Her plans changed, but now her travel agent wants her to pay up

Any day now, I’m expecting a call from Heather Barksdale’s travel agent. That’s because she owes the agency for a plane ticket to Europe — or at least, that’s what they claim.

Barksdale wants to do the right thing, and she’s asked for my help. Should she pay up?

I’m not sure, but maybe you have the correct answer.

Here are a few details: Barksdale made her initial travel plans through a bricks-and-mortar agency. And with good reason. An agency can handle a more complex itinerary and offer advice you might not find online.

Her agency sent her a contract in which she agreed to allow the agency to make a booking on her behalf, even if it didn’t have her credit card information. Barksdale signed the contract electronically, but admits she didn’t read the document carefully.

“I did not realize it was stating that the agency would purchase the plane ticket on my behalf prior to receiving the requested check payment,” she says.

Then Barksdale asked her agent to book tickets through KLM by email. But within a few hours, her plans changed. She says she had misgivings about the agency — the itinerary, she said, “didn’t feel secure” and so she booked the tickets herself online.

But a few days later, she received an email from her agency, requesting a payment for the tickets.

“A close friend works with this agency frequently for international travel,” she says. “I do not want to be unfair in my refusal to pay for a ticket I didn’t intend to purchase and I do not want to go up against any type of legal proceedings.”

What should she do?

I think it’s unusual for an agency to not ask for a credit card number before making a booking on behalf of a customer. So that’s my first flag. But Barksdale confirmed that the agency doesn’t have her card on file, just a signed contract.

I asked Barksdale if she’s sure she instructed the agent to buy the KLM tickets. Again, she verified that yes, she’d asked for the tickets.

Did she notify the agency that she wanted to cancel?

Yes. Within 24 hours of my initial communication I emailed the agent to express my thanks for her assistance but that my travel plans had changed.

She acknowledged this with a return email.

Per the KLM’s 24-hour cancellation policy, they allow cancellation of reservations without penalty for 24 hours after the reservation is made.

Barksdale emailed this information to the agent with a check for her professional service fee of $75. But she refused to pay for the tickets.

She wants to know: Did she do the right thing?

Here’s where I could use your help. The travel agent should have asked for a credit card number. When Barksdale emailed her to cancel the transaction, the agent should have also canceled the plane tickets.

But I haven’t reviewed the emails between the two parties, so I don’t know how clear they were with each other. Given the lack of attention to detail on the part of both parties, I think there’s a high probability that something got lost in the translation.

“With only my name and birthdate and no down payment or credit card information can this company legally bind me to pay for this ticket that I have not technically been issued?” she asks.

I suppose it’s possible. The agency might send her an invoice, a lawyer letter, or refer the matter to a collection agency. They could force her to pay for a ticket she never wanted.

But what’s the right thing to do?

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Grant Ritchie

    According to Chris, “Barksdale asked the agent to book tickets through KLM.” I take that to mean that she would naturally expect KLM’s 24-hour cancellation rules to apply.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    Well they got paid $75.00 so that’s not an issue here

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    Yes, the entire question is the timeliness of the cancellation. One minute before the deadline is not timely in my opinion.

  • Fredo805

    Chris, if I were you, I would stay out of this one. It is unclear who is being honest here.

    Barksdale and the travel agency seem to have met their match. AND the language being used in the emails does not seem to make it clear about what was agreed upon up front.

    In air travel, a “booking” is not a ticket. It is only a reservation made with the airline. As a travel agent, I can make this on behalf of my client. No ticket has been issued. No money has changed hands. AND no obligation has been made by the client yet, to buy a ticket. For international travel, these can usually be held for 72-hours. For domestic travel these can be held for 24-hours.

    A “ticket” is what one purchases after they have approved or confirmed that this “booking” is correct and what they wish to purchase.

    I have been a travel agent handling airline tickets for over 15 years and at least 50% of these tickets have been done with the client never sitting in my office. I always make sure the client understands that a “booking” is never a ticket, but a “ticket” required a “booking” before it was issues. Generally (meaning with exceptions of less than 2% of the tickets I have ever generated for a client) I will never issue a ticket without the client seeing a fully defined booking for their review and approval. This usually means sending them a printable copy of the whole booking (by email or hand carried) before the ticket is issued.

    The format of authorization used by Barksdale’s travel agency, to issue a ticket, seems very unusual to me. I would expect a credit card to be used and only accept a check from a known client. But once signed by Barksdale, she agreed to buy the ticket, unless she only authorized a “booking”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    If the 24 hours rule doesn’t apply she’s SOL, unless purchasing through a consolidator is inappropriate

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    That’s why we have lots of ifs.

    If its not a consolidator
    If she had a 24 hours window
    If she cancelled within the 24 hours window.

    I’m not even pretending to have the answer to any of these questions. But if the answer to all the above is YES, then the OP is only on the hoof for $75.00. The answers may be no. I don’t know yet.

    Edited:
    Looking closer, I don’t see where we actually disagree. The OP is bound by the T&C of the ticket. That is what controls whether her actions were sufficient to relieve her of responsibility.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    She may still owe the $75.00. Many brokers/agents make it clear than cancellation will not relieve the obligation to pay the flat fee. And that’s fair because the TA did work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    What is the agent’s responsibility for following the terms of its contract. IF there a grace period, and I’m not saying there is, then they have a responsibility to cancel the ticket within the grace period.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Doesn’t it matter that the OP asked the agent to book the tickets through KLM? If the agent chose to use a consolidator with different cancellation rules, isn’t that on them?

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    I did some checking. It appears that all KLM tickets are cancellable withi 24 hours unless the flight is within one week. Per the KLM’s website

    We allow reservations to be cancelled without penalty for 24-hours after
    the reservation is made if the reservation is made one week or more
    prior to a flight’s departure.

  • Grant Ritchie

    She asked her agent to book through KLM, not on KLM, not with KLM… through KLM. If the agency chose to work with consolidators and lose the cancellation window, how can that possibly be on the OP? Am I missing something?

  • http://www.onlinedatingranking.net/ Sonya

    This is a travel agent, not Walmart. You can’t sign a contract, agree to an itinerary then walk away and try to return it. Pay up.

  • bodega3

    One payment is guaranteed, which we can do by giving an agency check number to a vendor, all cancel policies apply. Not sure where the $75 comes into play here. Was that on the contract for cancellations or is that the consoliadtor’s cancel fee? We aren’t being told.
    Yes, a fee on top of a sale is allowed.
    Yes, we are allowed to mark up consolidator fares, if they are bulk or net.

  • bodega3

    Her wording, but what was on the contract? Where did she know the ticket was being issued through? I always tell my client if a consolidator will be issuing the tickets or if I will be doing it, as the cancel penalties are different.

  • http://www.facebook.com/donna.caruso.37 Donna Caruso

    I believe it’s imperative to inform your clients if you’re booking their flights through a consolidator. I always disclose this information as it entails more restrictions on their ticket. How can a client make the right decisions without the all the correct information? And I never book for a client on our dime with or w/out a contract. I believe you’re asking for trouble doing it that way. Intentions are much more clear & concise when a client gives you their credit card information. They’re ready to commit!

  • bodega3

    I always tell my clients where the ticket will be purchased as the cancel fees will vary. I haven’t done a consolidator ticket in 2012 as their are getting lousy fares from their carriers and to save my client money, they have to pay by check/cash since credit card fees will be added, thanks to the carriers new policies. I prefer my clients have the safety net of using their credit card and just issue the ticket, with my fee and keep control of their resevation.
    I have also realized that we don’t know if a consolidator was used, just assuming or if the agency has their own contract for special fares with KLM. That latter is very possible. But please note, that contracted fares have different rules so the 24 hour policy probably doesn’t apply.

  • bodega3

    I certainly wouldn’t. Remember,we also don’t know what was disclosed on the contract.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    That doesn’t make sense. The agency’s fee for performing the service was $75 which they made. The agency wouldn’t make any additional money from booking the flight unless it was a marked up consolidator fare. If I am wrong, can one of the TAs explain my misunderstanding.

  • john4868

    Where do you see that the AGENT offered a grace period? The only thing in Chris’s story is that the OP says KLM, not the agent, offers a 24 hr grace period online.
    Again, that’s for tickets booked retail on their site. We have no idea what the T&Cs on the purchased ticket was.

  • bodega3

    If will depend on where the ticket was purchased and the rules of the fare. Once payment is given and an agency check guarantee can be an accepted form of payment between an agency and vendor, then cancel policies of the airline, the vendor and agency all have to be met. Now the agency could have been the issuer if they had a contract, separate from the GDS fares. We don’t know the terms of this or the contract. Only GDS publish fares have the 24 hour cancel policy and since a check was being used for payment, we know this wasn’t the fare being issued.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Sorry, was trying to point out that maybe travel agents were actually attending to business first thing in the morning and maybe, just maybe, taking care of an e-mail that came in on Saturday or so that might have created a situation like this one. When I worked insurance, we’d get those e-mails or voicemails and then would have to play clean-up on Monday mornings. Every once in a great while, there’d be a claim on a new vehicle that we were told about in an e-mail or voicemail – and then the fun began: were they insured or were they not insured?

    I sure don’t have a clue as to what the actually e-mails or contract said, but I’m not sanguine about this situation. I think there’s a lot left unsaid. I really appreciate the professional viewpoints expressed by you and other travel agents; it makes this story less one-sided.

  • bodega3

    Yes, for their published fares, but net/bulk, which are contracted fares have different rules. Their website would only be for published.

  • http://www.facebook.com/donna.caruso.37 Donna Caruso

    With that being said, I do believe she owes the travel agency for her ticket. She signed a contract saying so. Emailing to cancel a reservation is not being thorough. Nor is booking a new ticket before knowing that the first ticket has been cancelled w/out fees. She sounds a bit flighty to me.

  • john4868

    @GrantRitchie:disqus But Chris states that he never received the email chain so he really doesn’t know the term used. She may think “on” and “through” and synonymous but to a TA they aren’t.

  • bodega3

    I am guessing at this, but I think she used the TA, got the itinerary, went online found a better fare and then emailed for cancellation even though she signed a contract. I wouldn’t buy a client a ticket this way, but in our family business, my husband buys equipment for clients all the time using this business practice. It drives me nuts but works for the most part.

  • TonyA_says

    I challenge anyone here to tell me why she can’t cancel her ticket within 24 hours without penalty if her flight was departing at least 7 days prior. The law is clear —
    Requiring airlines to allow reservations to be held at
    the quoted fare without payment, or cancelled without penalty, for at
    least 24 hours after the reservation is made, if the reservation is made
    one week or more prior to a flight’s departure date.

  • TonyA_says

    Can you quote the DOT rule that EXEMPTS consolidators or tickets sold with BULK fares from the 24 hour cancellation rule. I keep on hearing people say this but I cannot find the exception anywhere.
    Anyway ALL the consolidators I deal with on a daily basis have a 24 hour grace period.

  • john4868

    Are you sure that the law applies when a third party, like a TA, is involved? I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t apply for bookings made with non-airlines (like consolidators).

  • TonyA_says

    Why not? By the way, there is a lot of talk here about “CONSOLIDATORS”. They are nothing but another travel agency (a very large one, indeed). I know of no law that crafts an exemption to travel agencies called a consolidator. In fact, I know of no legal description of “consolidator” of airline tickets. The DOT does not distinguish them (whoever they are) from any other travel agency.

  • TonyA_says

    The US DOT makes the rules for airline ticket sales, period.
    That said, Airlines have non-published, negotiated [at net prices] fares given to SOME agencies. These fares are also called BULK fares. These agencies (nicknamed consolidators) MARKUP these type of fares so they can make money.

    Currently, I am not aware of ANY BULK fare to Europe that an airline will accept a credit card payment for. Therefore, the agency will have to pay with CASH [to the airline].

    There are good reasons to use a BULK fare:
    (1) longer max stays allowed.
    (2) one-way fares to Europe especially are cheaper
    (3) seasons may be different than PUBLISHED fare
    (4) may be cheaper than PUBLISHED fares.

    BTW, we don’t know if a BULK fare was involved in this story.
    Also, not all travel agents can see these fares on their GDS.

    The issue in this story is whether the DOT 24 hour cancellation rule applies to the OP.

  • $16635417

    Tony,
    I can’t find it in the regs, still searching, but i did find this:

    An overview of the new rules include:

    If a reservation is made more than 7 days in advance with an airline, the reservation must be held for the quoted price for 24 hours without cancellation or price increase. This rule does not apply to ticket agents.http://tourism.about.com/od/travelagentsandagencies/a/New-Dot-Airline-Consumer-Protection-Rules.htm

  • TonyA_says

    About.com is not the DOT. The DOT publishes its rules. So IF there is an exemption it should be published by the FED GOV’T.

    Travel Agencies already have the 24 hour grace period from ARC to void a ticket. But that does not mean the DOT rules do not apply to Travel Agencies of Airlines.

  • TonyA_says

    I voted NO. A travel agency should know they have a risk with the 24 hour cancellation rule. Why didn’t they take payment prior to ticketing? Sorry if they are that stupid. I can’t think of a better or nicer term.

  • $16635417

    Agreed about.com is not the DOT. Please note in my post that I indicated I am still searching the regs.

  • TonyA_says

    Good questions, Kevin. The time stamps should prove whether she asked them to CANCEL the tickets within 24 hours (of ticketing).
    This is par for the course in selling [international] tickets. I’ve seen worse.
    Bottom line, never ticket anything without receiving a payment first.

  • TonyA_says

    Ok but we do not know if a “consolidator” [whatever that means] is involved. This is pure speculation. It is usual and customary for members of USACA to void tickets within 24 hours. I do not understand why this is an issue.

  • TonyA_says

    Ask yourself this – why was this a cash transaction in the first place?
    If I were the OP, I, too, would run away. I would like to pay with a credit card so I have some protection. So, that is exactly what she did – buy ONLINE with a credit card (I suppose).

    RULE #1 to CONSUMERS – always pay your airline ticket with a credit card!

  • Lindabator

    Her liability depends upon the terms of the ticket, and her possible relationship with the vendor. Yes, it is ethical to charge a service fee on ANY airline ticket, as the revenue stream is based on the service fee – a consolidator, same as an airline, pays no commissions, so the service fee in essence IS the commission.

  • Lindabator

    The terms & conditions MAY have been clearly spelled out in the contract she signed (and failed to read). And I sell consolidator fares quite often, I just let the clients know that the terms and conditions are different from standard tickets (if that is the case).

  • Lindabator

    We don’t know WHAT she asked the agent – the agent offered the flights, and she then agreed to them – she may not have bothered to read the terms & conditions in the contract, for all we know.

  • Lindabator

    Actually, these tickets generally save the client a lot of money, and have no higher change fees, etc. But yes, they may not be able to cancel them in 24 hours – however, those terms & conditions would be spelled out by the agent – for all we know it was – in that contract she signed and failed to read. I book these fares for clients all the time – and they love the savings – I just ensure they know all terms & conditions in advance. :)

  • $16635417

    Agreed it’s usual and customary, but is it required? Someone at about dot com read the regs and thinks agents are exempt. I may search later, nothing more fun than reading government regulations!

    I love to hear the agency’s side of the story to see why they chose to go against the usual and customary.

  • Lindabator

    I never would – I always let a client know if I find them a better bargain thru a 3rd party where a different set of rules apply, but there is really nothing unethical about selling these tickets. If it saves a client money, and gives an agent a chance to make something for the sale, its a win-win overall.

  • Lindabator

    Of course, that is based on the type of ticket purchased, and whether or not this was actually “24 hours” Since she can’t be bothered to read the contracts she signs, I doubt she can be bothered to ensure she cancels within the actual window either. And I work with a lot of consolidators, and not ALL have the 24 cancel – although most of mine do, or will bend their rules due to our relationship. Don’t think we are getting the full story here, though.

  • Lindabator

    But consolidators CHARGE for the use of a credit card, voiding all savings in some cases – which is why the agency asked for a check – pretty standard nowadays with consolidators.

  • Lindabator

    When purchasing a PUBLISHED airfare – read the terms & conditions of consolidator tickets – they are different in most cases.

  • Lindabator

    And if you book with Delta Vacations, they then become the consolidator – and guess what? They have different rules, too.

  • Lindabator

    Where did you see that – certainly in NOTHING listed above. You are making a grand assumption, and nothing above even suggests that was the case – reread it!

  • Lindabator

    True – but did she pop off an email after midnight the same night it should have been cancelled? She may have considered that sufficient, but it may not have met any time limits either. We really need more info on this one.

  • Lindabator

    Perhaps making assumptions was her problem – for all we know, the terms & conditions were clearly stated in that contract she signed, and failed to read. Again, we really need a look-see at that here.