Is Kiwi.com a clever online travel agency or a scam?

A family lost $24,000 after booking a plane ticket on Kiwi.com that made it impossible to actually fly. Kiwi.com says the family is to blame for not checking transit restrictions, but does this incident show more that Kiwi.com is just a scam?

After losing $24,000, family was carefree or is Kiwi.Com a scam?

A New Zealand family had to rush from Auckland to Amsterdam due to a death in the family. Searching online for options, the family found an expensive but convenient connecting route on China Southern from AKL to AMS via Guangzhou (CAN). Oddly enough, it wasn’t available from any other online travel agency, but it represented the quickest way to get to Amsterdam. So the family bought the tickets, reportedly spending NZ$24,000.

However, upon check-in, they were denied boarding as mainland China does not currently allow passenger transit due to its zero-COVID policy. The family was turned away, and when they contacted Kiwi.com, they were told they should have checked all transit regulations. An employee at China Southern Airport was reportedly incredulous that this ticket was even sold.

What’s innovative about Kiwi.com is that it combines multiple one-way tickets into a single itinerary, which can result in significant cost savings or more options, rather than simply booking the trip with a single ticket. In this case, it booked a one-way ticket from Auckland to Guangzhou and a one-way ticket from Guangzhou to Amsterdam for the family. Nowhere was this mentioned during booking, although there were clear warnings to check transit and immigration rules.

So is the family entirely to blame here (they certainly have some blame), or shouldn’t Kiwi.com have sold them an itinerary they knew couldn’t actually fly from the start? (My understanding is that even Chinese citizens who could lawfully enter China would need to quarantine before a connecting flight, although at least a transit visa is required). Here are the current rules for New Zealand passport holders from TIMATIC:

I’ve had experience with Kiwi.com myself and it’s been positive overall, although I don’t appreciate the tricks that are out there secretly played (keyword, secretly) to find lower fares. I found out once when checking in that I was actually booked on a hidden city ticket.

So, is Kiwi.com a scam? I’m not sure I would go that far, but reservation emptor and I think this family is entitled to a refund if the booked itinerary could not be flown without quarantine.

In this case, while the family should have exercised more caution, the fact that China currently does not allow transit made their ticket truly worthless.

CONCLUSION

A family claims they lost $24,000 after being denied boarding on a south-China trip they bought on Kiwi.com. According to Kiwi.com, the family should have checked immigration and transit requirements before booking.

Who do you think is to blame here?