Shoddy service, lost mileage points and booking glitches galore. Why should you ever visit aggregator sites for airline tickets?
Greed does not pay. Sadly, I found this to be true while attempting to book an airline ticket through an online portal called 'Cleartrip.com'.
I had used this service in the past, but once had an experience of the money having been debited and then the ticket not coming through and since then I had discontinued their services.
Alas, I was lured by an offer of one free ticket for each ticket booked and had a go.
Late evening on 29th July, at around 7:15pm or so, I filled out all the details for a Chennai to Pune flight by Kingfisher Airlines. It showed a fare of around Rs3,857. No sooner had I pressed 'submit' (or the equivalent of wanting to conclude the transaction) that I got an SMS saying that my bank account had been debited (I had used the net-banking facility of my banker) with the said amount. I started to smile on having successfully navigated yet another net-based transaction (you see, the BSNL Internet connectivity is such that it keeps going off, so to complete an online transaction, it is an achievement for me).
Alas, my smile froze. A message flashed online that the transaction had 'failed'. I had no clue of what happened. I checked my bank account. Yes, the amount had been debited.
So, I presumed that there was some glitch and called a customer support number of Cleartrip. I was a bit disturbed since I did not have any reference number. The lady who attended my call resolved that by checking with my email ID. Luckily, I was a 'registered' user and hence I had logged in with that ID. So, it was easy to trace and she gave me a Cleartrip ID number. She said that the ticket was not issued due to some 'link' not working! I tried to probe further, but got no farther.
She told me that my money would be 'reversed' immediately and that I could call in half an hour to check about the fate of my ticket, etc.
Alas, after an hour I could not get through in spite of several tries and so I kept it for the next morning.
Next morning, I checked my Cleartrip account to see if any ticket had been issued. No luck. I checked my bank account to see if the amount was credited. No. Cleartrip was still holding on to the money for a 'failed' transaction!
I called them up and once again was given a spin as to why the bloody thing did not work out.
Now, I got on to the website of Kingfisher directly and booked the ticket. Surprise! The fare was lower though they did not give any 'buy one get one free' offer.
Is Cleartrip justified in doing what it did to me? It is very clear that they did not give me the service that they had promised. And the fact that in spite of taking my money, they could not deliver is proof that they did not have any valid arrangement with the airline.
Cleartrip is clearly not my cup of tea. Henceforth, it is the airline website or a physical travel agent. Online travel brokers/agents are high risk and we have no control over the transaction. Take care, folks. Cleartrip is out. I have no clue about other such brokers and I have no intention of finding out either.
After Mr Balakrishnan's ordeal, Moneylife contacted Cleartrip for its response. Here's what the portal had to say:
Vishal Gupta, VP (operations) of Cleartrip attempted to explain the situation.
First, he claimed that Mr Balakrishnan's negative experience occurs in just 1% or 2% of the millions of transactions that are put through by Cleartrip. While this point is well taken, what did not elicit a satisfactory response from Mr Gupta is the chain of events after the booking failed.
1. Mr Gupta said that the refunds are made only after reconciliation to check that the money is credited to Cleartrip by the bank. He could not explain why Cleartrip wasn't able to get information about the debit at the same time as the customer.
2. He promised to check and say why the customer was told that the money would be 'reversed' immediately instead of saying that it would take at least 24 hours.
3. There is no explanation for why Cleartrip, which clearly had the customer's money, could not help complete the transaction, even though the first booking had failed.
4. Cleartrip claims to offer the best rate, but our columnist found otherwise. Mr Gupta said, "We still stand by the claim"; he went on to explain Mr Balakrishnan's case by saying that airlines have "dynamic fare systems" and prices change rapidly. This, however, means that aggregator sites cannot claim to offer the best rate.
5. Finally, as Mr Balakrishnan points out, booking through aggregator sites may actually cause customers to lose out on mileage points. It is also clear that you must risk booking, only if you have the funds to buy another ticket if you are unlucky enough to be part of the 2% failed bookings.
If you thought that the current controversies plaguing the upcoming Commonwealth Games are shameful, here are some episodes from our sorry sporting past
It is an old rule in politics - if you are caught out in activities which are fairly par for the course, often involving the misuse of funds or assets belonging to the public exchequer, then you have to be able to defend yourself without letting any muck escape upwards. If you try to point fingers at those who are above your horizon, then you will simply not be allowed to go off into the sunset in peace, as all upward trails will be obscured. Anything you say is suspect anyways.
The only alternative left then is to stand alone in a corner and fight it out. Brazenly. Use every trick at your disposal. Maybe you will succeed, in which case you live to fight for another day. Or you have to exit gracefully, and be content with the fact that for the rest of your life you will be allowed to exist, without much ado. But. You. Do. Not. Pass. The. Blame. Upwards.
Suresh Kalmadi appears to be in a jam of this sort. After finessing the art-form of running games which nobody else considered to be anything more than a great party with fireworks, during the eminently forgotten 'Commonwealth Youth Games' held in Pune a few years ago, he obviously set his sights far too high in the killing fields of Delhi. Such is the state of the media in India today, that for better or for worse, if one media-house "breaks" a report of the sort that the Commonwealth Games (CWG) and Indian Olympics Association are facing nowadays, then the rest will also have to tag along. And it must be said, the centre of action for all this CWG chaos is in and around South and New Delhi - which is where our national electronic and print media seems to find its frontlines.
But would all this have been possible without credible access to the one thing that matters in the first case - the numbers? And therein lies a tale, which is a Moneylife exclusive.
Way back in 2005, the Right to Information (RTI) Act of India was in its first flush of action, and ably supported by Sucheta Dalal and Debashis Basu, yours truly filed a very simple RTI application with the Indian Olympics Association (IOA) - operating those days out of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) premises at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, New Delhi. IOA and its subordinate as well as related entities, which control every game and sport in India plus a lot more, were for all practical purposes acting like extensions of the government of India, through SAI and the ministry of sports. In short, a great time was had by all.
Except the athletes and sportspersons who went to Melbourne for the previous Commonwealth Games in 2006. There were reports on how they performed in close to miserable conditions - again, nothing new. Indian sports team goes abroad, local Indian population provides training facilities, equipment, local transport, shoes and food - otherwise there is always the gracefulness of the gurudwaras. This has been the reality for ages, and in a pre-liberalisation, pre-Internet, pre-RTI India, it just went on that way. In exchange, you gave them bottles of Indian pickles, or similar.
Except that this time there were reports on the Internet, picked up in small little columns by the mainstream media, which spoke also about the vast amounts of money paid to stars and starlets to come and dance on stage in Melbourne. One famous actress I knew, however, told me she went all the way there for national honour, and didn't know what these payments were about.
So, in a moment of inspired madness, your correspondent filed a very simple RTI application with the Indian Olympics Association, asking it to please provide details of these dancing expenses in Melbourne. To be fully aware of the truth on such things, if they had done so, and given any story as an answer, the matter would have probably died there and then.
But no. Authority questioned is authority defied, and so the questioner has to be put in his place. Publicly. The whole establishment, which was the IOA, SAI, ministry of sports and the rest of them, chose to at one stage or the other defend the right of the IOA not to provide these numbers. Or IOA's adherence to the RTI Act. The arguments were various, from outright denial to some innovative ones quoting declarations and speeches which nobody else had heard of - but they all said the same thing - we won't tell you how much we spent on what. We are not liable to the Indian people. That's it. Go away. And the weight by way of legal pressure was amazing.
But the office of the Chief Information Commissioner provided a judgement in the applicant's favour
In addition, it was the clear and outright support from good friends who are lawyers in Delhi, that they would support me all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary, totally pro bono, which gave strength for the next episode. Plus the simple fact that MS Gill came into the sports ministry.
New Delhi: India Inc seems to have regained its deal-making appetite with merger and acquisitions (M&As) so far this year nearing the $50 billion level-already over three times the total for entire 2009, reports PTI.
There were M&A deals worth about $16 billion in 2009, down from close to $40 billion in 2008.
Indicating that deal valuations are also witnessing a revival in line with the recovery in stock markets and overall economy, the value of M&A deals have risen despite a decline in the number of transactions.
According to data compiled by research firm VCCEdge, the M&A deal value rose nearly five-times to $5.4 billion in July 2010 alone, from $1.1 billion in July 2009.
So far in 2010, that is between January and July, the cumulative M&A deal value has touched $49.7 billion, as compared to $16.3 billion in the whole of 2009, VCCEdge said in its monthly deal report.
There have been 411 M&A deals so far this year, down from 453 deals seen in 2009, the report noted. July also saw fewer deals at 42, as compared to 47 in July 2009.
However, when compared to June 2010, a substantial drop was seen in both the deal value and volume. The deal value fell by 62% and the numbers went down by 34%.
Indian companies had announced 64 M&A deals in June 2010 with a total value of nearly $14.1 billion. The biggest month in terms of M&A deals so far this year has been March, which saw 72 deals worth a total of $14.35 billion.
VCCEdge further pointed out that the number of domestic deals decreased from 26 in July 2009 to 21 in July 2010.
But the value of domestic deals went up to $2.03 billion last month, from $282 million in July 2009.
In terms of volume, the number of outbound deals fell from 12 in July 2009 to eight in July 2010, while there were eight inbound deals in each of the two months.
The value of inbound deals still rose sharply year-over- year to $2.01 billion in July 2010 from $744 million.
The average deal size also rose to $216 million last month, from $61 million in July 2009.
VCCEdge report noted that energy, healthcare and materials were the most targeted sectors in July 2010, with each witnessing deals worth over one billion dollars.
The month's biggest deal was Reliance Natural Resources Ltd's (RNRL) merger with another Anil Ambani group firm Reliance Power (R-Power) in an all-stock deal valued at $1.56 billion.
The top five deals alone accounted for 88% of total M&A deal activity in July 2010, VCCEdge said.
These included sale of Fortis Healthcare's 25.37% stake in Parkway Holdings for $1.12 billion; Japanese major JFE Steel's $1.03 billion purchase of 14.99% stake in JSW Steel; ABB's $965 million buyout offer for ABB India and Piramal Diagnostic Services' $128 million sale to Super Religare Lab (SRL).