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Scammers Exploit Gap Between 'Confirmed' and 'Ticketed' Airline Reservations

A UK resident fell victim to a scam involving a seemingly legitimate British Airways ticket
Cover Image Source: Pexels | Photo by: Oleksandr P
Cover Image Source: Pexels | Photo by: Oleksandr P

In the age of online travel bookings and enticing flight deals, scammers are capitalizing on a little-known vulnerability in the airline reservation system to defraud unsuspecting travelers. The case of Mevonnie Ferguson, a UK resident who fell victim to a sophisticated scam involving a seemingly legitimate British Airways ticket, sheds light on the risks associated with the gap between "confirmed" and "ticketed" reservations.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 19: A British Airways plane lands at Heathrow Airport on March 19, 2010 in London, England. The planned three day strike by BA cabin crew this weekend will now go ahead as talks between the airline and the union Unite collapsed earlier today. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
 A British Airways plane lands at Heathrow Airport | Dan Kitwood | Getty Images

Ferguson's harrowing experience began when she purchased what appeared to be a valid British Airways ticket from a travel agency named Infinity Global Travel. The ticket, purchased for a flight from London to Kingston, Jamaica, was initially checked out on BA's website using the confirmation number and last name provided. However, just days before her scheduled departure, the reservation mysteriously vanished from the airline's website, leaving Ferguson in a state of shock and out of pocket by £994 ($1,267).

The scam preys on the common misconception between a "confirmed" and a "ticketed" reservation—terms that, in the travel industry, are not interchangeable. The flaw lies in the ability to create what seems like a legitimate flight reservation, but is, in fact, a temporary reservation hold. Scammers exploit this by enticing victims with cheap airline tickets, obtaining their details, and then purchasing a reservation hold through a travel agency. The victim, unaware of the difference, is presented with what appears to be a valid ticket. However, once the hold expires, the reservation disappears, and the scammer disappears with the victim's money.

This issue extends beyond a specific airline and is inherent in the intentional design of the air travel industry's reservation process. Unlike individual passengers, travel agencies have the flexibility to hold reservations for extended periods, providing scammers with an opportunity to exploit this weakness.

Image Source: Pexels/Pixabay
Image Source: Pexels/Pixabay

Legitimate travel agencies do offer reservation holds for valid reasons, such as obtaining flight itineraries for visa applications. For a small fee, applicants can secure a valid flight booking, satisfying visa requirements without the need to purchase a full ticket. However, scammers have found a way to abuse this system, offering cheap reservation holds as "dummy tickets" that are valid for two weeks—enough time to deceive unsuspecting victims.

To illustrate the ease with which this scam can be executed, a test was conducted by purchasing a reservation hold from Qatar Airways for $20 through a legitimate third-party travel agency. For two weeks, Qatar Airways' website displayed the confirmation number as valid, but crucially, no e-ticket number was listed—indicative of a mere "hold" rather than a fully ticketed reservation.

Pexels | Torsten Dettlaff
Pexels | Torsten Dettlaff

The ramifications of this scam extend beyond financial losses. In some cases, travelers may find themselves in situations where their reservations are confirmed but not ticketed, leading to complications and disruptions during their travel.