By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 9/20/2007 2:44:50 PM ET 2007-09-20T18:44:50
THE TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER

Q: I’ve been trying to get a refund for an airline ticket I bought through Travelocity almost a year ago. After many calls and promises of a resolution, Travelocity has now told me that my file is closed. I don’t know what to do.

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I booked a round-trip ticket from Philadelphia to Salzburg, Austria, on Lufthansa. My outbound flight went smoothly. But on my return flight from Frankfurt to Philadelphia, I was not allowed on the plane because my ticket was “incomplete.”

I had everything that I had been given in Salzburg at the beginning of my return trip: a boarding pass and the passenger receipt for my paper ticket with the luggage routing tag attached. With only minutes to spare, I was sent running back to the main Lufthansa ticketing desk on another floor. I was issued a replacement coupon and charged $125, and then had to run back to the gate. I was the last person to board the flight.

When I called Travelocity, I was told that I didn’t have to buy another coupon and that the $125 should be refunded. I’ve been in constant communication with Travelocity since last fall, but so far there’s been no progress. I would like a refund so that I can finally put this distressing experience behind me. Can you help me? — Frances Carter, Springfield, Pa.

A: I agree that your sprint through Frankfurt’s airport was completely unnecessary. The ticket agent should have seen you in the reservations system and waved you onboard instead of forcing you to fork over more money for another coupon.

Fortunately, paper tickets are almost extinct. Most U.S. carriers now issue electronic tickets exclusively, and paper tickets will probably disappear entirely by the end of this year, according to the International Air Transport Association. Not soon enough for you, though.

You booked your flight through an online agency, which means you had someone to turn to for help. Travelocity’s “guarantee” promises, “everything about your booking will be right, or we’ll work with our partners to make it right, right away.” That sounds like a pledge to do whatever it takes to make sure you have the right ticket — or at least to help you get your $125 back.

Why didn’t it? Maybe the promise just slipped its mind. Then again, you might have gotten further on your refund request by putting down the phone and putting pen to paper. A brief, polite letter or e-mail would create a paper trail that is more difficult for any company to ignore.

Escalating your case is easier when you write something, too. Instead of phoning the agency, explaining your entire problem, and then asking to speak with a supervisor, you can just forward the e-mail exchange to a supervisor. I publish the e-mail addresses of customer-service executives on my Web site.

I think you would have received a full refund months ago if you had phoned less and written more.

I asked Travelocity to take another look at your case. Its investigation found three possible scenarios. First, Travelocity might not have included the correct coupon when it sent your tickets. Second, an airline representative might have accidentally kept the coupon when you boarded your first flight. Or third, the coupon was lost during travel.

“We could not, however, verify which of these three scenarios took place,” spokesman Joel Frey told me. Travelocity reimbursed you for $125.

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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