Consumer rights: How can an air fare jump £300 in just a few minutes?

It pays to check online prices for air travel before you click the 'confirm' button...What happens when a builder demands money up front


I'm a young Australian woman studying in London. After 18 months here I was really looking forward to a trip home this Christmas.

I found a London-Sydney return ticket for £1,544.57 with Virgin on its website. I clicked the confirm button with that price showing on the screen. Within a few minutes I was emailed a receipt – but the amount that had been charged to my credit card was £1,833.67.

The extra £300 was a shock to me on top of an already expensive ticket. I went through the beginning part of the booking process again. Again the price on the site was £1,544.57 for my chosen date and time. I made a "print screen" snapshot of the price. I called Virgin's customer service, but was told no one was available to help me over the phone. Instead I would need to email Virgin's back office and would get a reply within 21 days. A month and half later, after I'd already flown to Australia I received my first reply.

The customer service representative told me that Virgin updates its prices on its website throughout the day and that the fare must have been updated from £1,544.57 to £1,833.67 after I'd first entered my details. But if that's the case, why did the ticket show £1,544.57 the second time? Essentially Virgin is suggesting that its price jumped £300 and back over the space of about 15 minutes. The customer service representative also advised me that since I had agreed to Virgin's terms and conditions, and they don't guarantee the fare price, there was nothing she could do.

As I understood it, when I pressed "confirm", I entered into a contract for £1,544.57. As a student, £300 makes a painful difference. Is Virgin in the right?

BL

London

I can see why almost £300 extra on the cost of your ticket made a difference to your student budget. It would have made a difference to most people. Since you wrote, I've received copies of all the correspondence you've had by email with Virgin and read the explanation it gave you as to why this happened. It told you that its independent database is updated constantly throughout the day; when you go to step two of the online booking procedure the system then determines the exact availability at that time; and at step three, if the original fare quoted is no longer available, the website displays the next available fare.

I've now been in touch with Virgin on your behalf, and while I still don't fully understand why the fare quoted could have increased and decreased again in such a short space of time, its statement says: "Virgin Atlantic fares fluctuate constantly due to passengers and agents holding and booking flights around the world. The website clearly advises that fares are not guaranteed until payment is made and accepted and unfortunately in this instance, the fare changed in between the passenger selecting the price and actually paying. To ensure customers are happy with their booking, the website also asks all customers to check over the booking details and accept our terms and conditions before clicking the confirm button. Our customer services team is in contact with Mrs Lopez as we do appreciate her disappointment and on this occasion, as a gesture of goodwill, we will refund the difference."

Your experience underlines the importance of checking the fare price at each step of the way and reading the booking details and the terms and conditions before clicking "confirm".

I've been looking for a good builder to put in a new bathroom for me and got a reasonable quote from someone a friend recommended. I'd be happy to go ahead but he's asking for money before he starts the work. This is to buy the bathroom suite, tiles and other materials he needs. But how do I know that any money I pay him will be used on my job? What's to stop him using it for a different job and leaving me without the work done?

IP

Hertfordshire

We are always being told to be careful and not pay out money until the work is done satisfactorily. But not all builders are rogues or out to rip you off. Think about this from the builder's point of view. If he pays for the materials he could have problems getting the money from you and be out of pocket. Builders do usually ask for at least some of the money for the materials up front. Alternatively they may ask you to buy the materials.

If you're concerned, why not suggest that you pay for the materials and have everything delivered to your home. That way, even if this particular builder doesn't do the work you'll have everything you need to get the job done. You then pay for the work he does in stages – perhaps half when half the work is done and the rest on completion. If there are any snags you can always withhold an amount out of the final payment until they've been put right. If this builder comes recommended, ask your friend how he or she paid for the work and ask to see the end product. Check the builder's insurance and any trade bodies he belongs to.

www.moneyagonyaunt.com

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