Travel Solutions: If a travel agency stalls on refund, get credit card company involved

2013-03-10T00:00:00Z Travel Solutions: If a travel agency stalls on refund, get credit card company involvedChristopher Elliott Tribune Media Services Arizona Daily Star

Q: I recently booked an American Airlines flight on CheapOAir.com from Kansas City 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 on our day of departure, an American Airlines representative handed us a slip of paper that said, "Your flight has been canceled, you need to call this number." No explanation or anything! American advised us to call its customer service desk.

Since we knew we had to catch two different connecting flights that day, we rushed to call the number. After about five hours of trying to get a flight that would get us to the Virgin Islands in time for the wedding, we were left with one option: to arrive two days later than expected on the island, 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. Also, we would have had to find a place to stay in Puerto Rico for the night. None of the options were in our budget, so we decided to cancel our trip and miss the wedding.

American Airlines would refund only $1,313, which they said is the value of the tickets. That left $330 that neither American nor CheapOAir would take responsibility for.

When I called on the phone, they would always refer me back to the other company. I sent email messages to the customer relations department for both companies.

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

A: You should have received a full refund, as promised. The fact that 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 back 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, after all. CheapOAir should have advocated for you instead of pocketing part of your refund.

It's unclear if the $330 holdback was temporary or permanent, and CheapOAir was reluctant to part with it.

When any travel agency stalls on a refund that 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 contact CheapOAir on your behalf, and after several more months of back and forth, it finally surrendered your money.

Christopher Elliott is the author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley). He's also the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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