Scenario: a couple friends and I want to go on vacation. So we go to a local travel agency's website and order a bunch of flight tickets. I give my credit card information, and a few seconds later I get a "transaction complete" notice and merrily call my friends to let them know that the deal is sealed.
Half an hour later, I get a phone call from said company. Oh they're so very sorry, but actually the flight is booked and they can't give me my tickets. Instead they offer a cheaper flight which either leaves or returns at a different time, or a much more expensive ($90 per person) flight instead of the one we were interested in. Bait and switch? Who knows, but working under the assumption that their ass is covered I took the liberty of examining their terms of service page (warning: Hebrew) and managed to find some very interesting bits (my own translation):
- The part of the document where you "authorize" the company to bill you also includes, at the very end, a statement in which you (the customer) say you are "interested in details regarding call-card benefits outside the country, and hereby agree to be contacted by a representative of [the travel agency] or [associated phone carrier]." I would think that this is the sort of opt-in they would at least provide a check-box for.
- Regarding hotels: "For your information, the supplier reserves the right to transfer you to an alternative hotel of similar rating, or higher for an extra payment of up to $100 per person... The hotel rating is according to the local Tourism Office and should not be used for comparing hotels in different countries." So basically, the carrier can (at their whim) screw you over, which may even incur additional charges.
- Still on hotels: "In the case where, as a result of changes to the flight schedule, the customer loses prepaid sleeping privileges at the hotel or additional costs are incurred, [the travel agency] will not be held responsible to said costs." I wonder who is responsible - the flight carrier? I seriously doubt it, their ass is probably just as well-covered.
- Otherwise, the document is basically full of "we're not responsible if" statements. Beautiful, I don't think the travel agency can be legally held responsible for just about anything.
Aside from being seriously pissed off at having my vacation ruined before it even started, it really annoys me that the various travel agencies in Israel are perfectly OK with screwing their customers over. The fact that it's legal (and maybe it damn well shouldn't be. Doesn't this fall under the definition of "false advertising?") doesn't make it any more reasonable. I hope the situation isn't quite as bad elsewhere.