NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Isabelle Johnsen wanted to get her boyfriend something special for graduation, and she really wanted to travel. So, the Tulane University History and Classics major surprised him with a trip to Peru this summer, with an itinerary to Lima and Cusco.
“I picked Peru because I really wanted to go to South America because I’ve never been before,” she said.
Johnsen turned to the website skyscanner.com, which promises to find the cheapest flights, comparing options from airlines and travel agents.
“I went on and the cheapest ones were on a company called Sky-tours,” Johnsen said.
On Sky-tours.com, a travel booking search engine, she found a deal she jumped on for about $1,700.
But the next morning, Sky-tours sent a disappointing email, saving in part, “We could not issue your booking due to the airline not being able to confirm the fare/flight you selected... the pending payment has been requested for reversal on our end.”
After reading the email, Johnsen was thrown for another loop when she checked with her bank.
“When I looked on my debit account, it was charged. So then I freaked out, and I started calling everyone," she recalled.
When she couldn’t get anyone with Sky-tours on the phone, she tried the online chat session, but a message stating, “no agents are available” popped up on her screen. Growing increasingly concerned, Johnsen said she contacted the actual airline directly.
“I called Spirit [Airlines] because that was one of the airlines I was supposed to use through Sky-tours to get to Peru, and they said that they had no record of my name,” Johnsen said.
That’s when she went back to the original site that routed her to Sky-tours.
"I contacted like Sky Scanner, and was like ‘Oh my God, I need my money back because it’s on a debit account.’ I couldn’t even say it was an invalid charge until it had proven it was an invalid charge, and it takes so long to file a claim,” she explained.
Almost immediately she got a response, saying Sky Scanner support would “get in touch” with Sky-tours.
“All of sudden, like a week later, I had my money back. It still took a week, but that’s normal with debit transactions,” Johnsen said.
The Better Business Bureau’s Cynthia Albert suggests before you book, do your research.
“If this broker says that they are going to get tickets for you and they name a particular airline or a hotel if it’s reservations, call them directly before you give any money out,” Albert said.
She said it’s also a good idea to Google the company and read the reviews, and stressed to use a credit card, because if there is a problem, you can dispute it.
“That’s why we say never use a debit card, because that money comes out right away, or a prepaid card, because that’s cash and that’s gone," Albert said. “That’s gone forever.”
And, if you spot a business or maybe an offer that seems questionable, you can always search the BBB’s Scam Tracker site to find out if others have had the same experience.
The FOX 8 Defenders reached out to Sky-tours for comment.
A representative said in part, "Our booking engine does not charge the customer’s card until the tickets are issued, but a soft authorization is generated by the bank for the booking amount. If the booking is successful, the payment is charged manually. Otherwise we release the authorization immediately. Some banks update their records immediately while some take 2-3 business days.”
If you’ve got a consumer issue you want us to address, call the FOX 8 Defenders staffed with volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women, the NCJW or, fill out our online complaint form.