By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 1/26/2010 10:04:37 AM ET 2010-01-26T15:04:37
travel troubleshooter

Q: I recently booked a flight through Expedia from Orlando to Hyderabad, India. The flights were on Continental Airlines and Jet Airways. After I made the reservation and received a confirmation, I got an e-mail from Expedia that one leg of my flight had been canceled.

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I have been trying to get a refund for that canceled flight since then. I've spent hours on the phone with Expedia, but they have not credited me, saying it's up to Continental.

We paid the money directly to Expedia, not Continental. Common sense suggests that this issue should be taken care of by Expedia. Don't you agree?
— Nallan Chari, Longwood, Fla.

A: Expedia should have credited you for the canceled flight immediately when you asked for a refund.

Why didn't it? Because Continental had your money, and wresting it from the airline is easier said than done. Even though Continental issued your tickets, part of your itinerary — a flight from Mumbai to Hyderabad — was through Jet Airways. Technically, that shouldn't make a difference (Continental has all your money) but in my experience, airlines use the multicarrier itinerary as an excuse to delay their refunds.

It could also have something to do with the fact that you no longer have the credit card you used to pay for the ticket. As a matter of policy, online travel agencies only refund purchases back to your credit card. Anything else confuses them.

It shouldn't be that way. If a company can take your money immediately, it should return it just as quickly. Any way you want it.

From your point of view, what's happening behind the scenes is irrelevant. As your online travel agent, Expedia took your money, and it should return it. But it's not that simple.

There's another wrinkle: A Transportation Department rule that tickets must be refunded within seven business days. (I wrote about that last week, but also discovered that the rule only applies to refundable tickets. Alas, few tickets used by leisure travelers are refundable.)

Should Expedia give you the money even if it doesn't have it? In a word, yes. A company of its size should be able to negotiate a faster return of its customers' money, and ultimately, I think the problem of ticketing and refunds between carriers is an issue for the online travel agency to work out.

You could have exerted a little pressure on Expedia in several ways — none of which involved a phone conversation. A polite e-mail is a good place to start. If that doesn't work, try appealing to someone higher up. Sometimes, copying the Transportation Department is a good way to underscore the seriousness of your complaint to an airline when it is holding on to your money. A note to your state's attorney general can also be useful if you think your online agency is stalling.

I contacted Expedia on your behalf. It promptly apologized and refunded the money for the unusable portion of your trip.

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


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