IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Help! I’m stuck with a ticket I didn’t buy

Denise Reed calls Delta Airlines to get a price quote on a flight between Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Memphis. Or so she thinks. A few days later, she gets a bill. Now Delta won’t return her money, saying its tickets are nonrefundable. Is Reed out of luck?
/ Source: Tribune Media Services


I need your help. I seem to have bought an airline ticket that I didn’t mean to, and now I don’t know what to do.

I recently called Delta Air Lines to get a quote on tickets from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Memphis. A reservations agent asked me for a credit card number in order to get a price. I gave him the information. A few days later, I was surprised to receive an itinerary that showed my card had been charged for the tickets.

I immediately phoned Delta back and explained that I had not authorized the transaction. The agent contacted the first agent I had spoken with, who admitted that he might have misunderstood me.

I was referred to Delta’s Web site for a refund. I sent an e-mail and received a form letter saying that all the terms and conditions of the ticket could be found on its site. Then I received another e-mail saying that the airline would not refund my money under any circumstance.

I plan to dispute this charge on my credit card. Can you think of anything else? — Denise Reed, Boca Raton, Fla.

A: Delta shouldn’t have charged your credit card for the ticket, and when you brought the mistake to the carrier’s attention, it should have reversed the charges right away. Not force you to contact the refunds department, not send you a form letter, and certainly not insist that it had the right to bill you for something that one of its agents admits was a mistake.

But before I get too far into this, I have a question for you: Why on earth are you buying an airline ticket by phone?

Most airlines tack a $15 fee on tickets booked by telephone, and they don’t always make the cheapest fares available to the agents who take your call. It’s hardly a deal.

Another drawback of dealing with an airline by phone is that you sometimes have to talk with an agent in an offshore call center. English is a second language to most of the workers in those centers, which leads to all kinds of potential miscommunications, including maybe yours.

Delta, like many other airlines, has created an intricate Web of policies and practices that make it easy for the money to flow in its direction and difficult for the money to flow back in yours. You hit at least two barriers when you were trying to secure a refund: the form letter and the intransigent agent who finally sent your rejection letter.

Other than buying your airline tickets online, never offer a credit card number to anyone — and that’s not just true for an airline, but any travel transaction — unless you plan to make a purchase. That way, it’s impossible for you to be charged.

I contacted Delta on your behalf, and it refunded the ticket you never meant to buy.

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