Q: I recently bought a pair of tickets through Expedia for my husband and myself. We planned to visit Germany this fall as part of a retirement trip. Shortly after that, my husband passed away very suddenly.
I contacted Expedia about a refund, but was advised to get in touch with our airline, Lufthansa, directly. Lufthansa told me my husband's ticket was nonrefundable. I asked if they would resell his seat, since he couldn't make the flight, and they admitted they would. When I said that it appeared that Lufthansa would profit from the death of my husband, they admitted that that was the case. This really offended me. I tried to send an email to Lufthansa's president, but they have turned me down. What would you advise?
— Ursula Maul, Wynnewood, Pa.
A: My condolences on your loss. Most airlines refund tickets — even nonrefundable ones — when a passenger dies. What's more, it's highly unusual for a representative to "admit" that the airline will profit from the death of a passenger. Maybe the representative you reached was having a bad day. I certainly hope so.
I'm concerned about your online travel agency's role in this debacle. Why did Expedia hand you off to Lufthansa in your hour of need? One of the reasons you do business with an online travel agency is that they are trusted intermediaries in case something goes wrong with your flight. If they simply sent you to the airline when you needed help, then why not book a ticket directly with Lufthansa the next time, cutting out the middleman?
I might have started the refund process by sending a brief, polite email to Expedia, explaining that you wanted a refund for your husband's ticket. It may have still referred you to the airline, but at least you would have given it a chance to do what it promises it will do, which is to take care of you.
I would have stayed off the phone, too. These days, the odds of you getting put through to an outsourced, overseas call center, where someone is just trying to process your complaint quickly, is too high. Your case required special attention, which neither your agency nor your airline seemed willing to give you.
You had the right idea with the email to Lufthansa's president. I might have started a little lower on the corporate food chain. I list the names of the managers on my customer-service wiki, On Your Side. If Expedia was unable to help you, then a polite email with your husband's death certificate should have worked.
I contacted Lufthansa on your behalf. It apologized for the "inaccurate" response to your request and agreed to refund your husband's ticket.