Pro-tip for travelers: AVOID Smartfares.com

As I wrote about on my other blog, I recently had to return to the US from Uganda for my grandpa’s funeral. He died suddenly and unexpectedly, and so we had to fly back on very short notice. I tried calling several airlines to find if they had bereavement rates on international flights, but It turns out bereavement rates are still much, much higher than what you could find with even a brief online search.

This route having been exhausted, I turned to the interwebs to try to find a roundtrip ticket from Entebbe to Indianapolis, departing on Monday. Keep in mind that I was searching on Sunday.

Although the fares that I found were much higher due to the last-minute nature of my search, I was able to find a ticket at a not unreasonable rate on smartfares.com. Now, I thought that I had booked a ticket through Smartfares before, but a search of my email revealed I hadn’t, and therefore had to learn a very unwelcome lesson at a very bad time.

Anyway, I purchased the ticket, and arrived at Entebbe Airport on Monday afternoon, still in a rather emotionally fragile state. Imagine my and my wife’s shock when we stepped up to the counter, presented our passports and were told that we were not ticketed for the flight. Since our names weren’t showing up, we had the agent search for us by final destination, frequent flyer number, and every other piece of information we could think of. I even called my dad in the US (an expensive proposition, mind you) and had him check my email to find my confirmation number. That didn’t help either.

Needless to say, we missed our flight, and therefore the rest of the three-leg journey.

Given the general decrepitude of East Africa airports, and the ineptitude of Entebbe in particular, I suspected that the fault lied somewhere within the airport (perhaps the ancient-looking computer systems?). Having been turned away after already paying a handsome sum, and not knowing what else to do, I asked my dad to try calling one of the airlines involved  United) while we visited the Entebbe office of the other (Emirates).

It was quickly becoming clear that the guilty party was Smartfares. My dad tried to call Smartfares, but they didn’t answer phone calls before 8:30 am PACIFIC TIME, which meant 11:30 am Eastern time, which meant 6:30pm Uganda time. This was agonizing in the extreme, as we had to sit around for several hours in the discomfort of Entebbe’s airport, but hey, I can understand: Smartfares are based in California, they want to get to work at a reasonable hour, so of course they don’t answer the phone before 8:30.

But to add insult to injury, when my dad finally got through to Smartfares, his call was re-routed to India. Now I have nothing against outsourcing — it makes economic sense. And it also makes sense, if you’re outsourcing to India anyway, to not limit your customer service to the Pacific time zone’s working hours.

Nevertheless, after my dad waited, on what the call operator thought was Hold (in fact, my dad could still hear the guy singing and talking to other people in the background, instead of elevator music) he was told something not entirely coherent about international credit card purchases, and Smartfares needing 24-72 hours to issue tickets.

Wow! Where to begin here. If it takes Smartfares 72 hours to issue tickets, wouldn’t it be responsible for them to not sell tickets less than three days before departure?

And when I’ve bought international flights on other, more trustworthy sites like Travelpapa, I’ve received emails and even text messages with instructions on how to confirm my credit card purchase. Smartfares sent neither.

The moral of the story is obvious: DON’T BUY PLANE TICKETS ON SMARTFARES.COM!!!

But, for those of you who are wondering how the story ends, here’s what happened:

After a frustrating conversation with India, my dad called Delta Airlines directly and booked us a ticket with KLM-Delta, for a flight departing later that night. Because we were now buying a ticket the day of, rather than the day before, the fare was even more than what we had originally spent on Smartfares.

So not only did Smartfares cost us 9 hours of waiting in the airport, heartbreak and emotional distress, they also cost us an extra $800.

Stupid.

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9 responses to “Pro-tip for travelers: AVOID Smartfares.com

  1. Thank you for posting!
    I found your blog by searching “Smartfares compaints”. I was about to book a one way Saigon to JFK ticket through Qatar. Qatar- cool to visit, but not an airline or a country I want to have any problems with.

    Moral duly noted, and I purchased my tickets on Vayama!

  2. They are worse than you can imagine.
    Took me two months, working with my credit card company to get my money back.

  3. DO NOT USE Smartfares.com internet travel booking website! SCAM ! Their “Purchase Terms and Conditions” is saving them from a huge legal hassle. “Terms” require a transaction take up to 72 hours to process. (3 days!! the magic number for consumer purchase cancellation eligibility offered by consumer protection laws for purchases, contracts, and transactions in Ohio) . AND, get this – for each ticket booked by phone they (Via LBF Travel) charge $50. Exceptions to this only mean higher ticket booking charges, of up to $150 booking charge for ticket. It goes on and on. THIS IS RIPE! I made the mistake of booking, or trying to book, airfare. A teaser rate came up on the fares list. I bit. I had to call to inquire on the fare since it was supposedly such a good deal, it had to be unpublished. I was on hold, once they got my credit card number, for 20 to 40 minutes. I wish I’d read the “Terms and Conditions” but those are not available to view until you click on airfare to purchase on line. I was purchasing on the phone and never saw it.under I got suspicious. While on Hold, I searched reviews about them. On Google search results check page 4,7, or so. Never page one, whose results are either paid advertising or shifty listings that use SEO , search engine optimization… another slippery slope in the internet industry. Except for one site, nearly 100% of ALL reviews on other sites say to avoid like the plague. Only one site, likely a ‘wing man” site of theirs, say they are fine, all 100 % awesome, etc. Funny that many of those positive reviews were posted that very day! Funny, usually reviews are from a couple days ago to weeks, months, and years past! Back to the Real Reviews… one said they operate by crawling the web and then offering a (non-existent) teaser rate specific to you . Unlucky victims have shown up at airports with no active confirmation number. Then they wasted time getting the run-around from Smartfares and some were even desperate or dumb enough to pay the cancellation fee, too, and rebook at higher cost. OUCH! Buyer beware!! Their actual business is to take you rmoney and hem and haw, but not book actual airfare. That being said, they might occasionally book legitimate airfare. They tentatively booked mine but didn’t pay the airlines. Upon learning about them, I immediately called them to cancel the ENTIRE credit card transaction, including any fees. I also called the airlines and my bank issuing the credit card. I hope I do not have a charge to dispute. I feel lucky!

  4. DO NOT USE Smartfares, never or you will have a surprise.
    The con they use is simple, they provide the lowest price, but very often reasonably lower. In my case it was 20-25$ lower. You book the flight and they also send you a confirmation for the booking, including the code but when you check that on the airlines webpage, that code does not exist. It only can be used on their website to trick you into thinking that your reservation is ok just that the ticked is not issued yet. After you do not receive a ticked you call them and there the con takes place, they tell you sorry several times and that the ticked was not issues because that price is not available, so while you are yelling at them and cursing them for not letting you know that the price is not available sooner, they tell you if you are interested on the current available price for the ticket. Out of curiosity you say yes, and they slip you a higher price than the normal one and ask you if you like to buy the ticked with the new price. They tell you that the number you have provided was wrong and they could not inform you.
    This is what happened with me, and luckily i hung up the phone to his phase after yelling for a while and searched online again to find out that the price was not changed, while they were asking 200$ more.
    F**** Smartfares. I do not understand how skyscanner or kayak or any other serious company allows this crappy companies be listed on their website.
    To conclude, a lot of booking companies like smartfares are cons so do your research before booking.

    good luck

  5. Smartfares makes your trip a nightmare!

    The customer service is terrible, they sell tickets that do not work when you are at the airport ready to fly the is no booking.

    If you are smart, avoid to buy at smart fares

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