Travel Troubleshooter

Travel Troubleshooter: Dollars, euros – there’s a difference!

By Christopher Elliott

Q: I think I’ve reached a dead end with KLM and wondered if you could help. At the end of January, I contacted the airline through Facebook about tickets to Tanzania. My family and I are planning to fly there for three weeks in June and then extend our layover in Amsterdam for a week on the return trip.

KLM quoted me a price in dollars, including all taxes and fees. We said yes and followed the link to purchase tickets. This week, checking my Visa statement, I saw that I was charged $1,200 more. KLM charged me in euros instead of dollars!

The airline admitted its mistake, but its offer to resolve this was either to give us a full refund or upgrade our seats to ”economy comfort” on the leg from Amsterdam to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Only one way.

Unfortunately, in the time that has passed, fares have gone up. At the time of purchase, the original price quoted was right in the range for a number of airline prices to Dar es Salaam in June. Now, the prices are around $300 more per person – making a refund a hassle and not really worth it.

The minor upgrade on one part of our journey doesn’t seem like enough to me. Yet the airline refuses to upgrade both ways in and out of Dar es Salaam.

I feel cheated. KLM quoted me a price and won’t stand by it, even though it was the airline’s mistake. And I’m not very happy about giving the company my business now. Any suggestions?

Kara van Wyk, Minneapolis

A: KLM misquoted your fare. If it had refunded your tickets quickly, you would have had a chance to rebook your flights to Tanzania with another carrier. Instead, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, it waited.

KLM’s offer to “upgrade” you to roomier economy-class seats one way is a little ridiculous. First of all, those seats have about the same amount of legroom as all coach seats used to, so it’s really not doing you any favors. And what about your return trip? Do you have to sit in the torture-class seats all the way home?

I recommended that you send a brief, polite email to the airline, which you did. But KLM only repeated its insufficient offer, this time by email. Interestingly, Delta Air Lines, KLM’s partner in the U.S., gets to clean up this mess. Ah, code-sharing! Don’t even get me started on that anti-competitive, consumer-unfriendly practice.

The way I saw it, Delta had two options: Either honor the original fare or buy you a ticket on a competing airline for the same route, and at the rate you thought you paid when you booked your tickets.

By the way, you can always appeal your case to someone higher up at Delta. I publish the names and email addresses of all the customer-service managers on my site at http://elliott.org/company-contacts/delta.

After several weeks of back-and-forth among you, me, KLM and Delta, I received word from Delta that you would be refunded the difference between the price in dollars you were quoted and the amount in euros you were charged for the tickets. You and your family also will be upgraded to ”economy comfort” from Amsterdam to Dar es Salaam. Have a great vacation!

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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