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No ticket, but they remembered the bill

  • Story Highlights
  • A Travelocity customer serving abroad never received her paper airline tickets
  • She had to buy new tickets, and the agency would not refund her original trip
  • She disputed the charges and won, but the agency demanded payment
  • Troubleshooter contacted Travelocity, and it stopped the collections process
By Christopher Elliott
Tribune Media Services
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(Tribune Media Services) -- Jamie Tuttle's roommate books tickets from Bahrain to Atlanta through Travelocity. But they never arrive, and when she's forced to pay for a second set of tickets, neither her online agency nor her airline seem willing to refund the first pair she couldn't use. After her credit card steps in and helps her recover the money, Travelocity sends her another bill. What now?

Q: I'm writing to you on behalf of my roommate, who is serving overseas in the Navy. She recently paid $1,767 for tickets from Bahrain to Atlanta for two weeks of R&R. Her online travel agency, Travelocity, had to issue a paper ticket because the two airlines she's flying -- Gulf Air and Delta Air Lines -- don't have a ticketing agreement.

But the tickets never arrived. She contacted Travelocity, which told her to buy a new ticket and file a lost ticket application. She paid for new tickets and flew back to the States. But when she asked Delta for a refund, they turned her down because she had gotten paper tickets through Travelocity.

After a few more phone calls and emails between her, Delta and Travelocity, she realized that no one was going to refund her money. So she disputed the charges for the first ticket on her credit card -- and won.

Today I received a letter at our home address to her from Travelocity. They say they are going to turn her over to a collection agency if she does not pay the money in 30 days. What should I do?

-- Jamie Tuttle, Augusta, Georgia

A: You shouldn't have to pay for airline tickets you didn't receive. If neither Travelocity nor Delta can give your roommate a full refund for a ticket they failed to deliver, then why should she have to cover their loss?

But whose fault is this? Was it Travelocity, which printed the tickets and shipped them to your roommate? Maybe; but probably not. Was it the shipping service? Possibly. Then again, perhaps the package was held up by Bahraini customs.

The bottom line for your roommate is that the tickets never arrived, through no fault of her own.

The round of finger-pointing that followed was inevitable. Travelocity, which promises, "everything about your booking will be right, or we'll work with our partners to make it right, right away," and, "we're available 24/7 to help ensure your trip goes as planned," told your roommate to file a lost ticket application with the airline.

I can understand why, after several frustrating calls, your roommate decided to pursue the credit card dispute. This seemed like a no-win proposition.

Could it have been prevented? I think so. A short and cordial email to Travelocity after your roommate's trip, explaining the problem and invoking the company's "guarantee" might have gotten the wheels turning and eliminated the need for a dispute. The airline industry has all but eliminated paper tickets since this incident, which happened several months ago, so this problem is unlikely to repeat itself.

Threatening your roommate with a collection agency was an understandable move, from a business point of view, but it didn't exactly represent a high-water mark for customer service. Had Travelocity taken the time to understand your roommate's problem, it would have never come to a credit card dispute.

I contacted Travelocity on your behalf, and a representative agreed that Travelocity should have filed the lost ticket application on your roommate's behalf. The company agreed to stop the collection process.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. E-mail him at celliott@ngs.org.

Copyright 2009 CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT, DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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