When Eileen Mather lands in Mexico City on her way to Tapachula, Mexico, she learns her airline ticket isn't valid. Her airline forces her to buy a new one. Mather asks her online agency, Cheapoair.com (www.cheapoair.com), for a refund, but more than six months later, she's still out $879. Is she also out of options?
Q: I need your help getting my money back for a plane ticket I had to pay for twice.
Here's my story: I bought tickets online through Cheapoair.com from Philadelphia to Tapachula, Mexico. When we arrived in Mexico City, Aviacsa Airlines representatives told us that Cheapoair hadn't paid for the last leg of our trip. So I had to buy new tickets. Two members of our group also had to pay again.
After I returned home, I faxed all of my documents to a supervisor at Cheapoair. That was six months ago. I've called her repeatedly and left messages, but no one has contacted me, and I'm out $879. Is there anything you can do? -- Eileen Mather, Glenside, Pa.
A: You shouldn't have to pay twice for your airline tickets. But you also shouldn't be too quick to blame Cheapoair for the mix-up.
A lot can go wrong when you're dealing with a flight schedule that involves multiple carriers. Reservations can be lost, paper tickets and boarding passes can be misread. And, of course, there's the language issue. When you're traveling internationally, something can easily get lost in the translation.
Cheapoair may -- or may not -- have been responsible for your non-working tickets. But as your online travel agent, it was responsible for helping you fix it. That's why you buy from an intermediary and pay a booking fee: so there's someone to turn to when something goes wrong.
The online agency shouldn't have kept you in a holding pattern for more than six months. Cheapoair's "Golden Guarantee" promises "to provide all our customers with 24/7 toll-free number support because we understand the importance of critical last-minute client/traveler needs and requirements for changes to trips." I guess offering a toll-free number around the clock doesn't necessarily mean your questions will be answered quickly, but you can't blame me if I'm left with that impression.
You could have avoided a lengthy dance with Cheapoair by taking this up with Aviacsa either when you were flying to Tapachula or returning home. If you had arrived at the airport a half-hour earlier, you might have been able to speak with a supervisor and straightened this out. Once you were home, and were running into a brick wall with Cheapoair's supervisor, I would have tried knocking on the front door again.
Normally, starting a new query through an online form means your complaint will get reviewed again and may be assigned a new case number. A phone call doesn't work the same way. After you hang up, your case is basically closed.
I contacted Cheapoair on your behalf. It apologized for the delay and said it contacted Aviasca, but couldn't determine why your ticket wasn't accepted. An airline representative told Cheapoair it would have to speak to the agent who was working at the ticket counter when you checked in, which was impossible.
Cheapoair refunded the $879 you spent on your second ticket.
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) 2009 Christopher Elliott. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.