By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 1/3/2008 11:48:44 AM ET 2008-01-03T16:48:44
TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER

Q: I hope you can assist me in getting a refund for a duplicate ticket to Europe that I purchased through Lufthansa. My daughter attends Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., and did a semester abroad last fall. We decided to pick her up at the end of the semester and travel for a couple of weeks.

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The school’s travel agency made the arrangements for my daughter and I worked through my own travel agency. We asked the agent in New York to change my daughter’s return flight to coincide with our departure.

When we got to the airport in Florence, Italy, my daughter realized she didn’t have her ticket. She had thrown it away when we changed her reservation, thinking it was no longer any good.

A Lufthansa representative told us we could either buy a new ticket or wait until the travel agency opened to get a copy of the old ticket. This was on Friday, Dec. 30 and if she missed the flight she was supposed to take, she wouldn’t have been able to get another one until Jan. 2.

Since we didn’t want to leave her there alone, we purchased a new ticket with the assurance that we could get a refund once we provided documentation on the old ticket.

Since then, we’ve e-mailed our travel agent, but have had no luck getting our refund. It’s been almost two years, and the airline still has my money. Can you help me get our 890 euros back?
— Gayle Grafstrom-Corman, Maplewood, Minn.

A: Two years is way, way too long to wait for a refund. Your travel agent should have been able to persuade Lufthansa to issue a refund in a fraction of that time.

But let’s start with your daughter. She shouldn’t have thrown her ticket away, obviously. It’s an easy mistake to make, considering that practically all airline tickets are electronic these days. But Lufthansa was still using paper tickets in Venice when your family visited Italy, and the agent you spoke with needed to see a real ticket.

From there on out, I think you did everything right. Buying a new ticket made a lot of sense, and so did enlisting your travel agent to secure a refund. Your agent charged you a booking fee when you bought your tickets, which should cover services such as helping process a refund. You work with a human agent so that you don’t have to do it alone.

I contacted Lufthansa, which looked for your paperwork but couldn’t find it. So the airline got in touch with your agent to find out if it still had your refund application. It turns out the form was completed by your agent more than a month after your return but never sent to Lufthansa, according to airline spokeswoman Jennifer Urbaniak. “Apparently, the original agent handling this claim is no longer working there,” she said.

Unfortunately, this is a common problem. I’ve spoken with hundreds, if not thousands, of air travelers whose refunds got snagged by a system that’s designed to take your money in a split second but return it months, or years, later. If airlines can figure out how to take your money quickly, they should figure out how to return it quickly, too.

Until they do, the only way to ensure that you’ll get a timely refund is to apply relentless pressure on your airline and travel agency. Don’t let up, otherwise you might be in for an extended wait.

Lufthansa has processed your refund.

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 Network. E-mail him at
celliott@ngs.org.

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