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Be careful when making British Airways reservations

My wife and I planned a visit to Central Europe and the Adriatic Coast. Our initial research indicated British Airways was a good way to go. We Googled “British Airways Reservations” and were presented with a link to a site displaying this title and a telephone number, 1-800-533-1143. We called, and the man on the other end had an East Indian accent. When we explained that we wanted to make a reservation with British Airways he told us he could help us. So we proceeded. Something didn’t feel right when he split the taxes out of the ticket and charged us separately for that. But having spent several days searching for the “best” and “cheapest” flights we were exhausted and ignored our trepidations. When all was complete he gave us a British Airways flight locator and that was that.

A couple of days later the ticket charge appeared in our credit card account. The entries showed the tickets were with American Airlines. How could that be? Had we not purchased them from British Airways? We called BA and they confirmed that, indeed, the tickets were issued on AA paper. We went back to Google, brought up the same link and there it was. The website is ‘britishairwaysreservations.org’. It has the words “British Airways” at the top left, a page title “British Airways Reservations”, and images of BA aircraft, complete with their trade mark Union Jack flags across the tails. So was this not British Airways? As you scroll down there is nothing to indicate otherwise until you get to the bottom where there appears a Disclaimer which reads “www.britishairwaysreservations.org solely act as an agent, we create a connection between travelers and suppliers of travel services.”

This phone number and website connect you with something other than you think you are being connected to. Is that a problem? It can be if you want to make any changes. And with the spread of coronavirus what traveler has not been thinking about changes? We had purchased basic economy tickets to which the agents at this number insisted on two separate calls could not be changed. But the folks at American said “no”, the tickets were ‘long haul international’ and therefore eligible to be changed upon payment of a fee. Only then, after we had gotten American policy spelled out, were we able to get the original ticket seller to agree to a change in the form of an issuance of credit good for future travel.

Thankfully the monies for flight portions of our tickets were charged through a U.S. Bank. But the taxes, charged separately and which themselves exceeded $600, were charged through a bank in New Delhi. The insult added to the injury was a foreign transaction fee levied by our bank that was additional to the taxes. And I’ll never know if those monies were actually paid for the stated purpose of collection.

So beware. This company operates behind a facade which so closely imitates the real thing that, if not actually illegal, is certainly a deliberate deception.

Posted by
4695 posts

I'm sorry you got scammed. I'm not really sure how you wound up on this site, though. When I Googled now for "British Airways" or "British Airways Reservations," the top results were all for the real British Airways website, and I did not see your result at all.

Posted by
4 posts

Hello Andrew,
Thanks for your reply. When I type the string "British Airways Reservations" into my browser search bar I get back a list of links, one of which is the offending link I wrote about. The link descriptor that you see in the list is written like this "British Airways Reservations 1-800-533-1143". The URL it links to is https://britishairwaysreservations.org. This takes you to the look alike website I described.

My default browser is Firefox and my search engine is Duck Duck Go, but that shouldn't make a difference. I also have Chrome on my PC so I tried with that browser after I saw your note and I got the same result.

Note that my search method returns a list of links. I haven't explored all of them so it's probable the others are legitimate BA web pages. But when you see "British Airways Reservations 1-800-533-1143" staring out at you that's hard to ignore especially after time spent searching for a viable flight itinerary.

Posted by
5904 posts

BA and American are partners. I chose the one with the lowest price but using the airlines actual websites.Sorry you were tricked but are the tickets usable?

Posted by
4091 posts

As Suki just said, Ba and AA are partners. We always book through the real BA website (britishairways.com) and sometimes end up on AA flights. Many of the major airlines are in consortiums. for example "One World," with code shares. So while your website may not have been legit, the "real" British Airways site will also often book you on AA or other international partners.

Posted by
4 posts

Hi Suki,
Yes, the tickets were usable - we had confirmed seats - so we were not being scammed that way. My objection is with the deception - their use of look alike imagery and misleading text - and with the increased difficulty their presence in the tranaction created for making changes.

Posted by
2567 posts

"My default browser is Firefox and my search engine is Duck Duck Go, but that shouldn't make a difference. I also have Chrome on my PC so I tried with that browser after I saw your note and I got the same result."

Actually, the search engine you use can affect your results. That is actually the whole point of the suggestion that companies that own/run search engines adjust their search algorithms to boost their own profits and sidestep antitrust regulations. See https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/09/is-amazons-search-algorithm-biased-its-hard-to-prove/598264/. What I am most surprised about on this thread is that there is someone using both Firefox and Duck Duck Go in a world dominated by Safari (~16% of users), Chrome (65%) and Google (92% of the market share for searches).

Posted by
8715 posts

FYI--in the future there is no need to add the word reservations when looking for an airline website. Every airline either allows you to make a reservation from their home page or there is an easy link to click on to take you to the right page.

When you start adding words, this allows third party vendors to get listed and called. Of course they are going to make it look like the real thing.

You may also want to change your search engine. When I Googled "British Airways Reservations" the first few offerings were from British Airways. You may want to change your search engine. They are not all alike.

Posted by
57 posts

For our trip to Italy last year and the scheduled one to Scandinavia in May, I booked the flights and most of our hotels through British Airways vacations. I have always done it online through their website. The pricing is good and I can usually get the flights and hotels I want. Of course, I research a lot and make test runs. It's kind of a clunky site but it works.

Last year, we was incredibly pleased with BA. For that trip, we were booked on American Airlines flights as part of the package. I will say that while the international legs were some of the best I've taken, the domestic flights were all horrid. Due to weather problems, the flight from our home city to connect to our flight to Italy was extremely delayed. We were sure we'd miss the flight. I emailed customer service and they called me back almost immediately. After giving me some options, they said that they thought we'd be okay. We landed in Philly over two hours late and ran to our gate. The plane was there. We boarded and the plane took off 10 minutes later. Coincidence or did they hold the plane?

Additionally, no matter what time we got to a hotel, our room was ready. In Venice, we got to the hotel around 9:30 am and asked to leave our luggage until check-in. No problem, we were told, our room was ready. Where ever we went, this was the answer. It was very nice.

Don't give up on BA. I'm sorry, you had a bad experience but we've been very happy. However, this year, we're making sure our FIRST flight gets us out of the USA.

Posted by
4695 posts

My default browser is Firefox and my search engine is Duck Duck Go, but that shouldn't make a difference. I also have Chrome on my PC so I tried with that browser after I saw your note and I got the same result.

On the contrary, it makes a huge difference. Google and Duck Duck Go report very different results - they are have different search databases. I initially used Google to search instead of Duck Duck Go - you said you "Googled" it, so I assumed you meant you searched in Google, not Duck Duck Go.

Anyway, Google does not show that result at all on the first page (if ever). I did search now in Duck Duck Go and see that website showing up on the first page but below the real British Airways site. I can see how you might have missed those and gotten the fake site. This does not make me think highly of Duck Duck Go (which I'm familiar with but don't use). I'm aware of all of the privacy concerns, etc. that folks have with Google, but they actually do try to filter out these scams and direct you to the most relevant results.

Posted by
1217 posts

BA and American have long operated under code share agreements where one airline can sell tickets on the other carrier's planes. The airline that sells you the ticket is the marketing carrier; the airline where you have your seats is the operating carrier. There are USDOT rules about how a ticket purchased directly from the airline or through common travel agencies or online travel agencies like Expedia are supposed to disclose both the marketing carrier and operating carrier at time of purchase.

So a search on Expedia for a plane ticket from Knoxville to London Heathrow by way of Charlotte will have this noted in the flight description since the first hop is operated by an American partner:

From
McGhee Tyson (TYS)
To
Charlotte-Douglas Intl. (CLT)
American Airlines 5007 operated by /PIEDMONT AIRLINES AS AMERICAN EAGLE
Embraer RJ14560% on time
Economy/Coach (B)

Delta has a joint venture with Air France/KLM and will gladly sell you this ticket on four different airlines in different affiliation with each other, none of which are Delta:

4:35 pm
departs from
ATL
Atlanta, GA
journey duration8h 30m
arrive to
CDG
Paris-De Gaulle, France
arrives on7:05 am
FLIGHT NUMBERDL8517
AIRCRAFT TYPEAIRBUS A350-900
Operated by 1Air France
Cabin classEconomy (X)

Meal services opens in new popup
2h 10min
Layover
Paris-De Gaulle, France (CDG), You change planes in CDG
departs on9:15 am
departs from
CDG
Paris-De Gaulle, France
journey duration1h 5m
arrive to
BSL
Basel, Switzerland
arrives on10:20 am
FLIGHT NUMBERDL8266
AIRCRAFT TYPEEMBRAER 190
Operated by 2HOP!
Cabin classEconomy (X)

2:20 pm
departs from
BSL
Basel, Switzerland
journey duration1h 40m
arrive to
AMS
Amsterdam, Netherlands
arrives on4:00 pm
FLIGHT NUMBERDL9371OPENS IN NEW POPUP
AIRCRAFT TYPEEMBRAER 190
Operated by 1KLM Cityhopper
Cabin classEconomy (X)

Meal services

1h 0min
Layover
Amsterdam, Netherlands (AMS), You change planes in AMS
departs on5:00 pm
departs from
AMS
Amsterdam, Netherlands
journey duration9h 20m
arrive to
ATL
Atlanta, GA
arrives on8:20 pm
FLIGHT NUMBERDL9374
AIRCRAFT TYPEBOEING 777-300ER
Operated by 1KLM
Cabin classEconomy (X)

Posted by
4 posts

Hi Andrew,
You are right, I used the word “googled” when I meant “duck duck goed”. Accuracy is everything in communications, isn’t it?

This thread has received 3 responses that point out my error in assuming the search engine should not make a difference. Apparently it does, and I guess that is part of the reason for my misadventure with that 3rd party website. Just to let you know, I tried again with Chrome and again got the same result. But then I noticed the search engine in my copy of Chrome has been reset to Duck Duck Go. So I gave it one more try, this time with an unaltered version of Microsoft Edge that came installed on my Win 10 computer. This time I got what you reported . . . all BA web sites with no sign of the troublesome imitator.

It’s amazing what comes up in these discussions. I used to Google (no, really, I mean GOOGLE) but switched to Duck Duck Go specifically for privacy. I will certainly rethink that. Thanks to you, JHK, and Frank II.

In summary, my bad experience with an imitator site shows how easy it is to be fooled. So, regardless of which search engine you may use it always pays to be informed and stay alert.

Posted by
4695 posts

I'm sorry again that you got taken in by these scam artists. Live and learn! Given the way things are going in the world right now, we could all have worse problems to worry about. Thanks for the warning to folks who might have fallen for the same scam.

Posted by
11683 posts

The lesson is to never include the word "reservations" in your search; just use the name of the airline to get to their own homepage. And even then review carefully to make sure you are on the official website.

This problem comes up often for inexperienced people making reservation at our US national,parks. Each national,park concessionaire has its own official websites, but the top listing ( sponsored ad) that comes up in a Google search ( and maybe Duck as well) is named National Park Reservations. They purport to offer reservations at many national parks but they charge a booking fee and a cancellation fee which the official concessionaire websites do not.

Posted by
14015 posts

The first thing that leaped out at me was that you went to a commercial site with an .org URL. Org is typically used by nonprofits; I've seen a few .org sites that were trying to pass themselves off as official tourist sites. I'd expect any large company to have a .com URL.

Posted by
4012 posts

Such sites are everywhere. Whenever there's a way to take advantage of inexperienced web users then people will abuse that opportunity. There are sites that appear to be official US ESTA sites, you'll end up with ESTA clearance (usuallly) but at a cost that is higher than that of the genuine site. Same with passport applications, driving licence applications and so on. They're usually based around goverment sites because people are less likely to be cautious of them.

I understand that people want to find the cheapest flight ticket but in reality more often than not the cheapest ticket can be found on the airline's own website. If you have any doubts about the authenticity of an airline's wesbite then check the address. It will almost always end in .com (or other national suffixes). Any that end in .org, .net, .biz etc are most likely to be scam sites. Genuine airline websites will always appear at the top of any search. I experimented with Duck Duck Go a while ago and I didn't like it at all, I found it clunky, I found the results weren't what I expected and I had to do a lot of scrolling to find what I was looking for. I have a few bits of software and browser addons that filter out much of the bad sites and block any attempt to interfere with my computer so I'm quite comfortable that my browsing activities are protected.

Posted by
5605 posts

Indeed, I was struck by what Chani mentioned. A legitimate business site will have a .com or .co.uk or .fr (or whatever) end to its URL.

.org is supposed to be reserved for non-profits and the like.

I am shocked that you actually got usable tickets. I would have thought this company was completely illegitimate with no ability to actually provide tickets at all.

Posted by
5166 posts

We had similar misdirection with hotel reservations recently. Wife googled up an 800 number online for what she thought was a specific Marriott hotel but when she called, it was a foreign operator. He took a lot of time asking a lot of questions and kept putting her on hold to check something. She hung up before he got to the credit card info.

Yes, you really got to look at search engine results carefully. If I google airlines, there is always a non-airline service or two at the top of the list.

(added) and just made the same mistake in looking for a website for K-D Rhine River cruise for another thread.

Posted by
2847 posts

My objection is with the deception

But if they didn't use deception, they would probably never get any customers, and would go out of business. And would that be bad?

Posted by
2788 posts

A note that the appeal of Duck Duck Go is that they do not compile personal data and build a profile of you like Google and other companies do.

Also DDG can operate either as a stand alone browser/app or as a plugin inside a common browser. I’m using the DDG app right now.

I’d contest the India charge unless it can clearly be shown to have paid part of your fare. It could be completely bogus. Pose the question to AA.

Posted by
8715 posts

There is a reason there were two charges. By law, you have 24 hours to cancel any airline ticket in the EU so this company would have to give the fare back. But there is no such rule in India. So if you cancelled they could say the taxes were not refundable.

Posted by
2567 posts

Two things:
Anyone can purchase a .org domain name. While .org is often used for community service or non-profit entities, that is not, as shown in this thread, always the case. There is no vetting of who can get a .org domain name.
The title of this thread really should be “Be careful when using the internet.” I say this as a person who lives in Silicon Valley and owes much of her finances to tech stocks and tech companies. The OP’s scenario could have happened with just about any online purchase and luckily, tickets were actually issued as opposed to this being a complete scam. Using the internet for everything is pervasive now and goodness knows that businesses drive you to their websites, apps, and other points of business where no human contact is needed (I just a $4.50 charge on a bank statement for doing a teller deposit). However, one must be ever vigilant when searching for anything on the internet and do not get me started about phishing emails.

Posted by
329 posts

Thanks for sharing your experience.

I've noticed that, lately, the top hit on searches is almost never the actual company I'm looking for. (I also use Duck Duck Go.)

Posted by
8889 posts

Whenever I google (and I mean really google) the top few results have a small box with [AD] beside them. These are paid advertisements. I usually skip past these to find the real entries.
I then look at the URL (internet address) to see if it looks like the real site I am looking for.
And if I am still in doubt, when I get to the website I look for an "about us" or "contact us" link for a real address.

Trying to find hotel websites is the worst. There are so many hotel booking agents you often have to go half way down the page to find the real hotel website.

Posted by
1217 posts

By law, you have 24 hours to cancel any airline ticket in the EU so this company would have to give the fare back. But there is no such rule in India. So if you cancelled they could say the taxes were not refundable.

The US DOT also has those kinds of laws for tickets involving planes that touch American soil and are booked directly with the airline.

One concern I have about this is that the splitting of 'taxes' and other airfare components is kind of yellow flagging it to me that there might be some sort of buying and selling of frequent flyer miles going on behind the scenes with “British Airways Reservations”,. Because of how the BA Avios program is structured, it's common to be charged $600+ in taxes/APD/'fuel surcharges' when redeeming Avios for a transatlantic ticket, whether it's on BA's on 'metal' or BA Avios redeemed for a flight on American. IMO, it's uncommon for an online travel agency to split costs associated with the ticket.

There is a fare class associated with the tickets when you look them up on American's web site. (It's a one letter code that's different than the broader groups of first class/business class/economy. American apparently uses N Q O and B for their deep discount coach; BA's deep discount fares are typically coded as Q O or G) Can you find it? Is there any note about how many frequent flyer miles or Avios you might earn on the flight or does it say the ticket earns no miles/Avios?