The Travel Troubleshooter: Am I stuck with this $378 phone bill?

By | October 14th, 2011

Question: I’ve been haggling with Travelocity for almost three months about a flight, and I need your help. I recently booked flights from Newark, N.J., to Madrid, Spain via Continental Airlines and on to my final destination of Barcelona, Spain, via Iberia.

The outbound trip was completed without issue, although I had to claim my baggage in Madrid, go through customs, and go back through the ticketing counter to get my second boarding pass.

Unfortunately, the return trip through Brussels was less successful. The itinerary that Travelocity sold me left me just one hour to make my connecting flight in Brussels to the U.S., but I had to claim a bag, go through customs, and then back to the ticketing counter again to get my boarding pass for the U.S.-bound flight.

When I arrived at the empty Continental ticket counter approximately 35 minutes before my flight, I managed to track down a Continental customer service agent, who refused to check me in because it was too late. She also told me the next flight was the following morning.

When I tried to dial the number provided by Travelocity for assistance outside of the U.S., the number would not connect. I tried multiple phones in the airport. Without other options, I collect called my fiancee in the U.S. and had her call the domestic Travelocity telephone number and after more than 30 minutes of international telephone calls, I was booked on the flight for the following morning.

My problem with this scenario is that I incurred a telephone bill of $378 in order to correct this situation caused by Travelocity selling me an itinerary that was physically impossible to achieve. Travelocity won’t refund my phone bill. Any ideas? — Jeffrey Grim, Boston

Answer: Travelocity shouldn’t have allowed you to reserve the itinerary that you did.

Related story:   Travelocity promised me a refund -- did it do enough?

If your flights were connected on the same itinerary (which they appear to be) then the system should stop you from reserving a flight that doesn’t meet the minimum connect time rules. Something appears to have gone wrong, because you obviously didn’t have enough time to transfer to your overseas flight in Brussels.

Travelocity also should have provided you with a number that worked from Brussels. I think you did your best to contact the online travel agency through normal channels before resorting to an expensive collect call. And yes, calling Travelocity was the best option, since this was an immediate concern. Had it been something less urgent, I would recommend sending an email.

But I think you could have prevented this from happening, too. Did you take a moment to read your itinerary after you booked your tickets? If you had, you might have noticed the short connection times, and could have asked Travelocity to fix it. One hour is barely enough time to change planes domestically, so this is a challenge that could have been identified and addressed long before your trip.

You had a second chance to fix this when you experienced a tight connection on your inbound flight. You might have wondered if the connection problem would happen on your return flight, reviewed your itinerary and contact Travelocity.

It’s unusual for an online travel agency to refund a phone bill, but in this case, I think it should consider doing so, at a minimum. I contacted Travelocity on your behalf. It apologized and agreed to refund your phone bill.

Related story:   Ticket refund on "hold" while travel agency squabbles with airline

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