Travel companies routinely use collection agencies as tools to enrich themselves at their customers’ expense. That’s what seemed to be happening to Gabrielle Durana when her online travel agency tried to strong-arm her into paying $1,700 for an airline ticket it lost.
But looks can be deceiving.
Durana picks up the story.
For the past year-and-a-half, Orbitz has been ignoring my letters and emails about a ticket that I bought and that Orbitz lost.
This ticket from Madrid to Buenos Aires was intended as a gift for my uncle. He was going to celebrate with his classmates their 50th high school anniversary. Orbitz misplaced it, which forced me to buy a second airline ticket from a different travel agent, in a rush, to make sure that my uncle would not miss his reunion.
They did apologize at the time for their mishandling and offered some voucher as a token to soften the distasteful experience and the disappointment of this long time loyal customer.
About a year ago, I got a letter from a collection agency demanding I pay for the $1,700 lost ticket. When I called the collection agency, the agent threatened me with my credit report. When I asked for a supervisor, her boss told me to disregard their letter. He said they were going to contact Orbitz and cancel their claim. I felt at peace and hung up.
But the peaceful, easy feeling didn’t last long.
On July 20th, I received another threatening letter from the same collection agency, asking me to pay for the original $1,700 ticket.
I am at a loss; this is probably ruining my credit. Orbitz never bothered to reply to any of my emails after the collection agency contacted me the first time. Please help!
I’ve seen a lot of this recently, to the point where I had to write a column about it for MSNBC.
So I asked Orbitz for its side of the dispute. Here’s what its said:
Apparently, this customer never filed an LTA (Lost Ticket Application) for her lost tickets, instead she simply disputed the charge.
There is documentation in her account from our Fraud Dept. stating that when she disputed the charge for the lost tickets, she was refunded twice. One refund from her credit card company and one refund from Orbitz, hence the collection letters to try to recoup one of the refunds.
In other words, Durana didn’t go through channels when her paper ticket went missing. Rather than file a lost ticket application and wait for a refund (which can take months, and sometimes a year) she disputed the charge on her card. Both her credit card and Orbitz refunded her. Now Orbitz wants its money back.
I asked Durana to check her records. Her response:
I was NEVER refunded by Orbitz. I disputed the charge with Amex and they did reverse the charge. The reason why I never filled a LTA is because I did not lose the ticket. They did! I never even had the ticket in my hands.
I looped back with Orbitz to see if it could double-check its records. A few days later I heard back from Durana. Orbitz had phoned her, they had reviewed her records together and discovered that indeed, she had been double-refunded.
Durana repaid Orbitz $1,700.
Is all forgiven? Durana is still upset about the whole episode.
I am less angry at Orbitz because I see that they are honest, but after this traumatic experience with an on line travel agent, I’ve only bought airlines tickets directly through the airlines, never again through an intermediary.
I don’t want to have to deal with the customer service of an online travel agent anymore in my life. Even Orbitz which is a big one was really bad at handling the pb when it happened. I thanked the person who called me from Orbitz and told her to work on the customer service to retain their other good clients.
Certainly, Orbitz could have done a better job communicating its position to Durana. At the same time, she could have done a better job checking her own credit-card records to make sure she hadn’t been paid twice.
I guess we can call it even.
(Photo: bebop717/Flickr Creative Commons)