By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 11/3/2009 11:25:59 AM ET 2009-11-03T16:25:59
travel troubleshooter

Q: I need your help untangling a flight problem that involves Hotwire, US Airways, United Airlines and Frontier Airlines. A few months ago, we were supposed to fly from Los Angeles to Dallas on US Airways and Frontier. Our first outbound flight was a codeshare flight operated by United.

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We checked in at the US Airways counter with plenty of time before our flight left. After waiting in line, a representative sent us to the United Airlines check-in area, across the airport. It didn't matter; our flight to Las Vegas was canceled because of severe weather. At that point, a United representative told us our flight had been rescheduled for the next day.

My family and I live three hours away from LAX. We arrived at the airport using a rental car. We had to pay another $130 for a hotel room that night. The next day, when we tried to check in, the system couldn't find our tickets.

Our only option was to buy new tickets, which cost us $235 each. Since then, we've been trying to get our money back from Hotwire and the airlines. But so far, nothing. Can you help? — Llouellynde Orahood, Lompoc, Calif.

A: So you bought a round-trip ticket from Los Angeles to Dallas through an online travel agency, but ended up dealing with three different airlines? No wonder your refund is missing in action. I don't think anyone knows where your money is.

This sounds like a Murphy's Law kind of trip. Let's talk about what happened to you, first. Going to the wrong terminal was probably avoidable. Your itinerary should have clearly showed which airline was operating your first flight. That means you check in at that terminal. (If you have questions, call your travel agent or airline.)

The weather was beyond your airline's control, so unfortunately, it was under no obligation to reimburse you for your hotel stay in Los Angeles.

But what happened after that was completely preventable. Instead of appealing your case to a ticket agent in person, you should have called your online agency and your airline — in that order. Hotwire should have rebooked you on another flight at no additional charge.

Let me pause for a moment to admire the maddening complexity of your schedule, codeshare flights and all. Hotwire had no business giving you such a wacky itinerary. I mean, how many airlines does it take to fly from Los Angeles to Dallas? That's not the opening line of a joke. You should have been on a nonstop flight with just one airline.

Instead, Hotwire cobbled together a schedule that, though it saved you a little money, meant changing planes in Las Vegas. Each airline you add to a schedule raises the chance of a problem cropping up, including a delay, losing your luggage or a flight cancellation. Under a best-case scenario, your flights run on time but you still lose a day of your vacation because of the stopovers. Is it really worth it?

US Airways would have been my next call, since the tickets were issued by the airline. Standing in line to talk with an agent is fine, but working the phones can often yield better and faster results. You shouldn't have accepted United's demand to buy a new ticket as your only option. In fact, it was your worst choice. Hotwire or US Airways should have fixed this for free.

I contacted Hotwire on your behalf. A representative assured me the company would "definitely do our best to help them navigate these partners' processes and work on their behalf." A few weeks later, with no resolution, I asked US Airways to look into your tickets. Somewhere along the way, your problem was solved. The airline reimbursed you a total of $447.

© 2009 Christopher Elliott ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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