By Travel columnist

Michael Winston books a cruise for his mother-in-law through Travelocity. The online travel agent offers $700 in reward coupons, but then makes Winston wait until the cruise is done to collect them. By that time, the coupons have expired. And what does Travelocity have to say about it? Tough luck. Wrong answer.

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Q: I recently booked a cruise through Travelocity for my mother-in-law. At that time, the site was running a promotion offering $700 in reward coupons. After I finished making the reservation, I got a confirmation that promised the certificates would arrive within four to six weeks.

Six weeks later, the coupons still hadn’t arrived. I called to inquire, and was told that I would get the certificates in eight months, after the cruise was completed. So I waited. But six weeks after the cruise was over, I still had no coupons.

I called Travelocity back, and was told that they were all out of coupon books. They said it didn’t matter anyway - all the coupons had expired.

“So when I booked the cruise, the promotion was really something I could never get?” I asked a customer service representative.

All I got was silence.

When I worked my way up the chain of command, I was met at each level with denials of responsibility and refusals to take any affirmative steps to comply with Travelocity’s stated “guarantee.” All I heard was, “There is nothing I can do.”

I have contacted MasterCard to dispute the charge, which I hope will send a message. Is there something you can do?

— Michael Winston, West Palm Beach, Fla.

A: Travelocity should have sent you usable vouchers. And when you asked for them, it shouldn’t have given you the runaround.

But first, please drop the credit-card dispute. After all, your mother-in-law took her cruise, which is what you paid for, and contesting the charges will only complicate the resolution. (In fact, after I got involved in this case, Michael Winston agreed not to contest the cruise charges.)

A credit-card action should never be your first option when you’re in a dispute with a company. It is a weapon of last resort. You refuse to pay your bill only when the company hasn’t given you the product or service it promised and refuses to communicate with you any longer.

Those circumstances don’t apply in your case: Travelocity delivered the cruise you wanted and continued to respond to your queries. It just wasn’t responding with the answer you wanted.

I find that odd. Travelocity has invested millions of dollars to retrain its employees to become “customer champions.” I can’t believe you worked your way up the hierarchy and kept getting a series of “nos.” Are you sure you were dealing with Travelocity?

Here’s what should have happened: When you called to collect your coupons almost a year ago, a representative should have made it his personal mission to ensure that you received the vouchers. That person should have seen to it that the coupons were sent and then should have followed up with you, either by e-mail or by phone, to make sure you got them.

Clearly, your case fell through the cracks.

As soon as I brought this to Travelocity’s attention, it reviewed your file and mailed you a new coupon book, valid for up to nine months. I think that’s a fair resolution. Too bad you had to go to these lengths to get it.

Christopher Elliott is National Geographic Traveler's ombudsman and a nationally syndicated columnist who specializes in solving your travel problems. Got a trip that needs fixing? Send him a note or visit his Web site. Your question may be published in a future story. Want to sound off about a story? Try visiting Elliott's forum.


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