“This Fare Is for Residents Only” — Reader Mistake Story

Aug 3, 2018

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Julia, who accidentally booked a ticket she wasn’t eligible to use. Here’s what she had to say:

Earlier this year we found a good deal on a flight to the Galápagos Islands using Google Flights. I speak Spanish, but also had our Ecuadorian travel agent look through the booking to make sure I wasn’t missing anything in the fine print. We made it to the Galapagos without a problem, but on our return home, the LATAM ticket agent stopped us and said that we had purchased a ticket for Ecuadorian nationals instead of foreigners. As a result, we would have to pay a fee of $168 per person.

We pulled out our phones and quickly realized that Google Flights redirects you past the warning page that we would have been shown if we booked directly on the LATAM website, which does tell you that the ticket is for Ecuadorians only. We tried to explain our situation, but there was no one to hear us out in the tiny Galápagos airport and we were stuck paying over $300 in fees!

My advice is to check your fare on the airline’s website without the redirect from larger booking sites. These days, I still use tools like Skyscanner and Google Flights, but I always finalize the booking by typing the airline’s website into my browser. No more redirecting past the important stuff!

Google Flights is an indispensable resource when you’re searching for airfare or starting to plan a trip, but Julia’s story is a good reminder that third party travel sites don’t always get it right. You’ll sometimes see a low fare that’s no longer available, or you might not see a cheap fare that hasn’t been detected yet. In any case, there’s little advantage to clicking through from Google Flights, so I prefer to use the search function and then go to the airline’s website to complete the transaction as Julia suggested.

In fairness, Google does offer warnings about at least some resident-only fares, like this heavily discounted LATAM flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas:

LATAM doesn’t appear to disclose (at least not in an obvious way) that the fare above is for Chile residents when you book through the airline’s Chilean site. That could be a costly pitfall if you’re looking to save by purchasing airfare on a foreign website or paying in a foreign currency. Anecdotal evidence suggests that you can get away with booking these fares if you check in online and only bring carry-on luggage, but you may end up paying more overall if you’re caught traveling on an ineligible fare.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Julia for sharing her experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending her a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Feature image by MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images.

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