By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 6/27/2007 4:29:36 PM ET 2007-06-27T20:29:36

The fee to check in Kurt Low’s dog is $100 on American Airlines — at least according to its Web site. But on his return flight, an agent insists he pay $80 more to transport his pet. He pays the fee, but then asks the airline for a refund. Two denials later, is Low out of luck?

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Q: I just returned to Port au Prince, Haiti, from Dallas with my partner and my dog. On the outbound leg of our trip, I was charged $100 for the pet kennel, which is exactly what I had expected to pay. I read the information on American’s Web site and also discussed the fee with a reservations agent before our flight.

However, on our way back to Haiti, a ticket agent charged me $100 — which I expected — plus an additional $80 in “excess luggage” fees. I was surprised and disappointed, since there wasn’t a word about this surcharge on the American Web site. But she insisted that I pay the fee.

I’ve written to American asking them to either refund the $80 or to at least update their Web site so that this won’t happen to anyone else. The airline sent me two form letters, both of them insisting that the airline is right. American hasn’t updated its Web site, either. Can you help? — Kurt Low, Dulles, Va.

A: American Airlines should have charged you what it said it would for transporting your pet: $100. And that’s all.

The American Web site, as you correctly point out, is crystal clear about what you should pay. For pets traveling within and between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean, there’s a $100 fee when they are being checked with your luggage.

Where did the $80 fee come from? That’s the charge for pets traveling in the cabin within and between the United States and Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The ticket agent overbilled you by $80. But why? According to the second letter you received from American, the agent made an assessment that you should pay an excess luggage fee.

Agents are often encouraged by their airline, and sometimes rewarded, for charging passengers extra for their luggage. I have no problem with that, as long as the charges are legitimate. In your case, they weren’t.

I think you saw this one coming a mile away, and frankly, I’m a little surprised that you didn’t take a few extra precautionary steps.

If you suspected that American would nickel-and-dime you to transport your dog — and you did, otherwise you wouldn’t have consulted the Web site and called the airline — then why didn’t you carry a printout of the rates from the site? It would have been as easy as clicking the “print” button on your Web browser.

And if you knew that the ticket agent was wrong about the fee, why not ask to speak with a supervisor?

Remember, once the airline (or any travel company for that matter) has taken your money, and you’ve walked away, it will do everything it can to keep it. Next time, stand your ground when you know you’re right.

I contacted American on your behalf. After twice denying you a refund, it took another look at your record and determined that it shouldn’t have charged you the extra $80 after all. American has sent you the money back, along with an apology.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the host of “What You Get For The Money: Vacations,” on the Fine Living TV Network. E-mail him at celliott@ngs. org.


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