tallinAnd they were not tears of joy at having found a bargain. Elizabeth Hutton’s mother, Mary Ellyn, bought a round trip ticket from Cincinnati to Tallinn, Estonia, with stopovers in Newark and Stockholm. But something was wrong with the reservation, and she had to pay for another flight.

Does that sound familiar?

Despite repeated attempts to contact the online travel agency, CheapoAir wouldn’t help.

“They ripped my mother off,” her daughter wrote to me. “They refuse to reimburse her. And what’s worse, CheapoAir made my mother cry.”

They made her mother cry? How could they?

Here are a few highlights of her experience:

On May 29, my mother, Mary Ellyn Hutton, booked a round trip flight on CheapoAir from Cincinnati to Tallinn, Estonia, through Newark and Stockholm for $926. She received the booking confirmation. On May 31, she gets an email saying the due to technical difficulties, they couldn’t process her payment and the fare is $200 more. She goes ahead and pays for the increased fare, or $1,157.

So she’s out $200 already.

Note to self: That shouldn’t have happened.

On June 30, Mary Ellyn arrives in Stockholm. She collects her bag to re-check it to Tallinn, Estonia. She waits in line for her Estonian Air connection at 8:15 am. The agent reports that the flight is closed and passengers needing to check luggage cannot board.

She is sent to Scandinavian Air to re-book. The Scandinavian Air agents search for her reservation to re-issue a ticket to Tallinn, but report that they cannot find any evidence of the reservation in the computer. They cannot re-issue a ticket.

She is told that she has to purchase a new ticket. Mary Ellyn has no choice but to purchase a new ticket to Tallinn, flight OV 126 on Estonian Air, leaving at 7:15 pm.

Mary Ellyn has a twelve hour layover in Stockholm before her new flight. The ticket cost Mary Ellyn $538.

So CheapoAir’s original itinerary had a connection time that didn’t work. Who is responsible for that? That’s unclear. If the system told CheapoAir the connection was “legal” then technically, it would be a system problem. But the online agency would still have to take responsibility for it.

On with the story …

While Mary Ellyn waits for her flight to Tallinn, she visits Cheapo’s site and uses their “contact us” form online. She gets no response during her trip to Tallinn. Mary Ellyn tries to call Cheapo’s international help line, but because the customer is responsible for paying the full cost, she decides not to incur the extra cost.

On July 8, Mary Ellyn goes online and finds a message from Cheapo that they have received her complaint and that she should fax a copy of her credit card statements reflecting the charges for her flights. She emails the statements to Cheapo.

Mary Ellyn takes a cab to the airport rather than enjoy her last day in Tallinn in order to work out the problems with her tickets on the return flight home. She purchases a new ticket to Stockholm, Sweden on Air Baltic leaving at 5:20 a.m. the following morning. She then has to change planes in Riga and then fly to Stockholm, collect her luggage and check in to her flight on Continental Airlines to Newark.

Mary Ellyn pays an additional $277 for her new ticket.

You know the rest. Despite repeated attempts to resolve this through normal customer service channels, Hutton has gotten nowhere.

I contacted CheapoAir on Hutton’s behalf. She sent me the following update:

My mother just told me that Cheapo refunded her $800. Thank you so much for your help! We couldn’t have gotten their attention without you!

I’m happy to have helped resolve this, but I wonder how Hutton could have prevented this ticketing problem from happening.

Paying closer attention to connection times? Maybe. Using a different online agency, or a regular travel agent? Possibly.

I’m not entirely sure this was preventable. But if there are any readers with a deeper knowledge of reservations systems, please speak up. Your feedback could help travelers.

The comments are open.

(Photo: avidday/Flickr Creative Commons)