I paid for tickets on the wrong airline

Question: I planned an once-in-a-lifetime trip for my two children and me to South Africa a few months ago. I used a travel agency to book my airline tickets.

My travel agent told me the flight was made with American Airlines. As the date got closer, I called American and was told the booking was there but hadn’t been paid. I was very upset and immediately confirmed and paid for the reservation.

At the time I was dealing with a family illness, which made the situation more difficult.

When I called my travel agent, I found out they had changed the flight arrangements to British Airways. I called American Airlines less than 24 hours later to cancel the reservation I had made. The person on the phone did cancel my reservation and I was told my children’s reservation, which was separate from mine, was canceled as well. I was charged $2,187 for each of my children’s tickets. The tickets were never used.

I’d like American to either refund the tickets or transfer them to me or to my husband. It is unreasonable that the tickets are not being refunded or at least transferable to me and my husband. American will only allow my children to use the flight credits after adding a $250 change fee. Can you help? — Laurie Spear, Boca Raton, Fla.

Answer: Whoa, talk about getting your wires crossed! It sounds as if there was a completely preventable breakdown in communication between you and your travel agent.

Your agent should have told you which airline you were flying to South Africa on. But you should have contacted the agency before confirming the flight with your airline. The reason you deal with a trusted intermediary to book your airline tickets is that they provide an extra service. An agent can confirm your flights, make a change to your reservation, answer any questions about your itinerary and fix a flight if there’s a problem.

Your agent would have been on the hook to buy you a new ticket if somehow American Airlines wasn’t paid for the ticket on time.

Stepping in and “fixing” it without first consulting with your agent made the problem worse. Given the difficult situation you were in at the time, I can’t blame you for just paying for the ticket.

But the real problem was American Airlines. You asked it to cancel all of your tickets, but it only processed one itinerary. There are ways of verifying a cancellation. Companies will often offer a cancellation number or some other verification that the tickets have been refunded, such as an email. When you didn’t get a confirmation from American, you should have called back.

Actually, you should have asked your agent to handle the cancellation. That’s what you’re paying them for, after all.

Most airlines will refund a ticket if you call within 24 hours to cancel, but after that, they’ll offer a credit minus a change fee, which can only be used by the ticketed passenger.

Given your personal circumstances and the problems with your travel agency, I thought American should take another look at your case. It did and it decided to make an exception to its policy. It issued new flight vouchers that could be used by anyone and are valid for a year from the date of their issue. You’ll still have to pay the cancellation fee, but you’ll no longer have to use the tickets for your children.

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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  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    This one was the easiest poll to answer in a long time. I’d change the wording to “who was the ONLY person to blame”. LOL. I’m glad that AA did the right thing and loosened restrictions on her, though, seeing as she is graphically-impaired. Every transaction was “they told me”, “I called them”, etc. Has she never heard of getting anything in writing? I’m highly doubtful her TA would’ve simply changed airlines on her without giving her any notice, though. Does anyone else find that strange?


  • http://www.bangaloreaviation.com/ Devesh Agarwal

    As in life, but more so in travel, do not open multiple channels of communication. If for any reason you do, then ensure you have them synced.

  • Philippa_FRA

    Let me guess; the “family illness situation” was “loss of common sense” and Ms Spear had caught it too?

    Seriously, she happily hands over more than $6000 – which she has already paid once!? – without hesitation. If the “family illness situation” did not prevent her from calling the airline to check up on her trip, why did it prevent her from calling her travel agent? Lame excuse. It’s nothing but dumb luck she gets away with only paying the cancellation fees.

  • $16635417

    I’m curious if the itineraries were different. It’s possible the AA and BA bookings were the same flights due to the fact AA code shares with BA into South Africa. We don’t know what was said between the TA and the OP, was an itinerary and e-ticket receipt from the travel agent provided and passed onto Chris?

  • Raven_Altosk

    I’m not sure how “family illness” fits into this story unless it’s a case of the stupids. If she could call the airline during her “family illness” which brought her stress, she could’ve called the agent.

    That said…what the heck? Why didn’t she trust the agent? Who was the agent? Was it some online big box that she’s calling an “agent” or what?!?!

    As far as “changing airlines” on her goes…I’m wondering if this was a code share situation?

    IDK…I think she got more than she deserved.

  • Philippa_FRA

    It sounds like it could very well be a code share situation.

    Or, considering how this woman seems to be reaching conclusions, perhaps she saw an AA flyer at the booking office?!

  • MikeInCtown

    How in the world does someone pay $5-$10k to a travel agent for a trip and then NOT call them first thing when they are told the flights weren’t paid for? I don’t care if my own mom had died, the T/A would be the FIRST person I would call to make it all right.

    And wow, less than 24 hours till they asked to cancel and all they got was a travel voucher? that’s a hefty sum… I’d be going crazy if I had that much outstanding $$$ on a CC I had to pay because I couldn’t get a refund.

  • http://www.eyeonannapolis.net/ John Frenaye

    Chris–just a comment. Your suggestion to have the agent cancel the second reservation was not a good one. Agents only have access and “control” over reservations they actually ticketed. The only way around that is to pretend you are the passenger and cancel it–a practice that is done, but that I never recommend.

    Certainly the agent could have assisted her in cancelling the reservatiosn–telling her what to ask for, look for, and whispering in her ear.

  • Sue Keirsbilck Tanea

    She didn’t notice that she had been charged for the original tickets?? This doesn’t sound right. If the agent had booked her on BA she would have been charged. I know I would miss that amount in my bank account…

  • BillCCC

    Expensive lesson week continues at the TT.  I don’t think that there is any comment I could make that already hasn’t been made. Usually you would advise that a traveller use a TA to avoid these type of problems, what do you do when the traveller causes these problems?

  • Kotch11

    You really think you have heard it all till something like this comes up.  She’s just so lucky she got anything. Sometimes I guess we just have to save people from themselves

  • Joe Julio

    jfrenaye, i think you missed a step in the story.  The agent DID make both reservations so would have access and control.  The only thing the agent did not do was apply the payment to the AA reservation.

  • http://twitter.com/vipalpinetours Christina Ernst

    As a travel expert I cannot see the agent not going over all options and giving the client a clear print out, especially for an international ticket. I am curious if the agent booked it through a consolidator – third party. But the bottom line is the client should have always trusted the agent and never contacted the airline directly. This undermines everything the agent stands for. Yes, the agent would have been the one to make it right. That’s what we do, and an agent always has the client as their #1 focus. In 20 years I have never had a client not have everything in writing from me or not contact me if they have had a question that could not be resolved. If you use an agent allow them to do their job.

  • Charlie Funk


  • Charlie Funk

    I am lost as a ball in high weeds.  The OP states ” I called American and was told the booking was there but hadn’t been paid.”  Yet she then called back, cancelled the reservation THAT WASN’T PAID FOR and she lost all her money.  How is that possible? Either it was paid for or it wasn’t.  And the reply suggesting a BA codeshare is almost certainly spot on with what was going on.

  • IGoEverywhere

    There is no way in HELL that an airline should be able to release any information that was made through a travel agent to anybody. I have seen it once with the excuse that “it is our resevation” and I had that employee beat with a wet noodle. The traveler complicated everything in this matter. You either work with angent or an airline, or muck it up majorly.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/OFNH3UW2DA4KRMHR732ZV7HCUY Valerie

    Wow you helped her out but wouldn’t consider my ordeal. I was left stranded in an airport overnight with two children due to the airline putting me on a flight where there was no way I could make a connecting flight. Amazing.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I recall your case, Valerie. Your plane was delayed because of bad weather, and you were provided with a hotel room. I did help you by connecting you with someone at Southwest, who reviewed your case. You heard back from the airline, and it offered you a voucher. You wanted a full refund. I did not feel Southwest would do that for you, even if I asked. I’m sorry you continue to be disappointed with that resolution.

  • Rosered7033

    1)  OP pays for BA flights TA made; 2) OP duplicates & pays for BOOKED flights with (codeshare) AA; 3) TA cannot cancel AA flights, as OP made them; 4)  OP cancels AA flights within 24 hrs. Yes, OP is to blame, but I don’t understand 1)  how AA can duplicate a BA itinerary that was paid for (I assume AA & BA share info on codeshare flights); 2) why a booking was still on AA’s books, apparently some time after it should have dropped for non-payment; 3) why AA wasn’t more lenient in the first place, as the booking was cancelled within 24 hrs.  OP’s fault, for sure, but there are some questions.

  • y_p_w

    I’ve had plans unilaterally changed on me before.  We were on a multi-city tour in a foreign country where we decided not to join the rest of the group for something and explored on our own.  We had the itinerary with the name of the hotel, and we took a taxi to get there.

    By the time we got there, they didn’t have our name and they indicated that the tour company had cancelled their reservations for the group at this hotel.  We had the cell phone number for our tour guide and the hotel manager was really helpful even though we weren’t going to be staying.  He let us you their phone to contact our tour guide, who told us that the hotel had been changed to another place across town.  The tour guide already knew this when we separated from the group, but failed to tell us.

    Personally we weren’t too happy about it.  We were out a little bit of time and the cost of an extra taxi ride.  However, we did find a hotel that was very gracious even though we weren’t paying customers.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    No good deed goes unpunished.  Valerie sounds like someone who will never be satisfied regardless.

    Its offensive that people liek Valerie think that you are obligated to help them. If she want someone who is obligated to help she should have hired an attorney.

  • Bill Armstrong

    This is a pretty strange one.  If you’re going to use a travel agent, then use a travel agent …if you’re not, then don’t, but for goodness sake, don’t use yourself AND a travel agent.

    As for Chris’s statement about the travel agent being “on the hook” if they weren’t paid, I had an episode like that years ago.  Amex travel wouldn’t take ownership of the problem at all.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HMW3OTJSBDWWRKIEKEKWWM7BEA bc

    Chris, some people will never be happy. Keep up the good work. 

  • bodega3

    Since AA gave voucher, this is a legitimate letter to Chris. Otherwise I would have thought this was a joke.

    Who is the ‘they’ who moved the OP from AA to BA after ticketing? This doesn’t make sense, so something is missing.  Also, why wouldn’t the OP use the point of sale, the agent who she called to handle the arrangements? 

    Also, why were the children in a separate reservation?  You can put up to 9 people in a PNR.  Since the OP mentioned this was a trip of a lifetime I am assuming the children are traveling both ways with the parents on the same flights.  Again, something isn’t right here and details are missing. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HMW3OTJSBDWWRKIEKEKWWM7BEA bc

    Valerie, are you always so condescending and self-entitled, or is today special? You seem like a piece of work, saying you were “Stranded with two small children” when you were given a freaking hotel room (something the airline did not have to do since the weather isn’t exactly in their control) is such a blatant exaggeration you should be ashamed of yourself. Then to come here and bash Chris for providing you free assistance? 

    What about the other passengers, who didn’t use their children as emotional tools to manipulate the airline into giving them free rooms? Consider yourself lucky, and move on. 

    You are the perfect example of the “Bad Consumer”.

  • Michael__K

    Has she never heard of getting anything in writing?


    Shouldn’t travel agents be expected to automatically provide something in writing (or email)?  Does that happen only on special request?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HMW3OTJSBDWWRKIEKEKWWM7BEA bc

    Where are all the “you should have used a travel agent” people now? 

    This is what I was referring to in the last couple stories, no matter how good a travel agent is you can’t account for lack of common sense.  

  • $16635417

    Actually, that is what I was referring to in my original response. Did the OP have any itinerary or e-ticket receipt from their travel agent? Do we know this was a real brick and mortar agent or just a travel booking website? OP called the airline, quickly jumpred to a conclusion only to find the TA had something booked.

  • ClareClare

    It’s true, there are some humongous gaps in the OP’s story line here, but the AA-to-BA switcheroo leaves me wondering: perhaps the OP called the airline on her own because she either (a) had been trying to deal with the TA on the phone and was suspicious that things had somehow been screwed up, and wanted to doublecheck, OR (b) the TA wasn’t returning her calls?  Both have certainly happened to me in the past–I once had to sue a TA in small-claims, and the TA was so unbelievably incompetent that the judge sat on the bench, listening to the TA’s incoherent (and unsuccessful) defense, with his mouth hanging open.  I’m not totally excusing the OP here by any means; just suggesting that issues with a sketchy TA may have prompted this whole mess…

    I once arranged with a TA (a different one) to fly out of DCA in DC, and she agreed and confirmed it over the phone–and then mailed me tickets flying out of IAD, many miles away.  I couldn’t tell in advance from the CC charge, since the airline was the same and the price was comparable!  So this sort of garbage does happen.

  • johnb78

    I’m completely baffled by the story here. Given the incomprehensibility of the traveler’s letter to Chris, it’s not surprising the airline had no clue what she was up to either.

    I don’t understand why BA have any relevance at all. Since last year, BA and AA can sell tickets interchangeably on transatlantic routes, so it doesn’t matter in the slightest whether she’s flying on a silver plane or a white one with a stripey tail. And if you buy a codeshare ticket, then right up until check-in it’s the selling airline, not the operating airline, who deals with 100% of your issues.

  • Steve_in_WI

    Wow. Unless there is information that she left out (for instance, if her travel agent had been unreachable), I don’t see how this is anything but the customer’s fault or why she would try to handle the reservations herself. Even if she had successfully handled the reservations – that’s what she’s paying the TA to do!

    As someone else said, why would you use a travel agent and then try to handle things yourself? I can understand checking in with American to make sure that the flight was confirmed on their end, but when she was told that her flight hadn’t been paid for, the first thing she should have done was hang up and call the TA.

  • $16635417

    I was wondering if the OP was confused over codeshares and thought she was on AA all the way (even though AA does not got to South Africa). I am not going to buy the “switcheroo” scenario just yet. 

  • Good_ol_Cali

    I agree with question #2! Shouldn’t the AA flight have been cancelled for non-payment after a short while (especially with the weeks between the 2 events, as it sounds like in the story)?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HMW3OTJSBDWWRKIEKEKWWM7BEA bc

    I don’t think there’s any gaps, I mean, she had to make up a “family sickness” excuse for her behavior, if the TA was MIA surely she would have used that as an excuse as well. 

    This is someone who panicked when they thought a flight wasn’t booked and paid for a reservation and rather than calling the TA first she took action and made matters worse. 

    All this codeshare discussion is nonsense and nothing more than speculation. 

  • Raven_Altosk

    This x 1000.
    I wish I could like this a 1000 times, too.

  • SooZeeQ

    If you are going to use a travel agent, then use them all of the way.

    They should have called the agent after talking to AA and it would have not been a mess.

  • TonyA_says

    Who the heck is Valerie? Do you have a link to her case?

  • Asiansm Dan

    As she used a TA, the TA should inform her of any change in the itinerary as soon as the change occur. Sure she would have called her TA first, may be she had difficulty to reach her TA that why she called the Airlines.  We are the tiny part of the population who understand the  complexity of the today Tower-of-Babel travel industries and don’t assume that everybody have a computer or an iPhone. Computer illiterates occupy a much larger part of the population that we thought. Once awhile, I even encounter some folks cannot even read or write.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Oh, you’re one of those breeder-non-parents. You think the world owes you something above and beyond the rest of us because you have CHILDREN. Well, guess what, cupcake…airlines NEVER give hotel rooms out when delays/cancelations are weather related.

    You were very fortunate (or perhaps just annoying enough to a gate agent) to receive one. You even got a voucher from SWA, but that’s not good enough because you have CHILDREN! You rode the plane, but you want a full refund? 

    Seriously lady, if you can’t handle the occasional weather delay, stay out of the skies. No one MADE you fly with your CHILDREN…that’s a choice.

    So, in conclusion:
    You are the breeder-non-parent that other people DREAD. You are probably the same woman who demands that strangers help her with her unruly kids and all their kid junk because YOU are ENTITLED.

    Sit down and let the adults talk.
    Kthnx baibai.

  • Raven_Altosk

    She got a hotel room AND a voucher for a weather related delay!??!?  And she’s complaining?!?!?


  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    Wow, as JamesinPhenomPenh said, this was one of the easiest to vote on in a LONG time.

    And Raven’s comment was priceless – “a case of the stupids”!  I almost spewed my tea on that one!

    Like so many others here, if she was using a travel agent, why didn’t she go on using the travel agent?  It’s when one attempts to intervene in the process and inner workings of another’s job that things get mucked up.  

    I think using a “a family illness” was an attempt at evoking sympathy, nothing more, and when people do this, it makes it difficult for those of us experiencing a sincere family crisis.

    AA was FAR too kind in this situation and I believe they were buying Chris’s goodwill rather than that of the OP.  Chris should have filed this one in the round file but he’s apparently more empathetic than I.  Hopefully, someone at AA is reading this and seeing had this gone the other way and the OP got a kick in the rear from them the rest of us would have perfectly fine with that.

    I used to micro-manage like this when I was younger and came to realize I didn’t need to do this – this is why we all have “people” to manage things for us.

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    Wish I could like this more than once…

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    Uh, what?

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    Apparently, she was expecting a five course meal, limo service (in an actual limo – not a van) to and from and then back again to the airport.

    Sorry, your highness…

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    Raven, I wish you and I lived near each other so we could go sit in coffee shops and hack on the idiots of the world…

  • SoBeSparky

    Fire the travel agent.  Changing arrangements for a “once-in-a-lifetime-trip” without telling the customer?  Unforgivable.  A travel agent’s job is to keep the customer informed at all times.  

  • Rosered7033

    See above comment from her, followed by comment by Christopher Elliott.

  • $16635417

    Actually, a codeshare HAS to play into it somehow. (To what extent is the question.) AA does not fly to South Africa, they use British Airways as a codeshare partner via London.

  • Philippa_FRA

    Perhaps they were adult children living out-of-state and departing from a different airport than the OP?

    But yes, there’s a whole lot of things that don’t make sense here. I wonder why Elliott always leaves out this kind of basic information!?

  • Raven_Altosk

    Me too. That sounds like fun, Nancy!