Travel Troubleshooter: Voucher mix-up requires sort-out

Published: Sunday, Nov. 13, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 11I

Q: We recently canceled a trip from Minneapolis to Asuncion, Paraguay, we had booked on Delta Air Lines through Expedia. We were issued two flight vouchers, which we are trying to redeem. But Expedia isn't letting us.

The vouchers – one for $1,186, the other for $936 – were supposed to be valid until Jan. 15. But when I called Delta to cash them in, we were told the vouchers had expired in September.

I tried phoning Expedia, but had to endure exceedingly long hold times, a fax signal late into that hold time, more holding with music and more recordings letting me know how there are better ways to contact Expedia, which don't apply to my case, and then having my call dropped.

I emailed Expedia, but was told that Delta did not issue any flight credits. Expedia claimed it had no authority to circumvent or to override the airline's policies.

I have the electronic vouchers. Can you help me get Expedia to do the right thing?

– Joseph Barclay, New Hope, Minn.

A: If Expedia sent you vouchers that were valid for a year, you should have been able to use them, no questions asked.

I've never quite understood why airlines or online travel agencies issue vouchers that expire. It makes sense from a company's point of view – after all, you don't want a lot of outstanding IOUs floating around out there – but why do customers put up with it? There was no excuse for keeping you on hold, then hanging up on you, either.

Unfortunately, that's not unusual when you're dealing with a huge online travel agency. During peak times, calls get dropped and good customers have to listen to many minutes of recorded messages that don't pertain to them, before they do.

You were right to start an email chain, for a number of reasons. First, you had a real voucher from Expedia – undeniable proof that you had credit. Second, email is a far more efficient and trackable way of dealing with a grievance. When you didn't get anywhere, you forwarded the entire chain to me, which showed your efforts to get this case resolved.

In reviewing the correspondence, I can see Expedia didn't give your problem the attention it deserved. First it sent you a form letter saying it was too busy, and asking you to call (which you had already done) and then it sent you another terse reply, saying the vouchers hadn't been issued by Delta.

I publish the names of some higher-ups at Delta and Expedia on my customer service site, On Your Side (www.onyoursi.de) which might have been your next option. But I decided to contact Expedia on your behalf, instead.

Expedia agreed to research your claim. It found that when you initially called to postpone your flights in February, a representative canceled the tickets instead. Expedia later reviewed the fare rules and realized that only ticket changes were allowed, and that cancellations resulted in lost value. In other words, the Expedia representative misunderstood the ticket terms.

Expedia refunded your tickets and allowed you to rebook your flights.

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