When he cancels his trip to Istanbul, Kevin O'Connell tries to get a refund for the taxes and fees on his flight. But his online travel agent, Priceline, is giving him the runaround. How does he get his money back?
Q: I'm trying to get a partial refund for my airline ticket, and am getting nowhere. Maybe you can help me.
I recently booked a nonrefundable ticket on Lufthansa from San Francisco to Istanbul through Priceline.com. I had to call off my travel plans because of an illness, so I decided to recoup my rather sizable surcharges and fees, which amounted to about $350.
I phoned the airline to ask about a refund, and an agent suggested I get in touch with Priceline. But Priceline said it could only refund the taxes and fees if Lufthansa agreed to it. The back-and-forth continued, with neither side able to help me.
I feel Priceline is responsible for the refund, since it was my travel agent. How do I get these two groups to talk to each other and rectify the situation? -- Kevin O'Connell, San Francisco
A: Priceline should have helped you with your refund instead of passing you off to Lufthansa.
While it's true that a nonrefundable airfare isn't refundable, there's another part of your ticket that I think should be reimbursed. Certain government taxes and fees ought to be returned to you.
It turns out your base fare was $50 less than the other fees you paid. And getting more than half your money back for your airline ticket is better than nothing.
I've often wondered what happens to all of those extras that get tacked on to your airline ticket. There's a long list of them, including a federal excise tax, a passenger facility charge and a September 11th Security Fee. Do those get sent to the government when you cancel your flight? Or does the airline just pocket them?
When you ask the airlines, they insist the money is going to the right place. Some carriers will refund a portion of your fees upon request; others won't.
To avoid a runaround, you should have put down the phone and picked up a pen. A brief, polite letter or email to Priceline would have prevented the seemingly endless game of pass the buck. You can also forward a copy of the letter to Lufthansa -- or, if necessary, to a supervisor at Priceline.
A phone call is probably the least efficient way to initiate a refund request, but I don't have a problem with starting the process with a verbal request. The moment you run into trouble, hit the keyboard.
I contacted Priceline on your behalf. It apologized for the delay and refunded your taxes and fees.
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.