Cheaper 'cheapest' flight upsets tourist

By Beck Vass

An Irishman on a working holiday in New Zealand is urging travellers to shop around after he asked a travel agent for the cheapest flights from Auckland to New York - and then found a rival agent who beat the quote by nearly $450.

Gerard Lennon, 29, who is heading back towards his homeland in May, went to Flight Centre, where he was quoted $1949 for travel that included linking flights from Auckland to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington and New York.

But, when he went to STA Travel, he was told his flights would cost $1505.

He contacted Flight Centre again in a series of emails, asking if it would match the cheaper price.

He was then offered a price of $1504 for his flights, with a $20 travel voucher.

"Even though Flight Centre offered me a cheaper deal, I didn't want to go with them, so I just went back to STA," he said. "That's a huge difference ... it's almost like a third of the flight."

Asked what annoyed him the most, he said: "That I asked for the cheapest flight and they didn't give it to me.

"When you go to someone and ask for the cheapest flight you expect to get it, not to have to shop around and find out it's $450 cheaper somewhere else. I can understand if it would be like $30 or $40 more because obviously companies need to make some commission, but an extra $450? I think that's a bit ridiculous.

"Just make sure you shop around."

Flight Centre spokeswoman Marie Pilkington said the company's consultant offered Mr Lennon "what she believed was the best value itinerary for what he had requested".

"The quote given was completely different to the quote given by STA travel as different airlines were used."

Ms Pilkington said the agent had chosen United Airlines over STA's cheaper choice (budget airline B6) because it enabled customers to travel with full baggage allowances, had well-timed connections to each flight and had more daily departures.

"This low-cost airline was not used in the original booking because the consultant believed using United Airlines would provide the customer with a better itinerary.

"As with any major purchase, we recommend travellers do their research. It is important Kiwis understand what they are getting for their money and that there are no hidden costs ... and with all purchases, it is imperative people understand the cheapest might not always be the best option."

Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin also advised travellers to shop around before buying travel.

SEARCHING FOR A TRAVEL BARGAIN: THE EMAIL TRAIL

Gerard Lennon wanted to find the cheapest flghts to San Francisco, Washington and New York. This was the advice he got.

Sent: Tue 2/03/2010 11:08am
Hi debbie,
I was in with you yesterday looking for a quote for flights. You were to email the quote yesterday. It was for one way flights to san francisco, washington and new york. If you could give me a quote that would be great.

11:14am Debbie
Hi Gerard
The best fare is:
Either Air NZ Auckland - San Francisco (direct) or Qantas via Los Angeles
Cost for above from $1399
Then United Airlines San Francisco - Washington - New York
Cost for above from $550

11:54am Gerard
so does that mean the cheapest route is $1950?

11:58am Debbie
Yes that's correct.

12:12pm Gerard
Debbie I have a quote from STA for $1505. Do you guys still do price matching?

12:18pm Debbie
Yes if you can send me the quote in writing with times, dates etc if seats are available I can beat it for you.
(Gerard sends the quote)

1:13pm Debbie
Thanks for that – I can offer $1504 and issue you with a $20 travel voucher for use within the next 6 months – the only slight variance, is the flight from Washington – New York would be a little later with United Airlines at 12.18pm – as we dont ticket the airline B6 that STA have quoted you.

1:19 pm Gerard
Before I do come back in tomorrow, can I ask how u can offer $1504 when (you previously said) the cheapest was $1950?

1:24pm Debbie
Flight Centre policy is to beat a valid quote subject to availability, the quote that you got from STA is not one that I looked at as far as combining fares but we are happy to beat the price.

- NZ Herald

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