By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 4/28/2009 11:18:24 AM ET 2009-04-28T15:18:24
travel troubleshooter

Q: I'm having some refund trouble with an airline, and need your help. Last year I had to cancel a Lufthansa flight I had booked through Expedia because of a death in my family. The ticket cost $303. When I told my travel agency the reason for canceling the trip, it gave me a list of documentation necessary for a refund.

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I called Lufthansa, and a representative told me they wouldn't process a refund by phone. So I sent the necessary paperwork to both Lufthansa and Expedia.

Since then, I've followed up several times online and have re-faxed the documents to Lufthansa. To date, I have never received any response from Lufthansa — not even to acknowledge receipt of the documentation. Any advice? — Megan Gallardo, Podgorica, Montenegro

A: I think you've been more than patient with Lufthansa. The airline should either send you a refund or refuse to return your money. Not responding is not acceptable.

Most airline tickets are nonrefundable, but airlines sometimes make exceptions when there's a death in the family. Your online agent would have recommended that you send a death certificate and a letter to the airline, explaining your circumstances.

Refunds can take a while. Airlines normally tell you to wait two to three credit card billing cycles, but a year isn't unheard of. I've seen that a time or two.

Why the foot-dragging? Of all the explanations I've been offered — slow accountants, obsolete technology, or just corporate policy — the one that rings truest is this: airlines don't want to part with the money.

I'm not sure that's what happened in your case. Maybe Lufthansa didn't have all of your paperwork. Maybe your letter went to the wrong department. Either way, the airline kept you waiting for a year. It shouldn't have.

Was this preventable? Absolutely. You bought your ticket through an online travel agency, which should have done more than just give you an address for refunds. You might have applied a little pressure to Expedia to nudge Lufthansa about the status of your refund. That's what good travel agents do for their clients.

You might have also considered sending a polite follow-up email to Expedia and Lufthansa to check on the status of your update after a few months. An online inquiry is fine, but if you aren't getting through to anyone, I recommend escalating your case to a manager or an executive. Their e-mail addresses are not difficult to find.

If neither the agency nor the airline responded, you might have contacted your credit card company to initiate a dispute. (If your ticket was fully refundable, and your credit card company believes your airline is simply holding on to your money, it might have been and open-and-shut case.)

At my suggestion, you emailed Expedia one last time. It responded saying, "your request for refund is still in progress as of this time" and that there were no further updates on whether the request had been approved.

So I contacted the airline. Initially, the airline deferred to Expedia. But eventually it came through for you. Nearly a year and a half after you applied for it, Lufthansa issued a $303 refund.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more travel tips on his blog, or e-mail him at

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


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