By Kim Hyun-bin
Customers who booked flights through Interpark Tour are furious over the unexpected additional fees they have to pay three months after booking their nonrefundable flights, according to passengers and industry officials, Thursday.
A passenger whose surname is Chung booked a Jeju Air flight departing from Incheon International Airport to Panglao International Airport in Bohol, Philippines in advance in May. She then received an unexpected e-mail and a message on the Kakao instant messenger app from Interpark Tour on Aug. 8 to pay an additional fee for the nonrefundable flight ticket or else the ticket would be canceled and the initial payment would also not be refunded.
Chung is scheduled to depart Incheon International Airport on Aug. 21 and take a return flight from Panglao International Airport on Aug. 25.
|Jeju Air B737-800|
"Due to the rise in fuel surcharge, an additional 51,400 won per person needs to be transferred to Interpark Tour by 6 p.m. on Aug. 9," The Interpark message stated. "If the payment is not made the ticket will be canceled and the initial payment will not be refunded."
"I thought I paid for my family's round-trip in full in May, the additional surcharges come as a surprise," Chung told The Korea Times. "We have no choice but to pay the fees because our ticket purchase for our family which cost 1.068 million won ($815) is nonrefundable. It is odd that they gave just 24-hour notice to transfer the fees."
Interpark has dismissed consumer complaints saying that it gave prior notice. "We gave notice in advance that the fuel surcharge may increase depending on changes in oil prices and exchange rates," an Interpark spokesperson said.
Local airlines, however, set the fuel surcharge for the month after averaging the previous month's fuel surcharge, and do not charge additional fees even when oil prices rise.
"Once a customer purchases a plane ticket, the fuel surcharge is already embedded in the price and there are no cases where we ask customers to pay an additional charge due to a rise in fuel costs later on," a major airline official said. "If we did, it will only tarnish our reputation with customers and there is no reason for customers to purchase flight tickets early on to find bargains."
Industry officials point out that airlines sell a percentage of their seats in advance in bulk to tour agencies with a fixed price and the tour agencies set ticket prices to sell to customers for their seats.
The problem is, instead of Interpark Tour setting the fuel surcharge each month, they finalized its booking for all passengers at once before the departure date and asked for the additional fees when fuel charges rose. Leaving passengers that have booked well in advance before the rise of fuel prices with additional costs.
"If Interpark Tour finalized passenger bookings each month with the airline, the customers would have paid the amount they initially transacted. Since the company finalized the booking for all the customers at once in August, changes to the fuel surcharge have occurred," another airline official said.
"We were not aware of the additional fuel charges that could occur. Because it never happened to us before and the notice while booking was not noticeable unless we have to thoroughly read, word for word, all of Interpark Tour's regulations. The company should do more to inform passengers of the possible charges instead of posting it in small print on the reservation page," another passenger surnamed Kwon said.