What is Kiwi.com and why is it important?


The kiwi is a unique and curious bird: it cannot fly, and has loose, hairlike feathers, strong legs and no tail.

Kiwi berries are edible fruits the size of a large grape, similar to fuzzy kiwifruit in taste and internal appearance but with a thin, smooth green skin.

Kiwi International Air Lines was an American airline that operated from September 21, 1992, for almost seven years. It was headquartered in Newark, and in its brief history, the airline flew eight million passengers without incident.

What is Kiwi.com?

Kiwi.com, though, is neither a flightless bird, nor a fruit, nor a defunct airline, but an Internet site. In its own words, when asked “Is Kiwi.com a legit website?” they follow it up with:

“We often see questions on various platforms online asking, ‘is Kiwi.com safe for booking flights with?’ The answer is yes, Kiwi is 100% safe and legit. We’re a reputable travel company with one objective, to use our innovative technology to help you find affordable flight options to get you from A to B.”

A Boeing 737 MAX airplane lands after a test flight at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, US June 29, 2020. (credit: REUTERS/KAREN DUCEY)

Kiwi.com, previously known as skypicker.com, is a Czech online travel agency founded in 2012. Kiwi.com provides a fare aggregator, metasearch engine and booking for airline tickets and ground transportation. Its ticket search features Kiwi.com’s “virtual interlining” concept – itineraries combined from over 750 carriers, including many that do not cooperate in online bookings.

Many of us are aware of investment scams that abound on social media – scammers promising guaranteed returns on investment. Consumers lost billions of dollars to them last year. Some start with a WhatsApp message apologizing for bothering you.

Kiwi.com has a great site, and its results prove to be very enticing to millions of clients. In fact, it goes further than any site or travel agency by stating that it will handle everything with the airline, including preparing your boarding passes. This is a tedious yet vital procedure these days. Curiously, though, it doesn’t give the airlines your details – neither your phone number nor your address. All communications are done solely between Kiwi and the airline. And that raises a lot of questions.

Kiwi.com is without any doubt a legit online travel agency. However, booking a flight through it increases the risks of issues as compared to booking directly with the airline, since Kiwi works as a middleman between the traveler and the airline. Although problems can occur even with direct booking with the airline, the chances are much lower compared to booking a flight through Kiwi.com.

Why Kiwi.com causes problems

Here’s why:

Kiwi.com basically acts as an intermediary between you and the airlines. As a middleman, Kiwi collects your payment, and it – not the airline – is responsible for your booking, since your contract is not directly with the airline; it is with Kiwi.

In the event that something goes wrong between you and the airline, you will have to contact Kiwi.com, and then it will reach out to the airline you are booked with, and Kiwi will then get back to you. But how fast Kiwi.com’s customer support will help you resolve your issue depends on the level of customer service you choose at the time of booking.

Kiwi.com basically offers three types of services:

  1. Basic Service: Under this service, neither immediate response will be given to your phone calls, nor can you contact Kiwi.com through email.
  2. Plus Service: With this service, you can contact Kiwi.com through email, and your phone calls will be given medium priority.
  3. Premium Service: Under premium service, your phone calls will be given high priority, and you can contact Kiwi.com through email.

Kiwi.com basically provides three types of tickets, and each one has its own refund and booking changes rules:

  1. Saver Ticket: You can neither make changes nor can you get a refund if you cancel your trip.
  2. Standard Ticket: You can make changes but can’t get a refund if you cancel your trip.
  3. Flexi Ticket: You can make changes and also will get a 90% refund if you cancel your trip.

Kiwi.com definitely saves you money over direct bookings with the airline, and it works out just fine, as long as everything goes smoothly. But when you’re booked through Kiwi and something goes wrong or any unexpected circumstances happen, Kiwi can make things more complicated to resolve. You’ll most likely be stuck in a lot of back-and-forth between the airline and Kiwi.com before your issue is resolved.

It all seems to be what one would expect from an Internet booking site, an aggregator, as it’s called in the industry. But appearances can be deceiving.

It was last week that I received a message from a family of five who were due to fly back on Wizz Air from Rome after a wonderful holiday traipsing through Italy.

Kiwi had informed them that Wizz Air had canceled its flight, and the woman representing the family asked me to confirm whether this was true. Kiwi told her she could get a €10 refund or credit for a future flight, which she rejected outright. We all know that one of the biggest risks of low-cost carriers is they can cancel a flight with little advance notice.

Surprisingly, I told her Wizz Air was indeed flying that day, and there was no reason to believe the flight would be canceled. I told her to bring her family to the airport directly to Wizz Air, and that in the worst-case scenario there would be an El Al flight that evening if she had to buy five new tickets.

When she got to the Wizz site, the attendant was most accommodating and confirmed what I had advised her, that the flight was operating as scheduled and was in fact not canceled.

Nonplussed, she asked him to dig deeper, and upon inspection, he notified her that Kiwi had canceled all five tickets and refunded the money. The Wizz Air ground attendant’s reaction was quite serene, and he was not at all surprised that it had occurred.

Together, they contacted Kiwi, which at first reiterated that she had canceled the flights, but upon further review owned up to its mistake. Even more bizarre, the phone number, email, and physical address that Kiwi provided to Wizz Air were all fake. Not erroneous, but outright nonexistent. Wizz Air tried to accommodate her, even offering them seats on the next day’s flights or a partial refund, but the client realized that throwing good money after bad money was absurd and purchased five new one-way El Al tickets.

My client was quite savvy, and, with some assistance from my office, received all the documentation necessary to get a full refund. She knows that as Kiwi.com has no physical representation in Israel, she cannot sue it for restitution in small claims court, but followed assiduously every obstacle they threw at her to get a full refund of what she had paid to Kiwi. Not, of course, the difference for the new ticket, nor, of course, the compensation due for the delay in flying back to Tel Aviv, nor for any mental anguish, but still she learned a valuable lesson.

SOME AIRLINES have taken Kiwi’s cavalier attitude into consideration and gone to the courts.

On 14 January 2021, Southwest Airlines sued Kiwi.com, alleging that its scraping of fare information from Southwest’s website was a breach of contract and that Kiwi.com’s use of Southwest’s logo in its search results constituted trademark infringement.

In response, Kiwi.com removed Southwest’s logo from its search results, but continued to sell Southwest tickets despite Southwest sending Kiwi.com a series of cease-and-desist demands.

In December 2021, a Texas court ruled in favor of Southwest, permanently banning Kiwi.com from scraping and harvesting information from Southwest’s website, republishing the airline’s schedules, and selling Southwest tickets without permission.

On SiteJabber, Kiwi.com has a rating of 1.08 stars from 1,882 reviews, indicating that most customers are generally dissatisfied with their purchases. Reviewers complaining about Kiwi.com most frequently mention customer service, credit card, and full refund problems. Kiwi.com ranks 258th among plane ticket sites. Mirana gives an almost identical report from last June.

From another site reviewing Kiwi.com:

“I don’t generally [leave], in fact have never left, bad reviews, but just as a warning:

“I think Kiwi is safe and legit, so roll the dice if you want, but the only thing they did well was leave a lot of time between flights, cuz you’re going to need it to sort things out on your own and deal with delays.

“Paid for checked bag, second airline didn’t honor. Baggage requirements for two airlines were totally different. We only had info for the first flight; that was problematic. Couldn’t check bags all the way through. Also, wasn’t well informed of changes to flights.”

The Better Business Bureau in the United States has a litany of complaints about Kiwi.com just in the last month.

Tiffany’s review was nearly identical to what my client encountered. She asserted the company is a complete scam. She, too, bought her flights through its website. She, too, got a notification through its app that the flight had been canceled. She, too, was told her only options were to spend hundreds more dollars, over twice what she had paid, or she could seek a refund.

But that was not true. I could see that according to her airline, the flight was not canceled. In fact, I could still purchase tickets to that flight online!

After hours of arguing and talking between Kiwi.com and the airline, it came to be understood that the airline had not canceled the flight but had canceled the booking made through Kiwi.com. Kiwi.com refused to allow me to speak to a manager, and it refused to give me a way to submit a complaint. I ended up having to get a refund through my bank and had to repurchase tickets directly from the airline, and for a higher price.

If it happens once, we’ll call it a mistake. A second occurrence, we call it a coincidence. A third incident, and it is obvious that this is a pattern repeated over and over again. See this site to read claim after claim of fraudulent behavior: Kiwi.com, Inc. | Reviews | Better Business Bureau® Profile (bbb.org)

My client was fortunate; her instinct that something was rotten was immediately raised, and she had the wherewithal to reach out to someone inside the industry. She will prevail in getting compensated for what she paid it. Hopefully, her story and others’ will get the authorities in other countries to act against it. Lawsuits against airlines or Internet sites are not rare and in themselves are not indicative of illegal activities.

Kiwi.com is a different kettle of fish, and something doesn’t smell right. Airline scams are easier to detect. Never give money until you see a confirmation number. Anything else could just be a reservation, and that is not a confirmed ticket. Book directly from the airline’s website or a trusted travel agency. You may not get the lowest fare, but you will be getting a legitimate ticket. Read reviews; service matters; and if you have to pay more for that, then make the decision to do so. If you’re worried about a ticket, talk directly to the airline’s customer service department.

Check official resources: The Better Business Bureau in the United States is a great place to start. The agency lists real companies; if you can’t find the one you’re working with, walk away.

Online reviews and ratings: Read online reviews and ratings on sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, or Google. Keep in mind that extremely positive and negative reviews could be bogus. Watch for a balance of reviews and consistent themes.

Bottom line, if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.

The writer is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem, and a director at Diesenhaus. For questions and comments email him at [email protected]