Travel Troubleshooter: Glitch becomes a refund marathon

Published: Sunday, Sep. 9, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3H

At the tail end of a trip last year to Southeast Asia, I had a pair of tickets on Cebu Pacific Airways from Singapore to Manila, and then from Manila to Osaka, to connect with my overseas flight back to the United States. I bought the tickets separately because Cebu only does point-to-point ticketing.

Before the Singapore gate agents would let me board the plane to Manila, they requested proof of my ticket out of Manila, presumably due to government regulations. So I gave the gate agent my reservation number. But he wasn't able to pull up the ticket. I gave him my name, my passport, any other information I thought might help, and still he wasn't able to pull up the ticket.

With time winding down, I did the only thing I could do at that point, which was buy a brand-new ticket from Manila to Osaka from a ticketing agent on the spot. With that ticket out of Manila, I was able to board the flight to Manila and make my connections home.

Of course, as soon as I got back home, I began calling Cebu Pacific to try to get a refund for the extra ticket they'd made me purchase. Fast-forward nine months later and I'm still waiting for that refund. I call once a month or so, and each time I'm told they are investigating the matter. Can you help?

– Brad Walters, Arlington, Va.

Inbound air travelers to the Philippines are often asked for proof of onward travel. In other words, officials want to be assured you're planning to leave the country. It's a problem with your itinerary, and Cebu Pacific's booking restrictions.

Had your ticket indicated that you were flying from Singapore back to the United States, via Manila, this wouldn't have been an issue. But as you said, Cebu Pacific would only allow you to book a point-to-point ticket.

Of course, the major flaw in Cebu Pacific's system was its inability to recognize the rest of your itinerary. If it had been able to see the rest of your tickets, then it wouldn't have forced you to buy another one.

The best way to resolve a situation like this is right then and there, not later on. Ask for a supervisor when a ticket agent tells you that you need to buy a new ticket. Managers are often able to waive certain rules, and this is one of those times when someone with a little common sense should have said, "Look, the problem is on our end. Go ahead and board."

Extracting a refund from Cebu Pacific after your flight was something of a challenge. The old "out of sight; out of mind" rule applies. When you're thousands of miles away, why should Cebu Pacific move quickly on your refund request?

I contacted the airline on your behalf, but even so, it took several more emails from you and a phone call to get this straightened out. But 13 months after your flight, you received a full refund for the ticket you didn't use.

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