By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 8/19/2008 11:20:31 AM ET 2008-08-19T15:20:31
travel troubleshooter

Q: I’m trying to get a refund for airline tickets that I didn’t mean to buy. So far, I haven’t had any success.

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A few months ago, I tried to book three flights to Florida through Expedia. But during the confirmation process, my computer froze and the screen blacked out. I called Expedia to verify if the flight had been confirmed. It had no record of my purchase, so it offered to help me make the reservations by phone.

Instead, I returned to its Web site and rebooked my flights. This time it worked.

But when I received my credit card bill, I saw charges for both flights. I immediately called Expedia to explain the error and to cancel one set of tickets. A representative informed me that there would be a $100 cancellation fee per ticket and the tickets would have to be used within a year of the purchase date. I feel that this is unfair and unacceptable. Is there anything you can do?
— Albert Lewis, Johnsonville, N.Y.

A: Expedia should have recognized the double booking and refunded the first ticket. When you called the company after your PC froze, the agent you spoke with probably made a notation about your attempted booking. All Expedia had to do was check its own records.

Your story is a reminder that when it comes to travel, the Internet is far from perfect. Not only can a booking go wrong on the online agent’s side (regular readers of this column will recall stories of lost reservations and missing tickets that were entirely the agency’s fault) but wires often get crossed on your end, too.

Like a screen going black. You know you’re in trouble when that happens. It sounds as if you experienced a power outage. Although some power failures are unpredictable, many of them are not. I live near America’s lightning capital in Central Florida, and whenever a storm hits, I try to power down my computers and wait until it’s over. I definitely wouldn’t attempt any major electronic transactions with an electrical storm raging outside.

Phoning your online agent immediately was the right response. But I would have done three things differently. First, I would have accepted Expedia’s offer to buy the tickets by phone. Also, I would ask the agency to note your failed attempt to book through the Expedia Web site in its own records. That way, if the first reservation got processed, you would have the evidence that you did your due diligence.

And finally, I wouldn’t wait for your credit card bill when there’s a chance of a double charge. Monitor your credit card account online, and contact your online agency as soon as you see a problem charge.

Expedia’s reaction to your request for a refund was wrong. Rather than quoting you chapter and verse from its rules — pay a change fee and reuse the tickets within a year — it should have investigated your case more thoroughly. When an online agency isn’t taking your request seriously, you need to escalate your case to a higher authority. Here are a few executives at Expedia who might have been able to help.

I contacted Expedia on your behalf and it refunded your first ticket.

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.

© 2008 Christopher Elliott ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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