Q: I have had a very tough time dealing with Hotwire to be reimbursed for a flight that was canceled due to bad weather, and I am hoping that you can help me.
I was scheduled to fly round-trip from Denpasar, Bali, to New York earlier this year. The flight, operated by Garuda Indonesia and Qatar Airways, was purchased through Hotwire.
When I arrived at the airport in Denpasar, I was told that I would not be able to take the flight because of a blizzard in New York.
I asked to take the first flight – I had a layover in Qatar – but was told that because the second leg of my trip was canceled, I could not take any part of the trip.
I left the airport and attempted to call Hotwire to reschedule my flight the following day. I finally got through to Hotwire and was told that the only flight option for the next three days was a $5,000 ticket through Paris. I declined to take this option and instead booked a one-way ticket to New York through Orbitz.
When I arrived in the U.S., I called Hotwire a dozen times over a two-month period. Each time I called, I spoke to someone different and was given different information about a refund, whom I needed to speak to, and even which airline controlled the refund. I was told several times that I was marked as a “no-show” for the flight. The last time I called, I was told that since I was marked down as a no-show, I’d have to prove that I wasn’t allowed to board the flight in Denpasar.
I’m really lost as to what to do at this point. I’m very tired of calling and receiving different information and instructions. I did not take the return flight because I was told that since I was a “no-show,” the entire reservation was canceled. I would really like a full refund for this ticket.
Rachel Abott, Baltimore
A: If your flight was canceled, you deserved a full refund – no questions asked.
You say you were marked as a “no-show” on the outbound flight, but it’s difficult to say which airline had marked you as absent, and at what point in the journey it happened. When a customer no-shows, the entire fare is forfeited. That’s not just a Garuda or Qatar thing; it’s an industrywide policy. When you miss a flight, you lose it all.
It looks as if you spent way too much time on the phone with Hotwire. I note that you had a paper trail, which is good. I recommend relying on that documentation by escalating it to a supervisor at Hotwire – I publish the names and numbers of them on my consumer-advocacy site (http://elliott.org/company-contacts/hotwire/) – and letting that person worry about your missing refund. After all, Hotwire is your travel agency.
Your circumstances were special. You were working with two airlines, a weather-related cancellation that may not have been recognized by all parties as a weather cancellation, and an online travel agency that seems ill-equipped to handle a complex itinerary and refund. Hotwire is great for simple, point-to-point domestic flights where you want to save money, but the more complex the itinerary, the more you need to consider a human travel agent.
Hotwire agreed to refund the full $950.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at email@example.com.