Travel troubleshooter: Airfare refund rules can be tricky

08/04/2013 12:00 AM

08/02/2013 5:08 PM

I booked a round-trip ticket from Buffalo, N.Y., to Chennai, India, on Continental Airlines, just before it merged with United Airlines. I used Expedia to make the reservation. I completed the one-way trip but due to a family medical issue, I had to cancel the return. I called Expedia and requested a cancellation.

Expedia issued a cancellation, saying it would be in the form of an airline credit that would last a year. I called Expedia a few months later to use my voucher but was told they couldn't book the flight because of the merger with United. They asked me to call United directly.

I called United and they informed me that fare rules mention that I can only book the same return flight and nothing else.

I called Expedia back and it admitted the representative who helped me cancel the ticket made a mistake by not informing me of the fare rules. Expedia offered a $400 credit, but the ticket credit I had was worth $1,150.

A representative told me that's all that she could do. I did accept it, but I detest the fact that they are making me pay for their mistake. Is there any way I can elevate the issue?

– Anoop Ramaswamy, Buffalo, N.Y.


Expedia should have told you about the fare rules when you called to cancel, of course. But in fairness to the online travel agency, the representative might have been confused about the fare rules or worse, the rules were somehow changed after the United merger, which was consummated last year.

But Expedia doesn't dispute your claim that it gave you the wrong information by phone.

The problem here, other than confusing fare rules, is too much time being spent on the phone. I know it's convenient, but when you call an online travel agency, you're needlessly complicating the issue.

Remember, the only party that has any record of your conversation is the company. There's no way to prove you spoke with someone, unless you're recording the call, and I wouldn't want you to run afoul of your state's wiretapping laws.

Had Expedia sent you the fare rules, and had you reviewed them before you tried to make your next reservation, then this might have been avoided.

I contacted Expedia on your behalf. A representative corroborated your version of this story, but added that the agency did try to advocate on your behalf with United Airlines, asking it to apply the credit to a different flight. The airline refused.

As a side note, I think these fare restrictions are ridiculous, and perhaps the best way to avoid getting ensnared by them is to avoid booking one in the first place. But I know few travelers who bother to read the fare rules – they just see the price and book.

Expedia issued a refund for the remaining value of your flight credit.

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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