Before Sophia Mei books a cruise online through Travelocity, her screen goes blank and she loses her reservation. Or so she thinks. A phone agent helps here complete her booking, but soon it's clear that she has two reservations for the same cruise. And before long, a collections agency is after her to pay for both tickets. What should she do?
Q: I need your help with a cruise booking that's gone terribly wrong. More than two years ago, I tried to buy a Caribbean cruise for my parents though Travelocity. At the end of the process, the site crashed and I lost my reservation.
I called Travelocity and explained what happened. We finished the reservation by phone, and the online agency e-mailed a confirmation.
A month later, I received my credit card statement and noticed I was charged twice for the same cruise. I phoned my credit card company, which immediately credited me. I also informed Travelocity of the double booking and they reassured me that I would be receiving a full credit from NCL.
After the cruise, I received a letter from a collection agency demanding an additional $2,000 for the cruise. I told them the reservation was a mistake -- a double booking.
We've been trading letters, and I've been pleading my case, but the agency is harassing me with phone calls at work. They've offered to settle the case for $1,200, but I don't think I owe them anything. Can you please help me? -- Sophia Mei, New York
A: Here's how I see it: You booked one cruise, your parents took one cruise, so you should only have to pay for one cruise.
So why does NCL want your money?
Well, even though you thought your first reservation didn't go through, and even though a Travelocity representative assured you the booking wasn't consummated, NCL somehow still got the reservation. (That sometimes happens, which is why it's always a good idea to call the travel company directly when something goes wrong -- not just your travel agent or online agency.)
When your bank credited you $2,000 for the first cruise that NCL billed you for, it was essentially taking money out of the cruise line's pocket. I can't blame NCL for sending a collection agency after you.
But I can blame it for continuing to pursue you even after it should have been apparent that you were accidentally double-booked. What were they thinking? And why didn't Travelocity step in and help you?
It should have.
I list the names of Travelocity's customer-service contacts on my site and I have to tell you they are among the most responsive in the business. If you had brought this case to their attention, I believe they would have been able to fix this immediately.
Do you really want me to quote from the Travelocity Guarantee? Well, OK, but only because you asked.
"If something isn't right, don't let it ruin your trip," it says. "Call us immediately instead! We're here 24/7 to work with our partners to make it right, right away."
Certainly, I would have appealed to NCL's executives, too. A simple review of its records would have revealed that you couldn't have intentionally made both reservations.
Travelocity and NCL should have worked with you to find a solution instead of calling a collection agency. A collection agency is a last-ditch effort to recover money from a delinquent customer, and it's used on deadbeats, not people who pay their bills.
As a last resort, you could have refused to pay your bill and added a note to your credit report -- you can do that under federal law -- but that's not an ideal solution.
I contacted Travelocity on your behalf. It got in touch with NCL and called off the collection agency. You're all clear.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2008 Christopher Elliott Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.