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Ctrip / ctrip - worst travel experience in my life

1 Shanghai, China
Contact information:
Phone: 00 86 21 3210 4669

This is the letter of complaint that I submitted almost two weeks ago. So far no reaction.

Dear C-trip representatives and anyone it may concern, 

It is a shame that I need to write this letter in the middle of my vacation during a time in which I am supposed to be enjoying my free time to the fullest. However, the recent occurrences forced me to finally raise my voice. I feel the urge to mention the troubles I have been experiencing, so that other Ctrip customers and travelers who still choose this agency won’t have to deal with such major inconveniences during their vacation or are advised to avoid this agency in the first place and I truly hope this letter generates the attention it deserves.
I came to China for my study abroad at one of the finest Universities of China and was advised by the student support office for international students to use Ctrip as a travel agency - supposedly the best in China - for all my journeys during my stay. By now, I highly regret that I followed that advice and will inform my University not to spread this recommendation in the future and rather promote other agencies. Naturally, I will explain the reason for these statements in the following and will, despite still being on vacation, try to add sufficient details to my story. In addition, despite my anger and frustration, I will attempt to write this letter in a rational manner.

Booking process - Financial authorization
The first paragraph of my letter is to describe the vast complicatedness customers encounter doing the booking process on Ctrip with special emphasis on the issue regarding the financial authorization. Whenever I tried to make a booking, I encountered vast problems to successfully wrap up the process. After entering all the details of the preferred reservation, including my payment details which is an internationally valid Visa credit card, and after initially receiving a reservation confirmation, I got informed that my credit card was not authorized which led to the cancellation of the booking. I do understand that certain protection measures need to be undertaken, but normally the financial institution itself covers this issue already sufficiently by means of certain confirmation protection policies to avoid abuse. This happened already several times before, as fellow students and I attempted to make reservations without being registered. I remember one case where we booked a flight on short notice and assumed after the order confirmation that everything was sorted out. However, when we attempted to check-in at the airport, we have been told that there were no tickets on our names. Later we checked our emails and read - along the way in a short subordinate clause - that the payment was not authorized leading to the cancellation of that flight. Such a crucial message should be emphasized in the subject and the mail should be categorized as important. Rather, a customer should be called on such an occasion, especially on such a short notice reservation, but apparently most basic customer assistance which should be taken for granted is non-existing. Anyway, I thought that overprotective measures are better than insufficient measures and perhaps in order to avoid abuse non-registered customers should be identified precisely which is one of the reasons I decided to register for an account. As a registered customer with an account that even has an identification (valid passport) uploaded to that online account, it absolutely makes no sense to doubt the authorization and cancel a reservation. Also after making a reservation at a legitimate time (6pm), calling a customer SEVERAL times even late at night time after 11pm (!!!) with the threat to cancel a reservation if I cannot provide certain documents as soon as possible and asking me to disclose intimate information about my credit card which I am definitely not comfortable to share, is overly inconsiderate. After I was not able to provide that information at that point, I noticed the other morning that this order got cancelled. Hours of online research to finally find the right deal were gone at this moment void including a high likelihood that this specific deal was unavailable for a re-order.

Credit card deductions
Normally, I am used from journeys I booked in Europe or the United States through travel agencies that I need to mention my credit card details when placing a reservation as a security and then paying the fee for my stay at the hotel. With Ctrip I realized that this is somewhat different: When I made my booking most of the confirmation notifications stated that I need to pay the amount at the hotel, as I am used to. However, later when monitoring my credit card activities I noticed that Ctrip deducted money for the bookings without notifying me about it. In addition to the questionable legal validity of such an action his is not only cheeky, but also made me lose trust in this agency and its integrity. Later when I tried to determine what these transactions were all about, I realized that it was extremely difficult to do so when looking at the credit card records since the order number - which should not be too hard to include and is done by most companies when making a charge - is not mentioned only the information "CTRIP SH HUACHENG TRAVEL SHANGHAI 720“. Surely, this may not be a big issue if only one or two bookings are placed, however when you plan a longer trip with several destinations and plenty of flight and hotel reservations - not to mention a foreign currency being in place - this is in fact quite confusing. I hereby request a precise listing of all deductions executed from June 1st, 2015 - currently 9 transactions. 

Failed flight booking - Server Error
Last Monday (29th June), we had reserved a plane from Shanghai to Beijing. Since we realized that it would be tight to catch the initially scheduled flight, due to an event taking longer than expected, we considered the option to take a later flight. I found a very good deal for 70 Euro (470 RMB) and thus we decided to actually cancel the first flight and take the later option. I tried to book the new flight for two persons and typed in all required information before submitting the booking as usual. However, to my frustration the booking did not make it through due to a unexpected „server error.“ I repeated the process several times - yet still no success. Subsequently, I tried to book the flight on the phone by calling the Ctrip customer service. The agent on the phone confirmed that she could see the desired flight for that price, however she could not process my booking, also due to that server error. I asked her to fix the problem, by contacting IT service or else, and contact me again once it is possible. She confirmed my request, but I never heard back from her. In the meantime, we were already on our way to the airport, since we really needed this flight on that day. When we got there which was two hours before flight departure, I called Ctrip again. At this point, they told me, I can only book the flight with a Chinese credit card, because it was so close to departure. So now after the problem with the server is fixed, I can not book the flight, because I „only“ have an internationally valid (!!!) Visa credit card? This is very hard to believe and since the failed booking was clearly a problem with Ctrip and its servers I would expect that the agent would assist me immediately and try to find a solution and not simply cut me off, because I did not have a Chinese credit card. I expect a customer service to be creative in such a situation, maybe call the airline and find a solution instead of just leaving the customer alone with a problem caused by the agency. At that moment, I logged myself into the airport wifi and tried to find the deal directly at the 
Air China website. I even found the right price when I looked for the flight, but once I clicked on the deal to initiate the booking process, I was notified that the flight fare changed to the non-discount full-fare price. Being disappointed and left alone by Ctrip in that moment, we had no choice other than booking the flight on the spot at the counter paying 170 Euro (1140RMB) each instead of the 70 Euro (470RMB) that we would have paid if Ctrip worked normally. This is a difference of 200 Euro or approximately 1400 RMB in total.

After having arrived in Beijing with a 3 hours delay caused by Air China, we were exhausted after all the trouble we had encountered that day and only wanted to get to our hotel and have some rest. We reached the Super 8 Hotel - Beijing Happy Valley at 2am at night. Extremely tired we dropped off our passports and showed them the reservation, just to realize that our odyssey was in fact just about to start. The two women at the reception - unable to speak any English at all - kept shouting in Chinese to us and did not let us initiate the check-in process. After half an hour of discussion - without really understanding each other - we used a translation app which eventually made me understand the reason for the trouble: They do not host foreigners. This was something entirely new for me, since I never encountered such a racist hotel policy anywhere before. I did not believe what was happening and kept on showing them the booking confirmation, insisting that they finally let us check-in according to what we have reserved. The two ladies at the reception desk however, started laughing at us as if this was some kind of hilarious joke and even took pictures of us and our passports which entirely crossed a line for me. For us this was a pure nightmare and the worst experience I ever had during any travels. Desperate as we were at that point, we tried to get in touch with Ctrip via phone. Unfortunately there was no English service available during that time. However, I figured that the Ctrip agent could still support us in our misery and gave my phone to the reception lady so that they could talk to each other and sort out the problem. They had a longer conversation in which they discussed the issue and how to deal with it. After the conversation was over she gave me back my phone. Hoping that the matter was sorted out, I noticed that it in fact was not. The lady asked us via her translation app to find a different hotel which makes me wonder what exactly the Ctrip agent did to assist us in this desperate situation. Most definitely not his job. Apparently, he listened to her explaining that no foreigners are accepted and then accepted the situation leaving us alone in our misery. Thus in conclusion, Ctrip left us completely alone in this awful situation. After I became even more persistent, I made them call the hotel manager and after hours of discussion and ridiculous prize negotiations, we finally managed that they let us sleep at a room for a few hours for a cash payment. Next day, I called Ctrip, strongly complaining about the recent events to the English speaking agent and demanding to find us a new hotel at a similar prize range that does in fact accept foreigners. She booked a hotel for us and send the location as agreed. At the reception, we encountered the next language barrier. Again no English speaking staff, but at least they did not send us away. After checking in, we realized that this hotel was not only way worse, in terms of room and location, but also it was far more expensive. Instead of 185 RMB per night, we now had to pay 365 RMB per night which is roughly DOUBLE the price. In addition, instead a queen size bed as requested, we now received a twin bedroom. We complained about this right away at the reception, but the staff was extremely rude and wanted more money for a big bed. Subsequently, I called the Ctrip customer service once again and asked for assistance. The agent talked to to the staff, but instead of finding a solution she told me that I can only get a queen size bed for an additional charge. Thus, once again Ctrip failed to give me the assistance I asked for in a inconvenient situation, that was caused by Ctrip in the first place. This experience makes me question if I ever want to travel to China again. Not only due to the inconvenience my travel agency caused me, but also due to the revitalization of outdated dubious government policies regarding the acceptance of foreigners at hotels.

In conclusion, after the experiences mentioned above I find it quite ironic how Ctrip keeps promoting itself claiming to be the leading travel agency in China. I really struggle to find enough words to describe the inconvenience Ctrip has caused me during my travels within China thus far. This letter focusses only on the most recent events during my Beijing trip which constitutes the peak of my negative experience - so far since our vacation is not finished yet. I admit, I really loved the website design and the booking with Ctrip in the beginning, especially since this is exactly the kind of service many expats and travelers in the Asia area require for their business and private trips, but unfortunately by now I consider this travel agency, a mere nightmare. Customer service: terrible!!! When you need assistance - especially when needed urgently - they are unable or unwilling to support their customers. More precisely, they simply leave you alone in the worst scenarios a traveller in a foreign country with no means to communicate or cope in such an „emergency“ situation could imagine. 
Utility of website: unreliable!!! If you need to urgently process a booking you cannot rely on a smooth process or an agent assisting you. 

Usually I am not the kind of person who makes a fuzz and complains about insufficient service performances, since mistakes are human and it is normally not worth the effort, but this time the level of discomfort crossed a certain line to an unacceptable extent so that I hereby demand to be compensated accordingly. I already contacted a juridical representative to consult me regarding potential legal actions. In addition, I have reliable sources that these kind of issues happened to plenty of Ctrip customers before me which only reinforces my incomprehension of why there apparently still has not been done anything about it.
There is no way Ctrip can undo the tremendous inconvenience and negative experience we went through as described above, however I expect Ctrip to at least make up for the server error which made our flight unavailable and caused us to pay an additional amount of approximately 1400 RMB. In addition due to the imperceptible trouble we faced in Beijing, I demand Ctrip to pay for our stay at the Hate Business Hotel which accounts for 1094 RMB. I expect the total amount of 2494 RMB to be transferred to my credit card as soon as possible. 

All in all, judging from my experience, I would recommend any traveller in Asia, especially non-Chinese speaking, not to use Ctrip for any bookings since they are simply unable (or perhaps not ready yet?) to live up to their promises. Vacations or business trips are in great jeopardy to become a nightmare. I am writing this letter in the middle of my Asia vacation along the way trying to describe the past events sufficiently well. If demanded I am willing to share more details, picture/ video material, receipt copies, phone call protocols or other documents that I collected to support my story. 
I also sent this letter to several English newspapers and online magazines that publish in China and I hope this letter reaches the attention it deserves. Several times I asked the customer service to let me speak to a manager, but I have been refused claiming that „they are busy.“ I sincerely hope that this letter finally reaches the relevant managers and I am also confident that Mr. Jianzhang Liang might be interested in how customers, who after all constitute the key to Ctrip’s business, are treated.

Jul 18, 2015

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