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They didn’t cancel my Air Canada ticket – now what?

Senohrabek / Shutterstock.com
Senohrabek / Shutterstock.com
When Chad Cleven cancels his Air Canada ticket, he expects a refund in a few weeks. But it never comes. Now the airline wants to keep his money. What’s going on?

Question: A few months ago I purchased a non-refundable airline ticket directly from Air Canada for a friend to travel from Seattle to Cairo. Within 24 hours of booking this ticket, I learned that he wouldn’t be able to accompany me on this trip, so I called the airline and requested a refund.

I had heard about the new rule requiring airlines to issue refunds to travelers within 24 hours of purchase, so I didn’t think this would be a problem. When I spoke to Air Canada reservations to cancel the reservation, I was told that the funds would be credited back to my credit card.

A little under two months later, I realized that I had not yet received the credit to my credit card. Upon checking on the Air Canada website, I found that this reservation hadn’t been refunded because the agent on the phone had not actually processed the cancellation.

At this point, it was a few days before the ticketed flight date. I canceled the flight online, and contacted Air Canada to again request that the funds be credited back to my credit card. I was then told that my refund could not be processed because there was no record of my cancellation within the 24 hour cancellation window.

I disputed this charge with my credit card company, and they initially credited my card, but they ended up reversing the charge back to me as the airline told the credit card company that the ticket was non-refundable, and there was no record that I had canceled the ticket within 24 hours of purchase.

The credit card company then wanted a cancellation number to prove that I had cancelled the reservation, but the airline never gave me such a number, so I had nothing to provide.

I’ve sent an email to Air Canada once again requesting that my refund be processed as I originally requested, but so far have only gotten an automated response stating that it will take up to three weeks to review my email. Considering that there’s a rule requiring refunds in the 24-hour period, is there anything that can be done to actually receive this refund? — Chad Cleven, Tulalip, Wash.

Answer: You’re right, there’s a Department of Transportation rule that says your airline must refund your ticket if you cancel a reservation made within 24 hours. What’s more, the refund must be made within 7 days of the cancellation.

So what went wrong? Even though you called to cancel your companion’s ticket, the agent with whom you spoke apparently never processed it. If that person had done so, Air Canada would have given you a cancellation number, which would have at least ensured your credit card dispute would go your way.

If you’d canceled your flight online, then Air Canada would have sent you a written confirmation with a cancellation number (often your record locator) and the other particulars. If you didn’t have anything in writing, then you could have complained directly to the Department of Transportation.

You can file a consumer complaint at its website.

Securing a cancellation number is helpful of some form of written verification, but it’s not the only way to ensure your cancellation. Air Canada, like other airlines, records its customer service calls for “quality assurance” purposes, and can review the transcript. If you can’t reach anyone at Air Canada, try one of its executives. I list them on my website.

I contacted Air Canada on your behalf. It decided to refund your ticket “on an exceptional basis” and promised you a full refund within three to four weeks.

Are airlines following the DOT 24-hour rule?

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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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  • polexia_rogue

    “Are airlines following the DOT 24-hour rule?”

    better question is are they being trained on the 24-hour rule?

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Perhaps I’m missing something. As I understand this, this isn’t about the 24 hour rule, but rather the fact that the agent screwed up. I’m glad this all worked out for the OP, but the lesson is that unless you receive the proper number: confirmation, booking, cancellation, whatever, you have nothing and should assume that nothing was processed.

  • $16635417

    I’ve used this feature often. I’ve never used an agent for it, I usually do it online myself to make sure it gets cancelled properly. Based on my experience, I responded in the affirmative to the poll.

  • $16635417

    Try to pull it up online. If you can still see the reservation, you know it wasn’t cancelled.

  • FQTVLR

    I actually am not answering this poll based on one instance. I have cancelled several tickets within allowed 24 hours with several different airlines and have never had a problem. It appears that the Air Canada rep did not complete the cancellation–but that is not an indication that this airline or all airlines are not following the rule. The Air Canada rep should have made sure that the cancellation was complete. And, as I am a great believer in personal responsibility as well, the OP could have checked on line to make sure it was cancelled after speaking with Air Canada. The airline rep should have completed all steps necessary but a little double-checking never hurts as well. Glad that he got his money back.

  • BillCCC

    Get a record of the phone conversation.

    There’s something fishy about this story. Buys a ticket from a friend for an extremely long trip and suddenly within 24 hours the friend cancels? Does not receive a cancellation #? Air Canada caved to avoid bad publicity.

  • MarkKelling

    I have had no issues with airlines following the 24 hour rule — if they are US based and I am truly within 24 hours of purchase (i.e. if I bought a ticket yesterday at noon and cancel today before noon). With foreign based airlines, it varies.

    The cancellation rules for Air Canada are somewhat confusing. You can cancel tickets online if you bought them online, but only certain ones. You have to call them for all others. If the credit card transaction has not been posted yet, you don’t get cancelation number. Maybe the OP has canceled with them before and was not expecting a cancelation number so thought nothing of it when not given one. Just happy the airline was generous enough to refund after the mandatory time frame.

  • MarkKelling

    Maybe the friend attempted to get a visa and was told no or would not be able to renew the passport in time. Or the friend read up on the news about Egypt and decided it was not a place to go right now. Not knowing the friend or the OP, we can’t tell how the conversation about going on the trip went. Maybe the friend though the OP was joking about going?

  • Daddydo

    Doubt that you would have ever encountered this problem working with a real ASTA travel agent. The people on the phone may never have seen an airplane, let alone have any accountability to their job. How many lines can you answer and get the credit card sale is their sole responsability.

  • Asiansm Dan

    The agent at the other end of the world (if I remember well AC used Ireland for help call center, may be Bangalore) had to split the original reservation. May be he don’t know how to do it, ask for help, get busy and forget to do it in the 24h windows. Then, he just toss it under the rug.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    There’s being a trusting person and then there’s being an irresponsible consumer. He got no cancellation number, no email or anything else confirming the cancellation, and then never even bothered to check if the refund had happened until months later?

    And making it even more stunning is the fact it sounds like the OP actually took the trip on his own, so it wasn’t like the whole trip idea was out-of-mind. At no point before the trip date was actually upon him did it ever occur to him to check to see if that ticket refund had actually happened?

  • DavidYoung2

    I always get a cancellation number – period. If they don’t have one, at least get the name and ID number of the person to whom you spoke, and write it down along with the time and dated.

    Sometimes it’s a mistake and sometimes things just fall through the cracks. When you’re asking for money, you better have all your paperwork correct!

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Why is it irresponsible to belief the rep would do what he/she said he would do? Perhaps the OP has other things to worry about that following up after ever person he speaks to. Especially when we’re always told, “1-2 billing cycles”

  • bodega3

    There is no cancellation number when you cancel your airline reservation. You want to request an email showing the canceled PNR and you stay on the phone until you receive it. Cancellations are immediate, so to XI the PNR, end the reservation and send it takes only a minute or two at the most. However, in this case, they may have had to divide the PNR, due to two names being in it. At that point, one or the other of the passengers will now have a new PNR number.

  • bodega3

    Yes, this is an excellent tip!
    But do note that if two people are in one PNR and one of the passengers is being canceled, the PNR has to be divided. That means there will now be two PNR’s with two reservation numbers. You want to get the new reservation number.

  • Mark Cuban

    phone = no paper trail.

  • Mark Cuban

    On more than one occasion have I experienced a “real ASTA travel agent” look at an issue resulting from something they were responsible for and say “It’s out of my hands.” That’s why people are flocking to the web.

  • $16635417

    I didn’t initially pick up that there were two of them traveling and then only one cancelled. The agent probably divided the PNRs, but then failed to cancel the flights in the friends PNR. That would mean that it would be possible for the original PNR to still show one name (the OPs) with the original flight information.

  • bodega3

    I would be better if you explained this a bit more. Was it for an airline ticket? Once we handle a ticket, it gets reported and is now out of our hands except for the live PNR. Then if we have a cancelation, that results in a refund, that also gets reported. Once reported, is out of our hands. However, following up on delays sometimes is required. It took 3 months for LH to post a refund for a client. We don’t see a refund on our end and will only know if the client keeps on top of it and lets us know.
    People are ‘flocking’ to the web because they think they get a better deal there.

  • bodega3

    If the agent divided the PNR, then that would be the first clue to the call and that the transaction was not handled properly.

  • bodega3

    No necessarily. Most carriers record every time they enter a PNR. A print out can be requested.

  • bodega3

    You don’t get a ‘cancellation number’ with an airline.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Because every cancellation, reservation, order and any other sort of transaction you run into has some sort of confirmation attached to it. A confirmation number, an email…. there’s always some sort of confirmation. The phrase “Trust but verify” is the key.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    That just makes the traveler unsophisticated. Hardly irresponsible.

  • Helio

    It is a case of “my word / their word”. Unfortunately OP has no proof he really asked the refund in 24hs. He may be lying, the agent may have screw up. We will never know.

    Lucky for him he got a refund. But I believe CA only did it to minimize bad press.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I”m assuming that there is a record of whether the OP called. That would lend some credence that he cancelled.

  • Helio

    According to OP:
    “there was no record of my cancellation within the 24 hour cancellation window.

    I’m assuming that what he wanted to say was “there was no record of my call”

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Entirely possible. :-)

  • Name

    I just love it when the company screws up and then refuses to take responsibility for their error. AC knows the phone conversations are recorded, they just put as many hurdles in front of you as possible, hoping you’ll go away. Just disgusting.

  • http://ladylighttravel.com/ LadyLightTravel

    The OP could have seen a great fare, called his friend, and reserved the ticket to lock it in. Then the friend went to his boss, asked for time off, and was denied. Friend has to cancel. That’s just one scenario, and there are plenty others. And I’m assuming you made a typo above. He bought a ticket for a friend, not from him. If they’re good friends they’ll have some arrangement where one pays the other. I see nothing nefarious here.

  • TonyA_says

    I am not sure how an airline (i.e Air Canada) handles direct bookings and 24 hour ticket refunds internally.
    However, if I am not mistaken, this is a REDUCE PNR rather than a DIVIDE (SPLIT) PNR since there is no change in the itinerary except that one of the pax is cancelling.

  • http://ladylighttravel.com/ LadyLightTravel

    In this case the flight was originating out of Seattle so would have to comply with US rules.

  • bodega3

    We have to divide to cancel, no reducing. I have encountered this numerous times with airline bookings. In face, I have never heard of reducing.

  • bodega3

    In this day and age, now requesting an email with proof of the transaction you just made is common place. It doesn’t just apply to airline ticket purchases.

  • TonyA_says

    As I said you are a travel agent issuing tickets via ARC.
    Airline direct sales do not have to follow the same process as agents.
    Why can’t they simply reduce the # of party and issue a refund?

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Agreed. That’s why he’s unsophisticated. But irresponsible is way too harsh.

  • bodega3

    Any time I have called the carrier directly, they have always divided the PNR.

  • MarkKelling

    “Better” is relative. :-)

    While I feel I have a better experience in booking my numerous domestic flights directly with the airlines because I do it so often, I never book complicated trips involving any stops outside the US myself and always use a travel agent for that and don’t mind paying the small fees associated with using an agent. Why? The travel agent, if a good one, knows more than I ever will about how to get from point A to point B the best. Maybe not for the lowest ticket price out there, but best for my requirements Unfortunately lately I have dealt with many travel agents, all properly certified and not just someone calling themselves an agent, who had no clue since the agent I had used for many years retired.

    For example, I needed to fly from DEN to LHR and wanted business class. The agent I dealt with wanted to route me DEN-SFO-LHR on UA. While that was OK, BA has a non-stop DEN-LHR for $2000 less on exactly the same days. When I mentioned that to the agent, the response was “BA flys from Denver?” I found a different agent.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    You’re quibbling over very fine semantics. It’d be too much praise to say that someone asking for a confirmation was acting responsibly? Because if you’d use that term in that circumstance there should be nothing at all wrong with saying failing to do so was an irresponsible move.

  • TonyA_says

    Honestly I can’t understand the logic.

    A divide will split the party in 2 in this case. One pax, the OP, will be kept in the old PNR since he is still traveling. The one who is not traveling will get a new PNR whose itinerary will be cancelled as soon as the PNR is created and filed. How much sense is that? Why create a PNR just to cancel it?
    Maybe this is the reason why the agent goofed.

    A simpler solution is to reduce the party of the existing PNR and remove the name of the pax not traveling. Then simply void or cancel/refund the eticket of that pax :)

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I must respectfully disagree. That’s very binary thinking. Making something either/or is a logical fallacy, unless those are the only two possibilities. Consider a simple binary example. Eating an apple is healthy behavior. Thus not eating an apple must be unhealthy behavior. Obviously a false statement as their are other options.

    I disagree with calling the LW irresponsible because its far too pejorative an indictment of his behavior.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Tomato and tomahto. Synonyms for irresponsible include “foolish” and “careless.” Synonyms for unsophisticated include “ignorant” and “crude.” I’m fine with your term of choice.

  • $16635417

    I guess it depends on their GDS and procedures. I have seen both the reduce and divide methods applied over the years. In either case, if the OP were to pull up the PNR and see BOTH names he would have known there was a problem. Had he seen only his name, he may not have been aware.

  • TonyA_says

    A reduce will decrement the total number of confirmed seats in the PNR first, then we remove the Name of the cancelled pax accordingly.
    In the OPs case we will reduce the # of party by one seat and then remove the name (record) of his friend.
    This will result on the same PNR having only one named pax (the OP) left.

    Then we can proceed to void or cancel/refund the eticket issued to the cancelled passenger.
    Since there is no new PNR created, the OP simply checks the same PNR. He will see that he is the only pax left in the reservation.
    He can also check the status of his friends E-ticket. It should be void.

  • TonyA_says

    From Air Canada’s website:

    What happens if I cancel my reservation within 24 hours of purchase?
    If you cancel your reservation online within 24 hours of purchase, you will receive an email confirming that the price of your ticket will be refunded automatically.

    That said, I have a feeling that there would have been no problem had he cancelled the entire PNR instead of cancelling only one passenger.

  • TonyA_says

    Actually there may be a lot more we don’t know like:
    – is this a companion fare ticket that may require cancellation of the ENTIRE booking.
    – was the cancellation really requested within 24 hours
    – was the departure 7 or more days after purchase, etc.

    It is hard to believe you are talking to an agent who is doing nothing on his/her terminal since you are both on the phone while your PNR is being updated.
    The agent must pull your PNR up first to talk to you so this is highly unlikely it happened as described.

  • TonyA_says

    Hey Geoffrey, are you some talking head from ASTA?
    Do you really believe the American public cares if they buy a ticket from an ASTA agent or directly from an airline?
    Wouldn’t this particular ticket to Cairo on AC or Star alliance cost more if an ASTA agent issued it?
    Also how do you know if the agent knows less about flying to Cairo than you? The agent could be nearby CAI :)

    I don’t understand why Elliott gives you a free pass for advertising ASTA.

  • TonyA_says

    Highly improbable.
    You mean an agent pulled up his RES or PNR and just IGNORED it.
    Sorry, but REFUND is only confirmed if the agent does something with your booking first like cancel it.
    And it only takes a few keystrokes to cancel a RES.
    So something else happened here imo.

  • JenniferFinger

    This time the airline wasn’t following the DOT 24-hour rule.

  • Lindabator

    That is just ridiculous! Wonder if this agency was using a GDS, had not lost their plates for BA, or some other issue. I always say to those who have not used an agent such as myself, INTERVIEW your agent (have had clients do the same, and they keep coming back). Believe me, I will do the same. :)

  • shonuffharlem

    Why didn’t he get a cancellation confirmation duh.

  • Daddydo

    Once you are our customer and I have resolved a problem, we front the refund until it comes in. We have a staff that is ruthless when it comes to the airlinesonce we have the written authorization. We have not been burned on this policy in 35 years that I have owned the agency and We are not worried about the internet. Smart travelers know the value of an agent

  • Daddydo

    No pass necessary. I always use a certified professional for all my necessary services. I am certified with 45 years of classes, I take ASTA classes annually at meetings, I am a member of the Association Of Travel Agents for 40+ years and promote ASTA agents whenever I can. I do charge fees for travel, but never hear any complaints when I save client’s vacations due to problems, find better routes than the internet, find discounts after the tour is paid for and offer refunds. I am the only ASTA agent in a 50 mile radius of 15 agencies and take in 60-70% of all liesure travel because I am an ASTA agent. I don’t see any harm in promoting people to use ASTA. ARTA, Results branded agencies compared to the internet where there is poor to little communications with humans. I have always assumed you to be a travel agent and if it offends you, I will never mention ASTA again even if they are desired as agents for store front agencies. By the way, ASTA helped me get 4 premium seats free today from USAir. Flights had a schedule change and clients lost their excellent seatsand USAir said tough luck. Paid for my annual dues.

  • TonyA_says

    Makes a lot of sense if you are in Clarksburg, West Virginia.
    IMO, not much for international locations and highly competitive markets. Most people just want low price, period.