Airways informed them that the tickets had been canceled and Fiji Airways had already refunded the tickets. But Gresko received a notification of neither the cancellation nor the refund.
While one airline staff member indicated the family could purchase tickets for the following day, another said she could fix the problem. The Greskos received boarding passes and took their seats on the plane. But before the flight could depart, Gresko and her family were removed from the flight.
Gresko and McBride tried contacting CheapOfly.com for several hours, while still trying to resolve the issue with Fiji Airways. When Gresko finally reached her contact at CheapOfly.com, he assured her that it was simply a “strange glitch” and promised that they would be rebooked on a flight the following day — in business class.
During their attempts to contact CheapOfly.com, the sisters noticed that although there are three different phone numbers for the company, all of them seemed to contact the same person. They eventually concluded that CheapOfly.com was a one-man operation.
When Gresko contacted Fiji Airways again to see if CheapOfly.com had made the promised arrangements for her family to fly business class the following day, she not only learned that the arrangements had not been made, but also that the original tickets were canceled because they had been purchased with a fraudulent credit card. Gresko and her family had two choices: pay for another set of tickets or go home. They chose the former.
Gresko filed a complaint with PayPal, and McBride contacted us for help.
This is where I normally say something like, “she could have reached out to the company contacts we list on our site,” but we didn’t have contact information for CheapOfly.com. If you’re thinking, “but you do have contacts for Fareportal,” you would be right, but that wouldn’t have been any help either.
Our advocates reached out to Fareportal to confirm if CheapOfly.com is an affiliate — after several days we learned that the companies are not affiliated in any way. We also contacted the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), since the organization’s logo was on the CheapOfly.com page. We learned the company is also not a member of ASTA and would be receiving an “unauthorized use of registered trademark” letter. It would also be placed on ASTA’s logo violator page.
Several other sites also came up in our search for information on CheapOfly.com: unitedtours.us and shockingfares.com, both of which are owned by Fly Buzz Travel Solutions in New Delhi, India. A California address is listed on one site, but it seems to be only a mail drop, not a physical office. I find it interesting that the chosen name of the company in question in the Gresko’s case is very close to the name of legitimate Fareportal affiliate CheapOair. I’m certain that was purposely done to confuse people.
Our advocates contacted the company on behalf of Gresko and her family.
We never heard back from any of the companies, but McBride says the same man contacted her a few days after our inquiry. They still haven’t received any refunds, and since the tickets were paid about six months in advance a dispute may not be possible. It isn’t too late, however, to file a complaint with the California attorney general’s office, which Gresko plans to do. She is also exploring her options for suing the company.
I’m sorry we couldn’t help the Greskos get their money back. But let this experience serve as a warning to other consumers: If you are considering doing business with a company you’ve never before used, don’t take the representative’s word on the stability or reliability of the company. Do your due diligence: Google it, look it up on review sites, and check with organizations of which it claims to be a member. And always use a method of payment that has protection in case you become a fraud victim.
In the end, if you think something seems sketchy — it probably is.
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Jul 24, 2015