Hey Travelocity, where the $#*!@ is my money?

Tenaya Newkirk wants her money back from Travelocity. But instead of offering her a quick refund, it’s giving her excuses.

Here’s the backstory: In December, she booked a flight from Denver to Fort Lauderdale on United Airlines. Then United canceled the flight and she asked for refund.

“United agreed to issue a refund through Travelocity,” she explains. “Travelocity also agreed to this, and sent me an email to that effect. Travelocity verbally promised a six- to eight-week timeline for the refund.”

But nine weeks later, no money. She started making calls.

That’s when Travelocity decided to change its story.

Now they say that it was United’s responsibility the whole time. United continues to say that it is Travelocity’s responsibility to refund the money as it was Travelocity who originally received it.

Numerous phone calls to both places have netted no results, and I am concerned that they will continue to blame each other while I lose over $700.

I find that problematic. From my perspective as a consumer advocate, Travelocity took her money and it should return it just as quickly — no excuses.

I contacted Travelocity on Newkirk’s behalf. It didn’t respond. (In fact, Travelocity hasn’t responded to any of my inquiries since Dec. 22 of last year. Hello? Anyone home?)

Several weeks after my inquiry, a Travelocity representative contacted her. It’s difficult to say if the online travel agency was responding to her original inquiry or mine; at any rate, the news wasn’t good.

“They say that they have processed the refund and that I might expect it within 45 days,” she told me. “They have had this money now for 11 weeks, and I think that six more weeks is unreasonable.”

I agree.

According to the government, an airline ticket should be refunded promptly if you paid by credit card.

When a refund is due, the airline must forward a credit to your card company within seven business days after receiving a complete refund application. If you paid by credit card for a refundable fare and you have trouble getting a refund that you are due, report this in writing to your credit card company.

Problem is, the seven-day rule only applies to a refundable fare. Technically, Newkirk’s fare wasn’t refundable.

As far as refunds on other tickets, they usually take between two to three credit card billing cycles, which makes Newkirk’s wait time considerably longer than normal.

But it could be much worse. I’ve dealt with cases that have taken a yeareven two.

There’s really no excuse for Newkirk’s hold-up. As I’ve said before, these delays are not only self-serving, allowing the company to keep your money a little longer to pad its balance sheet, but they also send a clear message to customers that your money doesn’t matter unless they’re on the receiving end.

Refunds should be made as quickly as the money is taken from your account. Have they left that gnome in charge of customer service?

Update: The Fly Rights publication I referenced has been updated to reflect that all airline tickets should be refunded within a week, not just refundable fares. Newkirk should dispute this charge on her credit card.

Update (6/22): After this post appeared, Travelocity contacted Newkirk and offered her a voucher. Today, she received a full refund.

(Photo: Ian Ker shaw/Flickr Creative Commons)

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 chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • sirwired

    Two things here:
    1) With most travel agents (I’m not sure about Travelocity), the airline is actually the one that pulls the money out of the account.  If you look at your credit card statement, the charge should be the airline instead of the agency.
    2) I think the refund promptness rule still applies.  If the airline cancels the flight, changes operator, or changes the schedule significantly, the flight now IS refundable, regardless of the original fare class.  I think a complaint to the DOT is in order.

  • http://www.facebook.com/daryl.laux Daryl Warner Laux

    I won’t be using Travelocity any time soon.

  • LadySiren

    Wait – if she paid by credit card, couldn’t she have just done a chargeback? She didn’t receive the services she paid for, therefore, I’d think her CC company would side with her in a dispute.

    I’d have called both companies and said I was initiating a chargeback immediately if a refund didn’t show up in a timely fashion.

  • Eric

    Classic stall tactic on the part of Travelocity.  They were trying to stall the OP beyond her window of opportunity to file a dispute with her CC.  Unfortunately, they succeeded.

    If you’re waiting for a company to refund a charge to your credit card, never, ever let that dispute window pass without filing a dispute.  Call your bank to find out what the rules are for filing a dispute.  If the merchant comes thru with your refund three days after you send the letter, you can call and withdraw the dispute.  But never hold off on sending that letter to give a company the benefit of the doubt. 

    And lastly, trust your gut, not what any company tells you. If your gut tell you they’re stringing you along, they probably are.

  • DavidS

    Travel agents do not have the money. They process the transaction on behalf of the airlines. They can also process the refund…on behalf of the airline.

    That being said, the airline does have the credit card information and could also process the refund. Airlines choose to push any travel agency booking back to the travel agent when further processing is required. This saves them the manpower cost of processing hundreds/thousands of transactions.

    In this case, the customer used an online booking engine. In my opinion, most online booking engines do not operate as most people expect a travel agency to operate. Airlines lump online booking engines and brick and mortar agencies the same group.

    I usually advise people to use any online booking engine they can to find the best fare/routing combination they like and then book directly on the airlines website.

  • BillC

    It is still incredible that companies claim that they cannot refund money promptly. Anything more than a day or two after they agree to a refund is either pure incompetence or borderline scamming. I can walk into a Walmart and have my CC refunded immediately if I return an item.

  • Tom

    Slow rolling tactics are usually used by companies with cash flow problems.

  • http://www.dmuth.org/ Douglas Muth

    Chargebacks need to be done with 60 days of the billing statement that the charge appears on.  So if the complainant booked a trip several months in advance, too much time would have elapsed in order to do a chargeback.  In fact, I cannot help but wonder if Travelocity said there was a “6 to 8 week wait” in order to INTENTIONALLY run down the chargeback clock.

    If I were in this situation, my next step would be to complain to my state’s Attorney General’s office, specially the Consumer Affairs division. (Pennsylvania’s is at http://www.attorneygeneral.gov/consumers.aspx)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1556838763 Nancy Marine Dickinson

    I’m with Eric here, as well as some of the other posters – I would have initiated a chargeback were the refund to take any longer than a week.  If Travelocity/United had her credit card number they should have processed this refund almost immediately.  Any longer than that and they are stalling.  They gain a significantly higher interest rate on their money than you or I will. The longer they hang on to OPM (other people’s money), the more they can earn on it in the form of interest.

    Many years ago, the military were paid on the 15th and the last day of the month.  During a government, uh, let’s call it financial difficulty, they held off paying the military members until the 1st of the month and discovered they made millions in interest.  Therefore, they started doing it that way.

    This was borderline fraudulent, IMHO.

  • Bill Ford

    This is a total cop-out by the airline. All travel agents, including online, are required to pay the airline within 24 hours of sale. So, the airline always holds the money. A travel agent has to get the money back from the airline to make any refunds. Airlines just use the excuse that refunds have to be done by the agency so they can avoid hiring sufficient personal to process refunds, and to delay the refund process as long as possible.

  • bodega

    Travelocity reports tickets to ARC.  When a tickets gets refunded, the process goes throught the GDS and every Tuesday an ARC report is done.  The airline then gets the refund request and depending on the billing cycle of the credit card, the credit card holder will see the refund on their next statement or the one following.  So we always say to allow 6-8 weeks.
    The OP’s statement that Travelocity has their money for 11 weeks in incorrect.  No money gets sent to Travelocity as the transaction was made by a credit card.  Glitches do happen and I have had to followup when a client notifies me that no credit has shown up on their statements, but that is a rare occurance.

  • Josh

    While they may not be legally required to in all cases, many credit card companies will accept legitimate disputes regardless of the timeframe or location.

    But yes, stalling tactics this are why a dispute/chargeback should be one of the *first* things you do in a situation like this — start the process with the airline/agent, then (maybe giving them 2-3 days) call the credit card company and explain.  When I did this with a United double charge that took a few weeks to get credited, they took the charge off my bill immediately, sent me the paperwork for the dispute but said to hold off on filling it out — if/when United processed the refund (which they did), it’d automatically cancel the dispute (which it did), no harm, no foul.

  • Josh

    Chris — I think you’re misinterpreting the government website — or they may have added clarifying text recently?  The paragraph you quoted now reads:

    If you paid by credit card for a refundable fare and you have
    trouble getting a refund that you are due (e.g., you have a refundable fare, or
    you have a nonrefundable fare and the airline canceled your flight and you did
    not travel as a result), report this in writing to your credit card company.

    The part in parenthesis is key, and may have been added since you don’t quote it — it seems clear that a nonrefundable ticket automatically becomes refundable when the flight is cancelled and should be treated the same way.

    Even the government is saying that you should dispute the charge if you don’t get a prompt refund.

  • Bill

    Airline refunds should take no longer than one week.  In fact, they should be done almost immediately.  There’s no excuse for these long waiting times, none at all.
    If they can’t refund quickly, their authority to fly should be revoked, plain and simple.

  • LFH

    The “seven day rule” is not limited to so-called “refundable” fares.

    The question of whether Ms. Newkirk was entitled to a refund is governed by the Contract of Carriage (or the “tariff,” as it is referred to by United Air Lines). That Contract is available on the United website at http://www.united.com/ual/asset/COC12FEB07.pdf. Within the Contract, Rule 260 permits a refund (known as an “involuntary refund”) under certain circumstances. Among those circumstances are those outlined in Rule 240 (failure to operate on schedule or failure to carry), the very circumstances that applied to Ms. Newkirk’s intended travel. Rule 260 applies to all transportation, whether pursuant to a “refundable fare” or a “non-refundable fare.” Thus, Ms. Newkirk was entitled to a refund.

    The question of timeliness of Mr. Newkirk’s refund is governed by the regulations adopted by the U.S. Department of Transportation. In late 2009, the USDOT adopted new regulations enhancing airline passenger protections, such regulations taking effect in April 2010. 74 Fed. Reg. 68,983 (Dec. 30, 2009) (available online at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2009-12-30/pdf/E9-30615.pdf). Among the regulations adopted is one that requires airlines to adopt a “Customer Service Plan,” each Plan being mandated to address the provision of prompt ticket refunds. 14 C.F.R. § 256.5(b)(5) (available online at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2011-title14-vol4/pdf/CFR-2011-title14-vol4-sec259-5.pdf). United adopted such a Plan (available online at the United website, http://www.united.com/page/article/0,,2981,00.html), and within its Plan, United states, “When refunds are allowed, we will process requests in a timely manner and refund the purchase price, less any applicable service fees, to the original form of payment. . . . If you used a credit card to make your purchase we will submit the request for a refund to the credit card issuer within seven business days of receiving your completed request for refund.” (Commitment 5, available online at http://www.united.com/page/article/0,6722,1510,00.html). United makes no distinction in its commitment to make a prompt refund between fares that are “refundable” and fares that are “non-refundable.” Nor does United state that tickets purchased through an agent will have the refund sent to the agent (rather, the commitment is that United will refund to the original form of payment, e.g., a credit card.

    Elliott gives too much credit to United. The carrier had no right to delay Ms. Newkirk’s refund for a non-refundable fare. The carrier had no right to demand that the refund be sent to Ms. Newkirk’s agent, Travelocity, instead of being issued to Ms. Newkirk directly. United should be taken to the woodshed.

  • Byron Cooper

    I cannot see what added value Travelocity, Expedia, or other online travel agencies bring to the reservation process. They often charge a small fee and provide nothing in return. I recently booked an international trip on united.com and made a mistake on the itinerary. I called United and they told me there was a 24 hour grace period and United promptly refunded everything. The correct itinerary was no longer available on United, but was available on Continental, even though the two airlines are merging.
    I agree with the other posts that the charge would have shown up as a 
    United charge. A copy of the flight cancellation would probably have been sufficient to charge back the fee to United. It may not be too late. It probably makes sense to copy the customer service department at United.

  • Tony A.

    Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz (Real Online Ticketing Travel Agencies) do have a big role to play – they allow COMPARISON shopping (not just lead aggregation) across different airlines. They also allow COMBINATIONS and ADD ONs not offered by the airlines. That said, it’s up to the purchaser if they wish to purchase what they see in OTA websites or hop over to the airline’s site and buy there. (I’m not sure about the ethics of doing this.)

    As far as non-refundable ticket refunds are concerned, the general rule is that travel agencies are NOT authorized to do it unless the airline instructs them to do so and gives them a WAIVER AUTHORIZATION CODE. Most of the U.S. based airlines (e.g. United) tells passengers to apply for a refund (due to Rule 240/80 issues) directly with the airline’s website. In other words, the airlines themselves process the refunds.
    How and why Travelocity got involved in a cancelled flight refund is beyond me as the passenger can have easily requested the refund in this webpage https://travel.united.com/erefunds/manualRefund.action.

    Lot’s of folks seem to want to blame Travelocity for this snafu. In my opinion the only mistake Travelocity did was it did not emphatically required the customer to request the refund using the above United webpage. That would have been the cleanest and easiest way to do it.

  • Joe Farrell

    whaddya mean the fare isn’t refundable?  Of course it is – a non-refundable fare becomes refundable under certain conditions – one of which is the cancellation of the flight – which means – voila – the DOT rule is applicable. 

    Why anyone would do anything other than simply challenge the charge on the credit card and let the bank worry about it is beyond me –

    you cannot mediate with a company that has decided to not respond to you – so honestly that choice is a waste of time – challenge the charge while you still have time to do so – and be done with it . . .

  • Joe Farrell

    sometimes – and only sometimes – Travelocity and Expedia have access to inventory that is sold out on the airline website and this can get you a lower fare – that being said – how many times do you try to book a fare on Travelocity which when you hit book you get a ‘no longer available’ and then you do another search and its still there?  C’mon – thats just a sophisticated bait and switch

  • bodega

    Refunds usually have to go through the place of purchase and that means it goes through a report with the necessary waiver codes.  Once the refund is ‘in process’ it is then in the airline’s lap. 

  • bodega

    When you see a fare on Travelocity, you are not seeing live inventory.  You are booking through a portal, which is a request, not a booking until the message is sent, searched and returned.  Only direct access on a GDS or an airline’s website gives live inventory.

  • Sershev

    You should dispute the charge with the credit card.

  • Byron Cooper

    I agree with you. United is responsible for the refund. I was trying to make a more general point, though. It is easier to fix a problem with a full service travel agent, or when you are dealing directly with the airline. For example, my daughter made a reservation with Expedia to and from college. She made a mistake and recognized it within ten minutes. Expedia would not allow her to correct the mistake so she charged it back on her credit card. In the case we are talking about, the problem is with the airline and they should correct it, even at this late date.

  • Raven

    Just another reason not to use Travelocity.

  • Tony A.

    For consumers, refunding an unused or partially used ticket (due to rule 240/80) is very confusing. Each airline has its own rules and procedures. For example, AA has this stipulation:
    Schedule Change-Rule 240/80 refunds must be processed by American Airlines via the online refund request form. Refer to the Refunds section below. Travel agencies are never allowed to process a refund of a non-refundable ticket on a Rule 240/80 via their ARC/BSP.  American Airlines Reservations Representatives may not authorize exceptions to this policy. Change fee does not apply.There is an exception for Bulk (Negotiated) Fares.Source: http://www.aa.com/i18n/agency/Booking_Ticketing/Reaccom/rule_240_80.jspIn my opinion, travel agents need to know when to insert themselves in between the airline and the passenger when it comes to refunds.

  • Tony A.

    Travel agents usually have 24 hours (a day) to void a ticket and reverse the credit card charges. Usually, if you need an itinerary change, the agency needs to reissue a new ticket. Sometimes, depending on the airline, a change in the passenger NAME (e.g. wrong spelling) requires a reissue. So you cannot just say that Expedia cannot make changes that a typical travel agent can do. It depends on what is needed to be changed.

  • bodega

    The last ticket I refunded was a nonrefundable ticket and it was done through ARC.  Are you a ticket issuing agent Tony?  Doesn’t sound like it. 

  • Metapoet2000-travel

    Travelocity’s behavior is unethical and inexcusable. I’ve been a Travelocity customer for years but will now switch my business elsewhere.

  • Ckbtvl

    With 57 years in this business I know when a credit card is used by a real live travel agent, not the internet ones with a foreign answereng service, the refund is made to the card, not to the agency. When a ticket is paid for by check / cash, then the agency gets the refund to deliver to the client. Now Travelocity may be charging the card and paying United, that I do not know. But I sure do love it when they mess up, because real live ASTA agents really do rock!

  • Tenaya Newkirk

    This has (finally) been resolved, and I received the refund today (after over three months).  I did contact two Attorneys General (one from my home state, and the other in Texas wherein Travelocity’s Customer Service department is based).  I also contacted the Better Business Bureau, my bank, four local television stations, and, of course, Christopher Elliott.  Thanks to all who posted helpful advice.

  • ThatGirl

    Anybody have issues where they tried to book, couldn’t due to an issue (in my case it wouldn’t process due to exceeding the daily limit for my card), but then Travelocity placed a huge hold on their account? I have been fighting with them via email and phone (thanks for outsourcing that, btw!) and never receive any help. I have contacted my bank to lift the hold, but they are not able to do so. Of course, since this is the money I was going to spend on a trip I can’t even book somewhere at all until they release money they have no right to tie up in the first place.
    Beyond contacting them as mentioned above, I have filed a complaint with the BBB. Anyone else have any suggestions? While I don’t think it’s technically illegal, it certainly is shady. 

  • Philip Brown

    Please see my comments about Travelocity & Spirit Air in the forum about Code-sharing, With these types of unethical & un-emapthetic business paractices; I hope no harm comes to the gnome…
    Muchas gracias,
    Philip C. Brown

  • Blair

    Same exact thing happened to me with Travelocity. Refund was issued by the airline, and months later, i still don’t have a refund. I have called Travelocity repeatedly. Two weeks ago they told me I’d have my refund within a week. Still no refund. I didn’t have a choice using Travelocity because rewards travel through my credit card uses Travelocity exclusively. Filed a complaint with BBB. Nothing will speed this up. I am furious.