Travel Troubleshooter: Canceled flight was woes' start

Published: Sunday, Mar. 10, 2013 - 2:00 am | Page 4H

I recently booked an American Airlines flight on CheapOAir.com to the Virgin Islands to attend my brother's wedding.

We were issued electronic tickets and our itinerary was confirmed with reservation ID and a booking number.

Our credit card was charged $1,643.

When we arrived at the airport, an American Airlines representative handed us a slip of paper that said, "Your flight has been canceled, you need to call this number."

American said it "regretted" any inconvenience resulting from the cancellation and advised us to call its customer service desk. We were never given any information about the reason for the cancellation.

Since we had to catch two connecting flights that day, we rushed to call the number. After five hours of trying to get a flight to the Virgin Islands in time for the wedding, we had one option: arrive two days later than expected, miss the wedding and two days of our five-day vacation.

Plus, we were going to be charged about $1,000 extra for airline tickets because American Airlines would not cover the flight we would have to take – it was going to be with an airline with which it didn't have a code-share deal. Also, we would have had to find a place to stay in Puerto Rico for the night.

No option was in our budget. We canceled the trip, missing the wedding.

American Airlines would refund only $1,313, which it said was the value of the tickets. That left $330 that neither American nor CheapOAir would take responsibility for. When I called by phone and got to talk to a person, they would always refer me to the other company. I sent email messages to the customer-relations department for both.

I received one call back that was left on my answering machine from CheapOair that said it was looking into the matter and that it would get back to me in six to eight weeks.

I never heard back. I feel both companies should have done more to help us, and we should have received a full refund. Can you help me get my $330 back?

– Ronnee Schweizer, Kansas City

You should have received a full refund, as promised. The fact you had booked your ticket though an online travel agency shouldn't matter. That just adds one extra layer, with the airline refunding your agency, and then your agency sending the money to you.

But let's take a step back. When your outbound flight was canceled, you could have phoned CheapOAir also to check your alternate flight options. That's why you work with an online agency. CheapOAir should have advocated for you instead of pocketing part of your refund.

It's unclear if the $330 holdback was temporary.

When any travel agency stalls on a refund you deserve, you can take the case to your credit card company. Disputing the charge may be the fastest way to get a full refund.

Or you could ask me. I contacted CheapOAir and after several more months, it finally surrendered your money.


Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or email him at chris@elliott.org.

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