Glitch Happens, People Book Flights for Almost Nothing, Air Asia Keeps Mum. But Air Asia, What’s Your Official Statement on the Matter?

Latest update as of Oct. 9, evening: Air Asia got in touch with me and informed me that they will honor my booking. I’m pleasantly surprised. Ha! Who am I kidding? I’m beyond ecstatic!!! I didn’t expect that, I swear. Please read this blog entry for the full story!

Air Asia took me for a wild ride and I didn’t even have to get on a plane.

The other day, Oct. 3, I was thinking of a destination to go to for my birthday in February. I was considering Bangalore or Phuket. Then, on Twitter, I saw someone mention the fact that Air Asia now offers flights to Maldives.

I knew I couldn’t afford Maldives yet, but dreaming is free, right? So off I went to the Air Asia website and checked out the cost of the airfare. I wouldn’t be able to book a ticket for early 2014 but I would get an idea of how much I should save so I could go in late 2014 or summer of 2015.

So imagine my surprise when I saw that the Kuala Lumpur-Maldives round trip tickets cost only around 32 pesos per person. That’s less than a US dollar, guys. Thinking that Air Asia offered an introductory price for Maldives, I quickly contacted two travel friends. They also got excited about the idea of low-cost Maldives tickets, so in a heartbeat, they both said they would join me.

I had never made a booking so fast before in my life. I was convinced that there were only a few precious seats available, and that I was competing against thousands of people who all want to go to Maldives, too.

In retrospect, I wondered if I should have seen that the prices were too good to be true. But I made the booking in good (and admittedly, slightly ignorant) faith. As someone who lives on Cebu Pacific Air’s piso (or one-peso) fares, seeing a Maldives ticket with a base fare of 32 pesos is not surprising to me. And Air Asia has offered one-peso fares before, so there was no doubt in my mind that this was one of their promos. I simply thought that I was on time for a great seat sale for a change.

The booking process was smooth and easy, even when my fingers were trembling with excitement. Finally, I got to the last page where I’m being asked for my credit card information. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the final price I had to pay: 270.45 pesos for three people! That’s less than 7 dollars! Wow! Oh, just wow!

I put in my credit card details. Whoops, my payment got declined! I think I put in my birthday or some other info wrong. I was too excited, I guess, so let me try that again. I had to repeat the payment process. My heart, this time, was thumping hard. Did I just lose my chance at Maldives because I failed to give my correct birthday (or some other info)? What if I lost the seats and someone else booked them?

But second time’s a charm. After being declined the first time, my payment details went through without a hitch:

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It’s all good, I thought. Maldives, here I come! Yesssss! I told my travel buddies about it so that they could check out Manila to Kuala Lumpur flights on Cebu Pacific, which also had a sale going on.

I received a confirmation email after a few minutes:

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And also the itinerary:

Then, just like that, the dream got shattered. The third page of the itinerary showed a discrepancy:

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The excitement abruptly changed to dread and fear. I felt cold all over — it was as if someone dumped a bucket of ice over my head. That amount of 6,714 ringgit (90,807 pesos) NEVER showed up during the booking process. Even when I was putting in my credit card details, the amount stayed at 270.45 pesos.

Terrified that the 90,807 pesos went through, I tried calling HSBC to check my credit card balance, but I was put on hold for 10 minutes (or maybe less, I didn’t know anymore, time seemed to have frozen) so that I decided to call Air Asia.

I managed to talk to a representative right away. However, she didn’t know anything about a glitch, so she told me to submit an e-form and call back the next day for a possible resolution. At this point, I had no idea what the hell was going on, so I did what I was told and sent in a report.

Next, I tried calling HSBC. This time, my call went through. I asked the HSBC agent about my last transaction, and she put me on hold. I remember exactly what I felt at that moment: Holding the phone tightly in my hand, I closed my eyes and silently pleaded. Please, please, please, don’t let the 90,807 pesos go through.

Pure relief flooded my veins when the agent told me that only 270.45 pesos was posted on my account. After that, I got a lot calmer. I went back online and asked around to see if anyone had the same experience or if mine was just an isolated case. It turned out that many other people experienced the same thing. Most of the discussions about it were on Facebook in closed groups or private timelines, but there were a few public tweets about it from people I don’t know. They all came up easily when I searched with the keywords Air Asia, bug, honor, glitch, and Maldives:

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Translation for the second tweet: “I hope Air Asia honors the booking.”

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air asia, air asia glitch, technical glitch, system glitch, bug, airasia, airasia glitch
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air asia, air asia glitch, technical glitch, system glitch, bug, airasia, airasia glitch
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Translation for the last tweet: “I think those guys in IT are having a hard time right now with the Air Asia glitch!”

It became obvious to me that there was a system glitch. A friend asked me if I wanted to book more flights, but knowing that it was not a legitimate seat sale, I said no. The flight to Maldives was the only one I booked. I didn’t make another booking under my name, and I’m not part of any booking under anyone else’s name. But I know others who booked several times to various destinations such as Nepal, India, Australia, etc.

Yesterday, I called up Air Asia again to ask if they already know about the glitch and if the company released an official statement about it. The agent said that the case was still under investigation, but that they were already aware of the glitch. She told me that a lot of people have been calling, including someone who managed to book a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu for a whopping 3 pesos (that’s less than a dime). I asked her if Air Asia would honor or cancel the flights, and she told me that there was no resolution yet for this issue, and that I should call back on Monday.

So imagine my surprise when I received this email from Air Asia shortly after:

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The email did not acknowledge in any way that Air Asia was to blame. The use of the passive voice is very tell-tale. It also did not make any mention about system-wide glitch. It makes my situation sound like an isolated case, which is not.

I logged in to my Air Asia account and went to ‘Manage My Bookings.’ True enough, the status of my booking was changed from ‘Confirmed’ to ‘Needs Payment.’

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So I called up Air Asia again. The agent said the same thing the previous agent told me – that there was no resolution yet, and that a decision would be made for all glitch bookings after the results of an investigation. Apparently, Air Asia is still in the process of determining the root cause of the technical glitch as of this writing. I asked her why the status of my booking changed, and she said she didn’t know. The only thing she knew was the payment was declined. I told her that it wasn’t originally declined, so I asked if it was reversed instead. But she said that she had limited access to the system so she couldn’t determine if someone did reverse my booking.

Then, I called up HSBC to check the status of my Air Asia payment. When I first called HSBC on Thursday, the amount of 270.45 was already posted on my account, but on Friday, the amount got its status changed to ‘floating.’ After the call, I went online again and asked other people about their bookings. They didn’t receive any emails, but then again, they didn’t call Air Asia in the first place to report the discrepancy. Thus, other bookings made during the glitch were still confirmed, but my booking is not.

Was I hoping that Air Asia would honor my booking? I’m not going to lie: After the heart attack they almost gave me when I thought I paid 90,807 pesos, I was hoping that yes, Air Asia would be like United Airlines, which honored the tickets they accidentally gave away for free on their online system last September.

But at the same time, I would understand if Air Asia would decide not to honor the tickets, especially if too many people booked super cheap flights. I just wish they handled this whole scenario well!

Here are my main concerns:

  • My case is not an isolated case. It seems that at least hundreds of tickets were booked during the glitch. Yet Air Asia has not felt the need to make an apology, or even just to acknowledge that they made a mistake this big. Customers had to make a call just to find out what’s happening, but even calling didn’t give a clear resolution.
  • I hate the idea that Air Asia makes it seem, from the email, that the payment never went through in the first place. But it did, and I received the itinerary and all that. It took me several minutes to notice that there was something wrong, and that was enough time to make other travel plans related to this booking, like looking for accommodations, connecting flights, etc. Yet, when I look at the ‘Manage Booking’ section now, it’s as if the booking never pushed through, and it’s as if Air Asia managed to prevent a mistake from happening in the first place (yeah, right).
  • I’m surprised this isn’t in the news yet, to be honest. Is Air Asia trying to keep this under wraps by letting the people who reported the issue think that this is an isolated case? The email sent to me sounds like it.
  • I was told by Air Asia’s call center that they received many calls about the matter but that there was no resolution yet. They were still waiting for the results of the investigation, and that they would inform me about what Air Asia would do for all the bookings made during the glitch. Yet, my booking’s status changed from ‘Confirmed’ to ‘Needs Payment’ while other booking stayed the same. So what’s that talk about waiting for the results of the investigation and applying a resolution for everyone affected?
  • Just acknowledge the fact that you screwed up, Air Asia. Glitches happen, but how you react to one will be your defining moment.

I have the option to cancel the booking, and that’s what I want to do now because I am so tired of this shit, but several people have told me not to do it right away. If Air Asia decides to give out damages (I’m not holding my breath), then I would still have a small chance to get them. Also, I can’t decide for myself alone. My two travel friends who I booked for asked me to wait for the resolution, so that’s what I will do. I believe one of them already booked a Manila-Kuala Lumpur flight with Cebu Pacific before we all found out about the glitch, so this mistake by Air Asia does have consequences that will cost us. And it’s the principle of the thing! Admitting defeat on my end is letting Air Asia get away with it. Hence, that’s partly why I made this post. But really, I just want to have a breather after the stress I’ve been through.

Ah well, the past two days have been a roller coaster of emotions. Excitement, exhilaration, terror, dread, fear, despair, anger, sadness, disappointment, frustration – you name it, I felt it. And for a while, that elusive Maldives dream was within my fingertips. For a moment, I was truly happy.

So Air Asia did make my dream come true, if only for several minutes. The rest, they say, is a nightmare history.

To the other glitch bookers, I wish you the best. May your dreams come true.

Update:

Day 7 morning — Still haven’t heard from you, Air Asia. Still no explanation and no apologies for the glitch. Your customer service sucks balls.

Day 7 afternoon — Air Asia changed the status of my booking from ‘Needs Payment’ to ‘Confirmed,’ and they also sent the confirmation email and itinerary again to my registered email address. This doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but I feel compelled to write another blog post about it. Stay tuned, abangers!

Day 7 evening — Air Asia emailed me to let me know my booking is officially honored. Thank you!!! Please read this blog entry for the full story!

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