An early termination fee — and now, a collection agency

Cellular tower, waiting to be disconnected. / Photo by Gary Lerude – Flickr

Question: I am having problems with Verizon Wireless and I hope you can help me. A few months ago, I heard about a way to get out of my contract without paying an early termination fee. Verizon was changing the terms of its contract by increasing a regulatory fee, and we had 60 days to opt out.
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Is this enough compensation? Orbitz calls off its collection agency, but …

Ah, the perils of being your own travel agent.

Polly Pedersen knows about them all too well after she tried to book airline tickets from Philadelphia to Detroit on Orbitz.

“A screen came up saying ‘technical difficulties,'” she says. “So I thought, “OK, they’re having problems with their site. I’ll book elsewhere.'”

For future reference, it’s not OK to book elsewhere when you get an error message as you’re buying an airline ticket. You have to make sure the reservation didn’t get made. Otherwise you could end up with two tickets for the same flight.
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Airline declines credit card, then hires collection agency to extract $510 “cancellation” fee

Kalevi Ruuska contacted me with an urgent problem recently. One of his friends was being asked to pay an odd cancellation fee by Air Berlin, and would not take “no” for an answer. The airline had hired a collection agency to pursue its claim.

His story underscores a fact few of us here in the United States seem to understand: No matter how bad airline fees are here, they’re worse in Europe.

It also suggests that when it comes to surcharges and ancillary fees, there’s a lot of room for growth. I almost hesitate to write about this case, because it might give some of the more fee-happy airlines here in the States ideas for making more money.
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“It’s a laughing joke that Expedia says they offer great customer service”

Last December, Caesar Ho booked a night at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport Hotel through Expedia. But when he couldn’t reach the hotel because of inclement weather — snow on the 5 Freeway and dangerous winds on the 101 — he phoned the hotel to see if he could cancel his room.

A hotel representative said he couldn’t help, and that he needed to contact Expedia to cancel his stay. Expedia refused.

Because they were unwilling to do anything, we filed a dispute with our credit card company. Visa investigated the issue and sent a notice to for mediation.

Expedia was given a full 45 days to respond to the dispute, but according to Visa, they received no response from and the case was then closed. We received a notice from Visa stating that our account had been credited the full amount and the case solved.

End of story? Not quite.
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5 secrets travelers must know when dealing with a collection agency

counterIt wasn’t John Martellaro’s fault. His rental car’s registration had expired, so he was pulled over twice and ticked on his way to the Philadelphia airport. “Clearly, that was Hertz’ responsibility,” he says. “Not mine.”

Or was it? Martellaro handed the citations to a rental agent, who assured him she would “take care of it,” he says. But a few weeks later, he received an unpaid ticket notice from the state of Pennsylvania, and although he contacted Hertz and was again assured that the ticket would be fixed, nothing happened.
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“Delta has contacted a collection agency to force me to repay”

Can an airline send a debt collector after you to pay for a missed flight?

Strangely, the answer is: yes.

Consider what happened to Eehern Wong, who was scheduled to fly from Sacramento, Calif., to Boston by way of Los Angeles.

When I went to check the status of my flight, I noticed that the itinerary had been shifted up by nearly half a day. In fact, by the time I checked on the flight, the plane had already left Sacramento and was already landing in Los Angeles.

At no point was I contacted and notified of a change in scheduling. I called Delta to see if they could put me on the next flight, and after being redirected a few times, found out that not only would I be unable to get put on the next flight, but would actually have to pay for a new ticket a day later for my trip back to Boston.

I am a student right now, and this seemed outrageous to me. I had class and prior obligations and needed to get back, so I paid for the flight with my credit card. After returning to Boston, I contacted my credit card company, recounted the story, and had them investigate on my behalf.

After a few months of investigations, they sided with me, citing that Delta provided insufficient evidence, and withdrew payment to Delta. Now Delta has contacted a collection agency to force me to repay. What can I do about this?

Obviously, Delta should have notified Wong about the change in schedule. But Wong should have checked in 24 hours prior to departure, at which point he would have learned about the change in plans. So there’s plenty of blame to go around.

My question is: Was Delta correct to hit Wong with the price of new ticket? I don’t think so. The airline should have accommodated him on the next flight at no additional charge.

That’s how he sees it. That’s how I see it. And that’s how his credit card company sees it.

I contacted Delta on Wong’s behalf. It did not respond.

What about the collection agency?

Under federal law, a collection agency can be managed, particularly when the debt is in dispute. Even if this gets on your credit report, you have the ability to correct the error with a notation.

For smaller amounts, travel companies often threaten to call a collection agency but don’t follow through. It’s possible that Delta is just posturing with these threatening letters.

Bottom line: Delta could have done better. Much better.

Two bills, one collection agency — and zero options

Question: I need your help with a cruise booking that’s gone terribly wrong. More than two years ago, I tried to buy a Caribbean cruise for my parents though Travelocity. At the end of the process, the site crashed and I lost my reservation.

I called Travelocity and explained what happened. We finished the reservation by phone, and the online agency e-mailed a confirmation.

A month later, I received my credit card statement and noticed I was charged twice for the same cruise. I phoned my credit card company, which immediately credited me. I also informed Travelocity of the double booking and they reassured me that I would be receiving a full credit from NCL.

After the cruise, I received a letter from a collection agency demanding an additional $2,000 for the cruise. I told them the reservation was a mistake — a double booking.

We’ve been trading letters, and I’ve been pleading my case, but the agency is harassing me with phone calls at work. They’ve offered to settle the case for $1,200, but I don’t think I owe them anything. Can you please help me? — Sophia Mei, New York

Answer: Here’s how I see it: You booked one cruise, your parents took one cruise, so you should only have to pay for one cruise.

So why does NCL want your money?

Well, even though you thought your first reservation didn’t go through, and even though a Travelocity representative assured you the booking wasn’t consummated, NCL somehow still got the reservation. (That sometimes happens, which is why it’s always a good idea to call the travel company directly when something goes wrong — not just your travel agent or online agency.)

When your bank credited you $2,000 for the first cruise that NCL billed you for, it was essentially taking money out of the cruise line’s pocket. I can’t blame NCL for sending a collection agency after you.

But I can blame it for continuing to pursue you even after it should have been apparent that you were accidentally double-booked. What were they thinking? And why didn’t Travelocity step in and help you?

It should have.

I list the names of Travelocity’s customer-service contacts on my site and I have to tell you they are among the most responsive in the business. If you had brought this case to their attention, I believe they would have been able to fix this immediately.

Do you really want me to quote from the Travelocity Guarantee? Well, OK, but only because you asked.

“If something isn’t right, don’t let it ruin your trip,” it says. “Call us immediately instead! We’re here 24/7 to work with our partners to make it right, right away.”

You can read the whole promise here.

Certainly, I would have appealed to NCL’s executives, too. A simple review of its records would have revealed that you couldn’t have intentionally made both reservations.

Travelocity and NCL should have worked with you to find a solution instead of calling a collection agency. A collection agency is a last-ditch effort to recover money from a delinquent customer, and it’s used on deadbeats, not people who pay their bills.

As a last resort, you could have refused to pay your bill and added a note to your credit report — you can do that under federal law — but that’s not an ideal solution.

I contacted Travelocity on your behalf. It got in touch with NCL and called off the collection agency. You’re all clear.