Jacob Mock has to cancel his Hawaiian vacation. The trip appears to be refundable, but his travel agent doesn’t provide a copy of the cancellation policy, something that agents are required to do. As a result, he has trouble getting his money back from the agent. Can our intrepid advocates make him whole again?
Question:We booked a trip to Hawaii, the airlines changed all of their flights completely and our flights had to be rescheduled. Our travel agent couldn’t find us comparable flights. Having had back surgery a year ago, I have issues with sustained air or car travel. I was willing to make the original trip, albeit a long trip I felt I could manage.
The only flights the agent could find lengthened our trip considerably or had us driving from Philadelphia to Newark and departing from there. We told her we preferred to cancel our trip and to start the refund process. While a portion of the airfare was refundable because of the change, the agent told us we had to file a claim with the travel insurance company for medical reasons only for the balance.
If we had booked the trip ourselves, the hotel and car rental companies would have given us a refund. We had no problems in the past with things like this. The airline is giving us a refund minus a $20 per person charge, but we never received a penny. Could you please help me get a refund from the travel agent? —Jacob Mock, Lafayette Hill, Pa.
Answer: Wow. I can’t believe your travel agent appears to be so evasive and difficult. The job of a travel agent is to facilitate arrangements between you and travel providers, and, most importantly, to be there when something goes wrong.
In this case, it sounds like all your agent wants to do is put the onus on someone else to get you your refund. She also insisted that you file a “medical claim” with your insurance company, which definitely does not sound appropriate. And when you refused to do something you felt was unethical, the agent chose to ignore your attempts to follow up with them. “I cannot help but feel I am being asked to commit insurance fraud,” you told us. “In addition to this, I am going to have to ask a doctor to collude.”
And there’s more to this story. The agency did not purchase your airfare directly from United Airlines but instead from GoGo Travel, which is a third-party air travel wholesaler. They bulk-purchase seats on planes and resell them to travel agents, who pass them on to consumers.
So what happened to your money?
When you attempted to follow up with the agency, you demanded to speak with the owner, who told you to contact GoGo for the refund of your airfare despite the fact that you paid his agency directly for your travel. In fact, consumers are supposed to have no direct contact with GoGo, since it doesn’t work directly with the traveler, so it’s baffling why the agency asked you to go around them and contact GoGo on your own.
Frustrated with your agent’s behavior, you reached out to our advocate, who contacted the agency on your behalf. Initially, the agency responded to our emails and then stopped responding when we asked the owner to provide us with a copy of his agency’s cancellation policy.
So we then moved on to contacting United to find out what happened to your refund, and an airline representative confirmed that it was processed and submitted to GoGo. When we contacted GoGo, it informed us that it is just a wholesaler, it does not deal directly with travelers, and that it was an odd suggestion for the travel agent to direct their client back to GoGo.
Finally, we sent another email to the agency about GoGo’s response. We asked the owner again for the cancellation policy and told him that we would be writing a story about the case.
Fortunately, that communication did the trick — you subsequently received a refund of $8,772 to your credit card.
You thanked us for our intervention after believing your only chance at restitution was in the courts. We’re glad we were able to help you get back all your money and hope that you have better travel experiences in the future.