Beware of budgetair.ca / vayama

I use skyscanner.com to book all my flights – it’s a flight aggregator that shows semi real-time fares.  You can even specify blank source or destination locations and have skyscanner show you where you can fly to or from – showing there may be another cheap route to get to your destination.

When booking my flight to Reykjavik last near, skyscanner showed a flight with budgetair.ca through Seattle that was about a $400 savings over the next nearest flight that was over $1100.   Too good to pass up!  A quick Google search showed budgetair was legit, so away I went to enter my details and credit card info.  When clicking Accept at the final step, the site said there was an unexpected transaction error.  Since this was after all my details were entered, I didn’t even know if the purchase succeeded and I would be billed.

I phoned their support number and was connected to a call center in India.  I told the woman of my issue and they said “No problem sir, I can help you book your flight.”  Her English was fine and the phone connection was very audible.  She then asked me all the details that would normally get entered on the website – I sighed as I just entered all this in on the website 2 minutes ago.  I asked what the error meant on the website and she avoided the question.

When she would read back any of the answers to my questions, what she read back was wrong 90% of the time.  I had to spell out phonetically everything from my name to my billing address.   “B as in bravo, A as in alpha, R as in…” you get the idea.  Even after this, what she noted kept being incorrect.  My patience was quickly wearing thin as I was reaching what had to be at least 30 minutes on the phone thinking of words for all the letters “Y as in…  Yellow?”.  I almost gave up several times and told her to forget it, it was taking too long – “Sir we are almost finished.”  Finally they had all my details and had validated my credit card.  She said to expect a confirmation email in the next 24 hours.  I wanted to buy a ticket to Bangalore and strangle her.

I waited patiently for the email to verify the details.  Surprise – my phone number and address were wrong.  At this point I started to do a bit of internet detective work to find out more about this company.  Turns out the site is just a canadian skin of vayama.  Googling “vayama review” gave some scary results:

vayamareviews

 

 

 

 

 

 

To summarize the reviews out there, they do give cheap flights, but if you want to change anything they charge you fees of $200+ (granted, this is stated in the T&C), and sometimes after booking they will call you and tell you the flight is no longer available – but they can rebook this other flight on another date or time that happens to be more expensive.  You have connecting flights?  Sorry, too bad.  You want to cancel your flight and get a refund?  Let us refer you to our refund department, where you should expect to see money sometime between two weeks and never.

It took 3 back and forth exchanges over email to make sure my details were correct – info that was correct in one email suddenly became incorrect in the next.  I don’t know what the plan was here – just incompetence, or trying to get me to call in to change my flight and charge me?

There was still the matter of the transaction error on my original booking – is vayama going to bill me twice?  The charge hadn’t appeared on my credit card yet.  I check back the next day and boom, there was two vayama charges back-to-back.  My $400 savings was now a $300 increase.

Another phone call to India – the CSR actually confirmed seeing the mistaken double-transaction and said that it would be removed.  It was, fortunately.  Would they call me up the day before my flight telling me it was no longer available?  I was dreading a phone call from them leading up to my departure, but that didn’t happen.

No wonder vayama rebrands itself in different countries.  Googling “budgetair.ca scam” shows positive results:

budgetairreviews

 

 

 

 

 

How was it possible a site that’s just a rebranded skin of vayama have so many good reviews?  When something is too good to be true, it probably is.  If it were Yelp, the page would be full of No-Face 1 Review people.  Read for yourself on trustpilot.

Signs trustpilot is full of fake reviews for budgetair:

– A lot of reviews read like commercials

– 0 of the reviews are validated through Facebook connect, they are all a “Review by confirmed purchaser” – I’m guessing BudgetAir allows users to post reviews directly bypassing the normal interface

– Large groups of reviews appear in batches of specific dates instead of across a normal date distribution

There’s no way to tell if bad reviews are removed.  I just posted my story and I’ll see if it stays.  I don’t believe that trustpilot itself posts these reviews – more likely vayama or marketing companies hired by vayama.  To the consumer, it’s not really relevant where they come from either way since trustpilot appears second in Google and isn’t giving users “good” information.

I’m not the first one to doubt trustpilot’s authenticity:

http://www.frustratedcustomers.co.uk/complaints_detail.php?SETparam=aWQ9d2U1c25xa2drYmh3aXo3MHV0ZmN0

But it seems investors love trustpilot – it just got an investment of $13M back in December.

http://techcrunch.com/2012/12/11/with-nearly-7m-reviews-of-100k-sites-trustpilot-raises-13m-from-index-and-more-to-build-out-a-yelp-for-the-world-of-e-commerce/

Sorry trustpilot, you’ve got a long way to be as trusted as Yelp.

 (Update 1/5/2014)

This page is getting a few hits from search sites and I want to respond to the feedback left by budgetair over the email they sent.  They’ve apparently stopped using that call center in India (thank god).

They probably have good deals for some specific fares, but I would really not recommend them (or any budget fare dealer) if there is any chance whatsoever you’ll need to cancel or change your booking.  That’s hard enough when doing it directly through an airline.