Saturday, June 23, 2012

Flight ticket from Karachi to Minneapolis (Scam Alert!)



Usually, buying a flight ticket for most people is as simple as calling a travel agent and giving the details. For me, with my tendency to research, its not that simple. As soon as I knew I would be making a trip to Minneapolis, I was online, checking different websites for the lowest rate and best route for a one-way ticket.

The first stop was Expedia, which quoted the lowest rate as $1,214 per person. This translates to Rs. 116,544/-. The option for routes were:

  1. Karachi - Dubai - London - Chicago - Minneapolis (via Emirates and American Airlines)
  2. Karachi - Abu Dhabi - Chicago - Minneapolis (via Etihad and British Airways)
After checking multiple other websites, including the airlines, it was apparent that Expedia was quoting the lowest rates. After that, I called the travel agent I usually get my tickets from. I asked him to give me the best  rate and route for a one-way ticket to Minneapolis.

He got back to me the next day and emailed me a flight itinerary with the route Karachi - Dubai - Amsterdam - Minneapolis for Rs. 156,400/- The reason he gave for such an expensive ticket was that my port of entry into USA would be Minneapolis and I can go through customs and immigration there. I told him I don't mind going through Chicago and get custom and immigration clearance from there.

I gave him the routes that Expedia had suggested. A couple of days later, he gave me a quote of Rs. 86,600/- for route 1 and Rs. 91,800/- for route 2. Since route 1 had less stopovers and also slightly cheaper, I was about to confirm the purchase for the ticket.

Coincidentally, there was an advertisement in the newspaper that day for special discounts for student travelers going one-way to USA. It seemed like it was specifically targeted for me, especially the timing for it. I had my doubts it would be any cheaper than the travel agent I was already dealing with. Nonetheless, I called them and asked for a quote for a one-way ticket to Minneapolis. He identified himself as Hasan from One Ten Travels.

To my extreme surprise, he gave me a quote of Rs. 67,400/-. I was shocked that there could be such a big difference. The route he had given was route 1, which my travel agent had quoted for Rs. 91,800/-. I contacted him and told him about the new quote. Even he couldn't understand how it could be possible. Since it was such a big difference, he suggested I buy it but be extremely careful of a scam. 

I contacted the new travel agent and told him to issue two tickets. He insisted that I make the payment before he can issue the tickets. A red flag immediately went up in my head. I told him I cannot make a payment unless I have the tickets and I can verify them. Finally, we agreed on a post-dated check of one week. He makes an appointment and comes to my office and says he will issue the tickets after I give him the check. I was not letting him out of my sight until I get the tickets. He called his office and asked to issue the tickets and then showed me the e-ticket receipts online. I made the check payable to Shamshad Tours. The online tickets only showed the Karachi - Dubai leg of the flights as paid. He insisted that I trust him and these tickets are valid for the entire travel.

As soon as he walked out of the office, I forwarded the e-ticket receipts to my travel agent. Next day, he calls me back to give me the bad news that even the airlines have confirmed that these tickets are only valid for Karachi to Dubai travel. There is no other flight booked for it. It became apparent that the person was a con artist!

I called him and told him that the airlines had verified that these e-ticket receipts are not valid for the entire travel. He kept insisting that I trust him and take his word that they are valid. How could I, when the airlines are denying it! Finally, he agreed on returning the check and 'cancelling' my tickets. Fortunately, for my travel agent's due diligence, I got saved being scammed out of Rs. 134,400/-!

As expected, I told my travel agent to book my tickets for route 1 at Rs. 86,600/- each. As it so happens, there are no seats available on one of the legs of the route. I had to eventually settle on going via Abu Dhabi - London - Chicago. The fact that it cost me Rs. 10,400/- more was not as bad as the fact that I would have to take another stopover in London which could have been avoided. Also, via route 1, I would have landed in Minneapolis at 7.30 pm but via route 2, I land in Minneapolis at 11.30 pm!

Lesson learned: When it's too good to be true, it usually is!