By Travel columnist
updated 6/15/2006 1:24:15 PM ET 2006-06-15T17:24:15

Q: I recently bought airline tickets through Expedia on British Airways to fly from Seattle to Salzburg, Austria. I had just accepted a two-month contract to work in Europe and I needed the flexibility of a changeable fare, which this ticket offered -- at least, that's what I thought.

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After I was in Austria, I tried to make a change to my return flight. I called British Airways and was told that after I had begun my trip, the itinerary couldn't be changed. An airline representative told me I could apply for a waiver by faxing the terms I had to British Airways. I thought he was kidding.

I called Expedia. A phone agent told me I could make the change, but then she was unable to do so. She did some further research and discovered that my ticket was actually subject to two fare rules, and that Expedia was required to apply the most restrictive one. I asked if that information had been available to me when I first made my booking, and she conceded that it was not.

She then offered me a $75 credit on my Expedia account -- hardly enough to cover my expenses and time. After several more calls to British Airways and Expedia, I spoke with a supervisor who raised my compensation to a $100 voucher.

I just want to fly back to Seattle when I want to. Can you help me? Or am I hosed?

-- Pam Mandel, Seattle

A:  You are not hosed, Pam.

This is one of those cases where you did everything that you could -- you asked about the fare rules, you even read the fare rules -- and you still got burned. Or, to use your words, hosed.

But who is responsible for this mix-up? British Airways or Expedia?

I say both have some blame. British Airways shouldn't offer any round-trip ticket with two change rules. One rule per ticket is plenty. (The fine print on an airline ticket can be so overwhelmingly complex that even reservations agents have a difficult time interpreting it.)

Expedia should have explained the rules to you carefully and thoroughly, and it apparently did not. Instead, it sold you a product with what amounts to a "hidden" rule. Although Expedia is an online agent, its responsibilities are essentially the same as those of any living, breathing, down-the-street travel agent. In this case, Expedia should have been more diligent

I asked Expedia to take another look at your records. When it did, it discovered that while its agents provided you with accurate information about your fare rules, that information was also incomplete. Moreover, when you called up your itinerary information online, only one of the fare rules displayed.

"It is never our intent to mislead or miscommunicate to our customers, nor is it our intent to cause such confusion or inconvenience," a representative, Jill Knaack, wrote in an e-mail to you after the investigation was completed.

Expedia helped you rebook your flight back home at no additional charge.

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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