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January 20, 2011

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Grounded by cheap flight deals

CHEAP airline tickets booked online may sound tempting, but consumers are being warned they risk not getting a flight and having to pursue the company for a refund.

Consumer rights website said it has received 1,849 complaints concerning online ticket bookings over the past year - with 577 in December alone.

There are fears the problem will get even worse in the coming days as people try to get home for the Spring Festival.

Shanghai Daily has conducted an investigation into one e-commerce platform, after dozens of locals complained that they didn't receive tickets, nor get a prompt refund.

The investigation has discovered that although the platform claims to be China's leading B2C - business to customer - trading platform, it had only five members of staff dealing with its nationwide ticket service.

Moreover, a company accountant even admitted "forgetting" to pay a refund to one customer.

In the guise of a businessman, a Shanghai Daily reporter booked a 525 yuan (US$79) ticket from Shanghai to Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, via the website on December 28.

Although the system confirmed the booking was made, a customer service worker later telephoned to say that they had failed to get the ticket and promised a full refund.

However, 22 days later, the money was still not returned and the staff couldn't be contacted.

Eventually, when the reporter unveiled his identity, an official surnamed Tan said the platform's accountant had "forgotten" to deal with the refund. The money was subsequently returned.

But Tan couldn't say what had happened to the money in the interim or how many other customers were affected.

Other customers complained of similar experiences with Yihaodian, though they were refunded eventually.

A resident, surnamed Wang, in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, said she booked a ticket from Guangzhou to Chengdu on the same platform, only to be told that the process had failed. However she was told the money could not be returned in seven days.

"I don't understand why they had to keep my money for such a long time after the booking failed," said Wang.

"Without the money in my account, I couldn't book another ticket."


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