If you are booking airline tickets on an online travel portal, be careful. Between the time you choose the lowest fare on display and the time you book the flight — which could be as little as two minutes — the fare may increase quite dramatically.
Consider this: On June 7, HT tried booking a Delhi-Pune flight for June 8 for a group of four on makemytrip.com. The lowest fare on display was Rs. 9,026 per person or Rs. 36,104 for the group of four. By the time we clicked the 'book' button, the price of these tickets had jumped to Rs. 60,452 — an increase of more than Rs. 24,000 or 66%.
Likewise, Delhi-Ahmedabad tickets for four had shot up by around Rs. 2,500 from Rs. 34,836 to Rs. 37,353, while Delhi-Cochin tickets on yatra.com increased by Rs. 2,000.
Consumer rights activists said this practice is prima facie unfair as it entices customers into booking seats at a lower fare, which increases by the time the transaction is completed.Travel portals said they are fed information by the central reservation system (offering tickets of several member airlines), which changes every 8-10 minutes due to changes in demand and supply.
"Fares change rapidly, particularly during the peak season," said Prateek Majumdar, head of marketing, yatra.com.
"The MakeMyTrip.com software is designed to show the lowest-available fares. Once the passenger selects the flight, the website connects to the airline to book tickets at the best fares," makemytrip.com said in an emailed reply to HT.
"This is an unfair trade practice and is an offence under the Consumer Protection Act," said Justice JD Kapoor, former president of the Delhi State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.
The authorities reacted cautiously when approached by HT.
"We will look into this," said a senior official of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, India's aviation sector regulator, adding: "Though travel portals are not bound by our regulations, we can ask airlines to withdraw inventory (in this case, unfairly tickets priced).
But other experts said the matter falls in a regulatory grey area. Ashok Chawla, chairperson of the Competition Commission of India, which is empowered to clamp down on firms that abuse their market dominance to overcharge customers, said: "The issue has not come to CCI and it does not seem to come under our ambit though the issue is linked to the consumer. Consumer forums should look into the matter."
With inputs from Mahua Venkatesh