By Travel columnist
updated 7/11/2005 3:08:18 PM ET 2005-07-11T19:08:18

When Tom Murray's paper tickets are lost during delivery to his house, Hotwire blames him for the disappearance and instructs him to contact Federal Express for resolution. He eventually gets new tickets, but not before paying the airline a $200 reissue fee. Should Hotwire have to cover the surcharge? And who is ultimately responsible for delivering paper tickets to a traveler: FedEx, Hotwire -- or travelers like Murray?

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Q: I recently bought two plane tickets from New York to Florence, Italy, through Hotwire. After I entered my payment information and finalized my order, Hotwire said that it could not issue e-tickets but that it would send paper tickets by overnight delivery. But I never got the tickets.

The customer service representatives I spoke with were amazingly unhelpful — when they weren’t being downright antagonistic. A Hotwire agent insinuated, among other things, that I had lost the tickets and was trying to make Hotwire pay for my mistake, and that I live in a bad neighborhood (for the record, I didn’t lose the tickets, and I don’t live in a bad neighborhood).

Hotwire told me to contact Federal Express. FedEx claimed that it had left the package on my doorstep. I asked why they didn’t ask for a signature, and FedEx said Hotwire had not required one. I can’t believe Hotwire would send me $2,000 worth of plane tickets and not require a signature. Ultimately, I had to file a missing-ticket report with the airline. This required that my wife and I go to the airport, in person, and pay an additional fee of $100 per ticket.

I think Hotwire should apologize and reimburse me the $200. What do you think?

— Tom MurrayNew York

A: I think you’re right. Hotwire should have taken more responsibility for the failed ticket delivery.

I asked Hotwire about its paper-ticket policy. Amy Bohutinsky, a company spokeswoman, said that for “customer convenience and ease of delivery,” a signature isn’t required (it is also cheaper, since FedEx charges extra for a proof of delivery).

If a paper ticket is lost, Hotwire asks a customer to pay any reissue fee directly to the airline. But if a ticket is lost during delivery, Hotwire refunds the fee. “All the customer must do is show verification in the form of a receipt that they paid this reissue fee,” she told me. Accusing the customer of living in a rough neighborhood or of losing a ticket is not standard operating procedure at Hotwire, as far as I can tell.

Something over at Hotwire clearly short-circuited. The company’s records show that it asked you for a receipt of the reticketing fee. But apparently you did not get that message. Its representatives were apparently also having some customer-service challenges when you called. They should have offered to contact FedEx on your behalf to track the lost package. After its confirmed loss, they should have explained that you’d be reimbursed.

How to avoid a situation like this? Buy an electronic ticket (sites like Hotwire deal mostly in e-tickets, so ticket loss is a relatively rare problem). If you have no choice but to use paper tickets, be extra vigilant about tracking them. Your best bet may be to call your travel agency and ask for a signature-required delivery; this will ensure that the tickets reach you.

Hotwire has already contacted you and is refunding the $200 you spent. To make up for any “perceived miscommunication,” the company has also offered you a $50 credit toward your next purchase.

Christopher Elliott is National Geographic Traveler's ombudsman and a nationally syndicated columnist who specializes in solving your travel problems. Got a trip that needs fixing? Send him a note or visit his Web site. Your question may be published in a future story.


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