Make sure you read the fine print when booking flights and asking for extras.

Cape Town - It’s bad enough booking and paying for a flight online and then getting to the airport in good time only to be told the flight was overbooked and you’ll have to fly later.

But imagine turning up and discovering there is no record of your booking at all – and the only way you can get on the flight is to pay for your ticket a second time.

Last July, Mae-Ling Low-Shang booked two Joburg-Durban return flights on Mango Airlines for a couple of DJs who were booked for an event in Durban.

“I could not pay via credit card as they insist that the credit card has to be produced at the airport and, as I live in Durban, this would have been impossible,” she said.

“So I paid the R3 310 via FNB Cell Pay Point, the amount cleared on my account immediately and I received a booking confirmation.”

But when the DJs arrived at the airport on the Saturday evening, they were told their flights had been cancelled due to non-payment.

Low-Shang’s desperate efforts to prove that payment had indeed been made – including sending a screen shot of the transaction to the Mango employee, as well as her bank statement – were in vain.

So she dashed to King Shaka International Airport, where a Mango assistant was unable to access the airline’s banking details as it was a Saturday, by which time the DJs had missed their flight.

In the end, she was forced to pay for tickets on a later flight, with another airline.

She was later reimbursed for the cost of the initial tickets – Mango did not dispute that payment had indeed been made, but not for the costs associated with the DJs missing their first set in Durban.

I’m mentioning this case now because Clinton van Eden recently had a similar experience with Mango. He booked for five friends to fly from Durban to Cape Town, also paying via cellphone banking, one of the payment options listed on the airline’s website. He paid R3 495.

On the morning of Sunday, March 16, he and his friends set off at 3am on the three-hour journey from Ladysmith to King Shaka airport.

When they arrived at the terminal, they were told there were no bookings for them.

“I showed them my bank statement reflecting the deduction, but I was still forced to pay another R3 495 in cash to get my friends on the flight,” he said.

“I was told to claim my original payment from Mango when their refunds department opened on Monday.”

That did not go well.

“It took me 15 phone calls and four days to get an e-mailed response stating I had to send them a letter from my bank confirming that I was the account-holder, plus a copy of my ID, and the refund process would take a week to two weeks.”

He e-mailed the requested documentation and called two days later to find out if it had been received.

“Believe it or not, my e-mail hadn’t even been opened. When I asked why not, the woman told me she had been busy with ‘other stuff’.”

By the time Van Eden wrote to Consumer Watch, he had been waiting for his refund for two weeks. “And I still have no explanation, commitment of payment or recompense.”

I took up the case with Mango spokesperson Hein Kaiser.

“We have completed the refund and we are presently reviewing procedures in order to create greater efficiency within our refunds process,” he said. “We apologise for the inconvenience.”

I asked him what caused the problem in the first place, and whether it was a particular issue at weekends. Kaiser responded by listing the possible reasons for a paid booking reflecting as invalid.

“If a booking is made and not paid for within 24 hours, it expires.

“If a booking has not been paid in full, it will not go through to our departure control system and it will not be visible at check-in.

“A booking will not be valid if the payment is declined by a financial institution or if the credit card or copy of the credit card used is not present at check-in.”

As far as I can tell, none of those scenarios applied in either of these cases.

Clearly it’s imperative to check on the validity of your booking before you set off for the airport. - Cape Times