By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 11/13/2006 6:41:36 PM ET 2006-11-13T23:41:36
TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER

Q: I recently flew from San Jose, Costa Rica, to Managua, Nicaragua, on Copa Airlines. At the ticket counter, I was asked for the credit card that I used to purchase the tickets. I explained that my card had been lost and replaced with another credit card.

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I showed the Copa representative both my passport and my copy of the confirmation e-mail. However, the airline representative shook his head adamantly and said I would have to purchase two more tickets if I could not produce the credit card.

Reluctantly, I paid an additional $507 for two more tickets to Managua. Once back in the United States, I contacted Copa Airlines by phone and, after a one-hour conversation and argument, Copa Airlines basically said there was nothing they could do. I don’t think I should pay twice for my airline tickets. Can you help me?
— Philip Gissen, Bayside, Wis.

A: Common sense tells you that Copa shouldn’t have charged you for two new tickets. But Copa’s rules tell a different story.

If you had taken a look at the airline’s terms and conditions on its Web site, you would have noticed the following rule: “To obtain a boarding pass, you must present the same credit card that you utilized to buy your ticket. This requirement is necessary for security reasons and no exceptions are permitted.”

I don’t think the rule makes much sense. What if you bought a ticket for a family member or a friend? What if you lose your credit card?

The ticket agent you dealt with was too focused on the rule, and not the reason behind the rule. Copa apparently wants to prevent someone from buying a ticket with a stolen card, and it would have been easy to verify that your card had been re-issued with a simple phone call. Charging you another $507 was as unimaginative as it was unfair.

Next time you’re asked to pay twice for a ticket, talk to a manager. Any supervisor would have understood that your circumstances were special and would have issued a boarding pass. Remember, a ticket agent’s job is to enforce the rules. A manager’s job is to know which rules should be bent.

In the unlikely event that a Copa manager insisted on charging you for another ticket, then you could have — and should have — disputed the charge on your credit card. No one should have to pay twice for the same seat.

I recommended that you contact Copa again, explain your circumstances, and ask for a refund. You did, and after several weeks of going back and forth — correspondence on which you and the airline copied me — Copa credited your new card for the amount of your first ticket and issued two vouchers for $77.80, the difference between the first and second fare.

Christopher Elliot is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. E-mail him at chris@elliott.org, or troubleshoot your trip through his Web site, http://www.csr.elliott.org

© 2006 Christopher Elliott ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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