Why JustFly.com wants you to ‘cancel’ your flight

A shady business model exposed in an investigative report.

JustFly.com Home Page

Behind the promising pages of this online travel aggregator and claims of the cheapest airline booking website is a rather counterintuitive and unethical business model.

Cyberspace and the massive availability of open source development frameworks, ‘mirror scripts’ and automation has made it so easy to replicate existing business models — merely in terms of a website, and act as the “middleman” to earn commission per sale. On a first look, JustFly.com looks no different than any other online travel aggregators like Expedia, Priceline, Orbitz, etc. On a deeper look, you discover a whole other side which is unique to JustFly.

When this happened to me, I thought maybe it was really just me or a one-off mistake and I was the disgruntled customer. But, it turns out, to add insult to injury, BBB has issued a warning regarding JustFly.com ( again and again ) in the past. The specific points to note, as present in the BBB notice, are:

Specifically, the complaints allege:

Differences in the quoted price as opposed to what is actually charged to the consumer’s credit card after booking.

Mistakes being made by booking agents, such as the name and spelling of the passenger’s name. Adjustments to the booking result in significant fees to the consumer from both the airline and justfly.com.

Differences in the time and date of travel from the original booking.

Not receiving email booking confirmations as promised.

Reports of being on hold for excessive periods of time when calling the customer service department. Some have reported being cut off eventually.

Being charged more for a cancellation fee that was originally quoted.

On their website, justfly.com provides an address in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, but BBB has confirmed that the business is not actually located there and mail for justfly.com is being forwarded to an as-yet-unknown location. The company is registered as a numbered Canada Inc. corporation.

Additionally, last month an ABC News report features a woman who was victim to their shady practices as well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6Z-uZpb2Fk

Here is a Quora post, a Medium post and one of the reviews on TripAdvisor from 2015 confirming some of the same issues experienced by other customers. A Google search for “JustFly scam” may offer more.

The Business Model

Intuitively, like any other middleman business, online travel agencies (OTAs) would make money by selling you the air tickets at a discounted price and make a commission per sale of the ticket, paid by the airline or another intermediate entity. Sadly, that is far from reality given the growing volume of OTAs, up and coming everyday. The competition is already so fierce among travel engines and that combined with the need for the airlines to constantly lower their costs, basically leaves no room for commission for air ticket bookings. In fact, have you noticed how most OTAs like Expedia, Priceline, etc. have been encouraging you to “bundle up your air ticket with a hotel + car, and save” over the last decade?

That’s simply because that’s where the money is.

I researched multiple travel websites and Quora posts searching for answers from folks who are heavily involved in the online travel industry (here, here, here, here, here, here and here).

Bottom line is:

  • Commission earned from the sale of air ticket: $0 — $2/segment or 0%-3% of the ticket price, depending on the confidential agreement.
  • Commission earned from a hotel booking sale: 10%-20% per booking.

Essentially, the OTAs and travel metasearch engines offer you the ability to book cheap flights as a means of customer acquisition and accept the overhead (virtually $0 revenue from flights and customer support expenses) as a cost of doing business. Their ultimate goal, and hope is, you will book a hotel or rent a car through them and make them money. Or, in JustFly’s case, pay them the hidden fees at no fault of your own.

This is where JustFly.com gets aggressive and purely unethical.

Deliberate Mistakes, Adjustments & Cancellations

When booking flights on JustFly.com, the website displays you a total price which seems unrealistically discounted when compared to other travel search engines. However, at the last minute the “price is gone” and rises. Fare enough (pun intended), no worries, maybe you missed that sweet deal and that cheap ticket went to someone else. Put in your credit card number and the price you will be charged would be much higher by anywhere between $30 and $100, than what you were shown right before clicking ‘pay’ — even after it was already “upped”. I suspect this is due to hidden costs not readily displayed to the customer. This is what happened to that woman too, and to myself — a deliberate mistake.

According to a U.S. law set forth by the Department of Transportation (DOT), airlines must refund you the full price of the ticket even on non-refundable tickets, if you request to cancel within 24 hours for any reason. Every airline and travel aggregator I have dealt with in the past has honored this policy. 100% Refund — no questions asked.

But JustFly.com is not an airline and can refuse to honor the policy. Moreover, it is a Canadian company appearing to do business in the U.S., so it is unclear to what extent the U.S. law applies to them, especially given it is an online business — they could always claim that the “online business transaction” took place on a website hosted in Canada, and therefore should be governed by Canadian laws.

Cancellations = Pure Profit

Alright, so you call the 800-number (call recording below) which seems to be the only option to reach them, and are greeted by someone you can tell isn’t based in the U.S. or Canada — the entire company is all over the place, quite literally. The representative is actually quite friendly, however here’s the interesting part:

I request him to cancel my ticket as the wrong price was charged than what was displayed on the final checkout page. He affirmatively went forward reassuring me that he will be happy to cancel the ticket, however there is a $75 service charge per passenger to adjust or cancel the ticket. Note, I called within 1 hour of making the transaction — well before the 24-hour no-penalty cancellation window expires! By what the representative was saying, this would mean me losing $150 on the booking for two passengers.

I decided that losing $150 would not be smart to merely save $50-$70 if I book the flight elsewhere, so I declined.

“Alright, please hold sir, let me see if I can get it lowered further,” he said something along those lines.

He got the cancellation fee down from $75 to $50 per passenger. I still refused and said, “that’s okay, I’ll keep my flight.” But the guy was determined — he further placed me on a hold, got back, and negotiated down the cancellation fee to $25/passenger for a total of $50 in cancellation fees.

Why would any business be so determined to make you cancel, lose you as a customer so they can charge you a cancellation fee?!
And worse, convince you to cancel and do everything to sell you the cancellation.

Then it hit me — that’s their business model. And the customer has little to no say left in that matter. They just want their fees, and those earned from cancellation at no fault of the customer is pure profit compared to a virtually $0 commission from the airline.

After doing quick math in my head, I accepted his “final one-time courtesy” and verified verbally that I will be charged $50 total for the cancellation.
Guess what? My credit card statement still showed a $150 cancellation charge!

Assuming Synchrony Bank, my credit card issuer was smart, I filed a dispute with them and provided them with a complete copy of the call recording — however, for some reason the dispute was resolved in JustFly’s favor as the merchant stated that they had clearly spelled out cancellation policy on their Terms & Conditions page — even though the call recording clearly proves the representative negotiating a lower cancellation fee, as follows.

UPDATE: After a second review by Synchrony Bank, the dispute was indeed resolved in my favor because of the customer service call recording.

Customer Service Call Recording

For those interested in verifying the authenticity of the incident, I am attaching the call recording of the customer service call. Under the U.S. federal law, which applies to me — who knows about JustFly, a “one party recording consent” is enough for the recording to be legally made. The call is being recorded anyway for “internal training purposes.”

Direct Link: https://clyp.it/4afc5xve

JustFly.com Customer Service Call Recording — February 2018

Physical Location

It is unclear where exactly is the company located. It is essentially a ghost. The company claims to be a part of “Momentum Ventures” which appears to be a Canadian company. According to JustFly.com’s Terms & Conditions page:

JustFly Inc is a registered seller of travel in the following US states:

California: 2128012
Washington: 604073871
Florida: ST40746
Iowa: 1372

I searched for the company’s address in California’s Business Entity Search ( https://businesssearch.sos.ca.gov/ ) and noticed the same Canadian address which has been disputed by BBB.

Same is the case with California’s Travel Seller Search website: https://sotas.doj.ca.gov/sellerSearch.action

California State — Travel Seller Search

Washington’s Secretary of State website shows the corporation as a “Delaware” corporation along with a registered agent address.

Nothing of interest was observed in the business databases of Florida or Iowa. The entity search on Delaware’s business register merely revealed another ‘forwarding address’ of a registered agent.

FTC Complaint & Action

Even though it is unclear how much jurisdiction can FTC have over this shady operation, the fact that this company is doing business in the U.S., I have gone ahead and filed an FTC complaint against this operation. Details of the action taken by FTC, if any, will shortly be posted here. I encourage you to do the same if you have been a victim of any unethical business practices by this or any other business.

Given the extent of complaints brought forward by multiple users, JustFly.com might just be getting closer and closer to becoming an ideal class-action candidate.

In the meantime, I remind everyone to do their own research before picking flight aggregators. As they say, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” At least, after learning my $150-lesson, I am never using JustFly.com again.

Akshay ‘Ax’ Sharma

Written by

Security Engineer, Researcher, Tech Columnist http://axsharma.com

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