It's been two years since Niel Bratteli bought a roundtrip plane ticket from Dallas to Boston for his son. The airline, ATA, stopped flying from Boston to Dallas (and stopped flying altogether this April) and his online travel agency, Travelocity, promised Bratteli a refund. But countless calls and e-mails later, there's no sign of the money. What's wrong?
Q: I don't know if this is a lost cause, because it happened more than two years ago. But I thought I'd ask. We booked a round-trip ticket for our son to fly from Dallas to Boston through Travelocity on ATA Airlines in July 2005.
His outbound flight was in September and his return would have been in December. But that fall, ATA discontinued its Boston-Dallas route and canceled the return ticket.
After many e-mails and hours on the phone, Travelocity told us that it was up to the airline to process the refund, but that the money would be refunded to Travelocity, which would then credit us.
We have since received many promises that the refund was on the way, both by phone and e-mail. But we still don't have the refund. We inquired about it again last week, to which we received a form letter saying our "issue detailed requires further research by our Consumer Relations Department."
Travelocity asked for a copy of the actual billing statement from my card issuer along with my son's trip ID or ticket numbers. "Once received, we will be able to investigate and will contact you directly," they assured us.
Our e-mail included all past messages from them, which had the original confirmation and price of the ticket ($276). What should we do? -- Niel Bratteli, Paris, Texas
A: I think you've already done enough. It's time for ATA and Travelocity to return your money. Now.
Under ATA's rules, also known as its contract of carriage, you were entitled to an immediate refund of the unused fare. There was no mention of a two-year waiting period, as far as I could tell from its contract prior to the April shut-down.
Travelocity didn't live up to its promises, either. Its much-publicized "Travelocity Guarantee" leaves you with the impression that this should have been handled much differently. "If we learn of an issue from any of our partners or customers that might make your trip less enjoyable -- like hotel construction, a hurricane, or an airport closure -- we'll contact you before your trip and help make other arrangements," it says.
As I review the account of your son's flight, it seems you weren't contacted, you weren't offered an alternate flight, and Travelocity simply kept your money. That's disappointing.
I think you could have gotten a better answer from Travelocity, if not ATA. I list customer service contacts on my website to whom you could have appealed your case. Working the phones on a refund request doesn't make much sense. Everything needs to be in writing.
Of course, that's no guarantee that you won't get caught in a form-letter loop. When I contacted Travelocity on your behalf, it also asked me for your reservation number, even though I had already included it in your file. I guess they wanted to be sure.
After I re-sent your son's reservation information, a Travelocity representative contacted you and apologized for the delay, adding, "This is not our usual customer service."
I think that goes without saying. A check for $119, which covers the return portion of your son's flight, is in the mail.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the host of "What You Get For The Money: Vacations" on the Fine Living Network. E-mail him at email@example.com.
(c) 2008 Christopher Elliott Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.