A few weeks ago, this column encouraged travellers to consider the option of purchasing tickets directly from airline websites rather than from travel agents.
There was disapproval mainly from travel agents who felt that they remain relevant. Some argued that the region or rather Africa still lacks the infrastructure and skilled staff to handle direct online distribution and payment. Probably they were right.
Your old school taxi driver undoubtedly said the same about Uber, just as conventional hotels dismissed Airbnb.
There are many arguments that can be advanced on this subject but one thing is certain. Purchasing of airline tickets in the region will increasingly take place online and the appetite for it is growing exponentially.
ALSO Read: Ditch that travel agent, try online buying
In East Africa alone, credit cards account for over $100 million’s worth of transactions annually in the travel industry alone. Over 90 per cent of these transactions are what the industry calls “card not present transactions.” In other words, the card owner, the card used and the merchant are not in the same physical space at the same time.
But feedback from travel agents was not the only reaction arising from the ensuing discussion. Many regional travellers raised concerns about the security and risk factors posed by online transactions.
The reality of credit card fraud in the travel industry is a concern that most travellers and airlines must remain alert to. Just as the growth figures for the use of credit cards online are impressive, so are the statistics on fraud.
While airlines have over time developed policies and procedures to safeguard themselves against such fraud, in some cases almost “criminalising” passengers who use credit cards, many travellers remain unaware of the basic precautionary moves to protect themselves from inconvenience and harmful exposure when using their cards for online ticket purchases.
Worse still, innocent travellers suffer at the hands of airline staff who take advantage of passengers not conversant with the rudimentary elements of travelling with a credit card-purchased ticket.
First, once a ticket is purchased and paid for online, ensure that you have received your ticket with an actual ticket number. A positive notification of your transaction from the airline does not amount to a ticket.
Second, always ensure that the name on your credit card matches the name on your travel document and air ticket. A glaring disparity here is often the first red flag for airline staff.
Third, make sure you carry your credit card with you as you will be required to show this at the check-in counter. You are guaranteed to be denied check-in and boarding by most airlines if you do not have the actual card used to purchase the ticket with you.
Fourth, there are instances when the person who paid for the ticket and the person travelling are different entities. Most airlines that accept online payments have policies that address this.
In such situations, some airlines will require the paying party to issue the travelling passenger with a letter of authorisation, a copy of which should be sent directly to the airline in advance.
Further, it would serve the traveller best if the person paying also gave a copy of their passport or identity card to accompany the letter of authorisation.
Fifth and very important, during the verification process that you should expect at the check-in counter, never allow airline staff to take a photocopy of your credit card or walk away with it.
Your card must be in plain sight at all times. Credit card details skimming and identity theft happen at this point.
The only document airline staff should ask to take photocopies of if any, is your passport and maybe boarding pass, which they will often ask you to sign.
Most credit card systems on the airline side are rigged to detect inconsistencies and disparities in traveller profile data within their databases, credit card issuer and banks. You can therefore expect airlines to require that you create a user profile with them online.
Remember all transactions will be sent to the email address used to create a profile on an airline website, therefore travellers should choose carefully the email addresses they use. Some fraud prevention systems have been known to flag fancy email addresses like babylove@y***.com or bigpapa@g***.com.
Last, always check your bank statements and dispute any transactions not done by yourself or with your knowledge within 180 days of the occurrence if you are to stand a chance at reversing them.
This post was earlier published in The East African Magazine November 26, 2016 Risks of online credit card use