Why was Mom’s card charged for my ticket?

Martin V./Shutterstock
Martin V./Shutterstock
Question: My husband and I recently flew from Mexico City to Fiji for our honeymoon. One leg of our flight between Los Angeles and Fiji was canceled by United Airlines. We booked tickets on a different airline for that portion of our trip.

Due to bad weather, our return flight from Fiji to Los Angeles was delayed 24 hours and we missed our connection to Mexico City on United Airlines. As soon as I knew we would be missing our flight I called a United representative, who rebooked us for a flight the next day. I paid a $150 change fee per ticket. I understand this charge and am fine with this transaction.

Here’s my problem: Somehow, my mother’s card was automatically charged $869 for two tickets from Los Angeles to Mexico City. I asked about how the charge got on my mother’s card in the first place, since I had used a different card for the original purchase and that I was required to pay the $150 change fee at the airport.

The response was that my mother’s card must have been presented at the ticket counter or provided over the phone. The only place it could have come from was United’s system. Can you help me sort this out? — Robin Griffith, Mexico City

Answer: United shouldn’t have charged your mother another $869, but after reviewing your itinerary, it shouldn’t have billed you for a $150 change fee, either.

When United canceled the Los Angeles-Fiji leg, it refunded the value of that ticket. You rebooked another ticket on your own. Had you linked your tickets through the same reservation number (a travel agent can do that) then United wouldn’t have charged a $150 change fee.

I’m not sure why United charged your mother’s credit card, or how that was even possible. I know that while you were honeymooning in Fiji, United was having some problems with its reservations system, which may explain the mystery ticket.

The key to resolving a problem like this is documentation. Keep all your receipts and boarding passes so that if there’s an erroneous charge later, you can prove you were billed incorrectly. This is particularly important when you’re dealing with a cancellation or some deviation from your intended schedule. That’s when things can go wrong.

I contacted United on your behalf. It refunded the $869 charge to your mother’s credit card.

Should United have charged Robin Griffith's mother's credit card?

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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 . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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

    How was that even possible? Does the OP and her mother have the same address and/or name? And the OP’s letter made it sound like the change fee was for the way back, not the way there when United cancelled the flight. I wonder if the two legs (Fiji – LAX and LAX – Mexico City) were booked separately, which is why the latter incurred a change fee? Or perhaps the OP only bought the outbound leg on another carrier? Some details are missing here…

  • technomage1

    I was wondering the same thing, do they have the same or similar names? That could explain the mistake.

  • EdB

    I want to understand the rational the, at this time, 3 people used to actually vote yes to this poll. They are saying people should be doubled charged? Under what situation should a person *EVER* be double charged for anything?

  • Alan Gore

    And when did we start having to pay change fees on a weather cancellation?

  • BillCCC

    They should have charged the card that was presented. There is no answer as to how the mother’s card was used.

    I think that this is a family issue that needs to be sorted out.

  • technomage1

    This article brings up an interesting point in the linking of two separate tickets through the same reservation number. Chris notes a travel agent can accomplish this, but what about the DIY traveller? I can’t seem to find anything stating how to do this, but maybe I’m not using the right search terms. If we can’t link, I have to wonder why not?

  • TonyA_says

    Could you please explain where the double charge is.
    I am having a difficult time figuring that out.

  • TonyA_says

    Is it my lack of coffee or jetlag?

    OP says:

    Due to bad weather, our return flight from Fiji to Los Angeles was delayed 24 hours [and we missed our connection to Mexico City on United Airlines. As soon as I knew we would be missing our flight I called a United representative, who rebooked us for a flight the next day].

    Christopher say:

    When United canceled the Los Angeles-Fiji leg, it refunded the value of that ticket. You rebooked another ticket on your own.

    I am confused. Did they get to Fiji on their ORIGINAL ticket OK? Sure looks like it. But, it was the return flight FROM Fiji to LAX that got delayed and therefore caused them to miss the LAX-MEX flight. I did not read the OP said their flights OUT FROM THE USA were cancelled. Did I miss anything?

  • cjr001

    Agreed, there’s some information missing as to how/why the mother’s cc was involved in the first place.

  • EdB

    Maybe it is just the wording that is confusing but when the resolution is, “I contacted United on your behalf. It refunded the $869 charge to your mother’s credit card.” and there is no mention of it being charged to a different card, it sure sounds like it was a double billing.

  • TonyA_says

    “Linking” two or more separate tickets is a myth. All it is, is a notation. It does not create an obligation for the airline to do anything.
    Bear in mind “linking” here is not the same as a CONJUNCTION ticket. A conjunction ticket is the only real linked ticket as far as I know.

  • EdB

    Also, the story says:

    “As soon as I knew we would be missing our flight I called a United representative, who rebooked us for a flight the next day. I paid a $150 change fee per ticket. I understand this charge and am fine with this transaction.
    Here’s my problem: Somehow, my mother’s card was automatically charged $869 for two tickets from Los Angeles to Mexico City. I asked about how the charge got on my mother’s card in the first place, since I had used a different card for the original purchase and that I was required to pay the $150 change fee at the airport.”

    The problem as stated in the story was the mom’s card was charged. The wording makes it sounds like it was a second billing as the original tickets should have already been paid for and they only needed to pay a change fee, not new tickets.

  • http://upgrd.com/roadmoretraveled MeanMeosh

    I suspect they were flying on two separate tickets – one from MEX-LAX and back, and the other from LAX to Fiji back to LAX. If so, even if the Fiji-LAX leg was canceled, even due to weather, she would be liable for a change fee on the LAX-MEX portion, unless that leg was also delayed due to weather or a mechanical problem. That’s one of the pitfalls of doing separate tickets, even if the fare works out cheaper.

  • Ian Parrish

    Yeah, there’s something in this article that doesn’t quite make sense. I would presume that Fiji->LAX was delayed and then they paid a $150 change fee for LAX->MEX. If they were delayed 24 hours, maybe the first Fiji->LAX flight was canceled.

    United doesn’t fly directly to Fiji either, so there must be other carriers involved here, Star Alliance or otherwise. I know Air Tahiti Nui flies from LAX once per day.

  • [email protected]

    Was the original ticket billed on mother’s card as a wedding present?

  • bodega3

    Something isn’t right with this. United does not fly LAX to NAN. They do codeshare with NZ and that is with a connect in AKL. FJ is is the only carrier to offer nonstop service and it isn’t daily.

  • bodega3

    This whole story is questionable. There had to be the use of the mother’s card for one of the tickets (ticket issue or upgrade) within their PNR for that credit card to have been charged.

  • bodega3

    Exactly!

  • TonyA_says

    Could the following help explain this confusing story?

    My husband and I recently flew from Mexico City to Fiji for our
    honeymoon. One leg of our flight between Los Angeles and Fiji was canceled
    by United Airlines. We booked tickets on a different airline for that
    portion of our trip.

    IMO, the LAX-NAN-LAX journey(Airline not specified, but probably on Air Pacific FJ) was on a separate ticket than the MEX-LAX-MEX journey which was on United.

    Due to bad weather, our return flight from Fiji to Los Angeles was delayed 24 hours and we missed our connection to Mexico City on United Airlines.

    My comment: She did not say what airline she was flying NAN-LAX. However, it is highly doubtful that was on United since UA does not fly that route. The only thing clear here is that she missed her originally scheduled LAX-MEM UA flight. That is why she called to have it changed.

    As soon as I knew we would be missing our flight I called
    a United representative, who rebooked us for a flight the next day. I paid a
    $150 change fee per ticket. I understand this charge and am fine with this
    transaction.

    UA ticket was reissued for LAX-MEX with $150 PENALTY FEE, but how about the fare difference? You really think you can just change your return flight in less than 24 hour notice and get the same cheap booking class it was originally on?

    Here’s my problem: Somehow, my mother’s card was automatically charged $869 for two tickets from Los Angeles to Mexico City. I asked about how the charge got on my mother’s card in the first place, since I had used a different card for the original purchase and that I was required to pay the $150 change fee at the airport.

    Note she paid the $150 at the airport. Why at the airport?According to her she CALLED up to get her flights rebooked. United would have charged her (or her mother’s) card when she called. I suspect that when she called UA, she was not really sure of the NAN-LAX flight so all she did was cancel the original return flight first. Then at the LAX airport, she got re-ticketed. I also believe the $869 was the fare difference for the 2 new tickets because her mother’s credit card was used to purchase the original tickets.

  • tom65xke

    You must have eight airline employees voting, only correct response is No

  • dennis

    actually united committed federal fraud! and could be prosecuted as it was not a mistake but intentional taking of funds

  • Carchar

    Regardless of what happened in the story, 8 voters, so far, think that the mother’s card should have been charged. May I please have your names so that I can charge you for my next trip?

  • LFH0

    How I read the the story (which may or may not be correct) is that the couple purchased a round-trip from Mexico City to Fiji, connecting in Los Angeles, plated on United Air Lines. Then, for some unspecified reason, the second flight segment, from Los Angeles to Fiji, was annulled. The couple thereupon elected to have the Los Angeles to Fiji round-trip portion of the ticket refunded (leaving only a half-used Mexico City to Los Angeles round-trip United Air Lines ticket remaining), and booked a new ticket, on a different airline, for Los Angeles to Fiji round-trip. Los Angeles to Fiji then operated without further disruption, but the return segment Fiji to Los Angeles was delayed 24 hours. That delay then caused the missed connection with United Air Lines in Los Angeles.

    I think this is a case where the details are important to diagnose the problem, yet from a journalistic perspective, providing all of those details could result in a story that puts most of the readers to sleep.

  • bodega3

    There are too many holes in this to really get an idea of what took place. If it was a through ticket, there was no reason for the OP to call and have to pay $150.

    I would like to know when this took place. As far I have known in recent years, UA hasn’t had LAX-NAN flights, only codeshares with other carreirs. With this, there was no way that UA canceled a flight. Now the codeshare carrier might have. Very strange over all.

  • bodega3

    I think we need to know the actual details, not the bit and pieces placed in this incomplete article before you start shouting fraud. I would put money on this that there were mulitple credit cards in the PNR and in actuality, none should have been used as the carrier would have reaccommodated them for free had they not jumped the gun, which is why she got the refund.

  • technomage1

    OK, so I wonder how a DIY customer could purchase a conjunction ticket. I think that if, for example, Expedia is used and it comes up with an itinerary that uses multiple airlines, then it’s a conjunction ticket. But what if you don’t do that. What if you book on two separate airline websites? Can a conjunction ticket be created by the DIY traveler?

  • TonyA_says

    NO, DIYs can’t control this. The one who is ticketing must issue the whole journey in “one” ticket. But since a ticket can have a maximum of 4 coupons, then if you have more than 4 flight segments, you will need more (e)ticket numbers linked to the first one. The other tickets are issued in CONJUNCTION to the first one.
    A traveler has no control of this. The issuer is the one controlling how a ticket (or ticket) is issued.

  • TonyA_says

    The only way this story makes some sense is if the mother gave them the trip [honeymoon] as a present (gift) so the tickets were ORIGINALLY charged to the mother’s credit card.

  • TonyA_says

    For the record, UA does not have its own published fare for both LAX-NAN and MEX-NAN. UA does offer the IATA (YIF) full fare for this route. And as others have already mentioned, UA does not even fly this route. So the likelihood that the OP purchased a UA ticket to Fiji is extremely slim.
    In my opinion, UA is only involved on a ticket for MEX-LAX-MEX.
    When her inbound (return) flight to LAX from NAN was delayed 24 hours, she realized she would miss the UA LAX-MEX flight. So she called UA to rebook.
    Now here is the big question. If you are not 100% sure you will be in LAX to take the LAX-MEX UA flight, would you re-ticket it already? What if you are late again? So maybe she simply cancelled the original LAX-MEX ticket and made a reservation on a new LAX-MEX flight without ticketing it. Then when she got to LAX, she went to the counter and actually paid the $150 fee to ticket her new reservation. Since the original ticket was probably paid by her Mom’s credit card, the new ticket was also reissued on that same card. Maybe the OP did not realize that there was a FARE DIFFERENCE for the new flight. Maybe she thought that she only had to pay the change fee ($150).

  • TonyA_says

    I agree. Likely – She only paid the $150 change fee but the FARE DIFFERENCE (charged to her mom’s card) was refunded. If this is what happened, then UA was so nice a carrier.

  • jpp42

    Tony_A explains the likely scenario: It was probably a fare difference in the rescheduled flight. Her credit card must have been used to book the original tickets (a key point left out in Chris’s retelling of the story).

  • technomage1

    Thanks for the info. You know what my next (rhetorical) question is, right? Why not? It’s not that I hate TAs or anything, but rather that I think stuff like this is technologically possible, and I hate it when old norms prevent the full use of the advantages technology provides. So I ask the airlines out there with websites: why not?

  • TonyA_says

    When airline ticketing was invented, they never thought there would be such a thing called the internet. Airline ticketing worked and still works (near) flawlessly when used for its intended purposes. IMO, the problem is the internet not airline systems. You cannot simply take out people with expertise and pretend the system will work the same. Some journeys are complicated and you need more than a vending machine to do a good thing.

  • EdB

    “IMO, the problem is the internet not airline systems.”

    I think it is more the airlines not keeping up with current technology than the technology it self. The airlines really have no financial incentives to change since the current system is still working.

  • technomage1

    Agree TAs are essential for complicated trips. I went to china a few years back, visiting 2 cities. The TA took care of all the travel, transportation, guides, hotels, and visa for my passport. Well worth her fee. Same for a trip to Cambodia I took, though I did my visa myself online (easily). But if my travel is more straightforward, only a hotel and airline, then I take care of it myself (Paris or London, which I’ve visited before and am familiar with, to keep it international).

    I just don’t think airline tickets have to be that complicated. If its a legacy problem, then fix it, but as EdB notes they probably don’t have much incentive to do so.

  • bodega3

    You don’t even have a clue, nor did I when I started selling tickets, how complicated tickets can be, especially when you are dealing with international travel and different requirements of various governments. The internet gives you a false sense of simplicity, not to mention very little information to the how and whys. Not that the average person cares as all they want is a low fare, but there are a lot of other factors that have to be taken into consideration when trying to put a complicated itinerary in one PNR. There are companies that TA’s use to queue these over to for correct pricing. Even the GDS isn’t the final price without having a carrier’s rate desk look at it.

  • bodega3

    Actually it goes outside of the carrier’s control when pricing an complicated itinerary when other countries are involved in the various segments. Point A to Point B is rarely a problem, but Point A to Point D, connecting at Point B, stopping over at Point C then on to Point D, then returning via Point E before heading back to Point A isn’t as easy as you wish it to be. There are companies that agencies contract with to price this as there are a lot of govenments besides our own that tell the carriers what they can or can’t do with their pricing.

  • TonyA_says

    The stops in Points B, C, and D on the way to Point E will most likely trigger a HIP check.

  • TonyA_says

    I googled Robin Griffith + Mexico City. It pointed to a FORENSIC ACCOUNTANT for KPMG in Mexico. Ironic how an accounting of fares and facts are missing on her post. I hope it is not an attempt to obfuscate the truth.

  • TonyA_says

    CLARIFICATION NEEDED HERE.

    For the record, the following flights: MEX-LAX, LAX-NAN, NAN-LAX, LAX-MEX is a 4 segment itinerary and you only need one ticket number (with 4 coupons) if the whole journey was ticketed (validated) by one airline. (Note NAN is Nadi, Fiji.)
    There would be no need for a CONJUNCTION ticket since you would only need four flight coupons (the maximum in one ticket number). So the question is why would anyone have needed separate tickets for this journey?

    Let’s assume that the “dominant” part of the journey is the Los Angeles Fiji leg(s). Since only Air Pacific (FJ) flies nonstop between LAX and NAN, then one would search fares by FJ first.

    The Low BASE Fare of FJ for MEX-NAN is $1582 R/T (Code:QBULAMX). Its Low Base Fare for LAX-NAN is $1220 R/T (Code:QBULART). The difference is only $362 which is approximately the cost of a ticket for MEX-LAX-MEX. Therefore buying a separate MEX-LAX-MEX ticket is not going to save any money, UNLESS there is a fare sale for LAX-NAN-LAX.

    There is a current fare sale for LAX-NAN by Air Pacific which started last Jan 31 to June 11, 2013. I am not sure the OP’s travel was after 31JAN. This fare sale is only a base of $915 for LAX-NAN R/T (Code:NSPCLU3R). If the OP’s travel dates were within this fare sale’s period, then this would have been their best option to get to Fiji.

    So the next question is how to best take advantage of this fare sale (Code:NSPCLU3R). Could she combine this with a typical MEX-LAX-MEX fare of another carrier (e.g. United) within the rules of Air Pacific? If she does, then ALL her flights would be in one ticket and would automatically get re-accommodation protection. Let’s find out. Consider a current itinerary 16APR-25APR.
    1 UA 293 16APR TU MEXLAX 945A 1150A
    2 FJ 811 16APR TU LAXNAN 1130P 510A#2
    3 FJ 810 25APR TH NANLAX 1000P 120P
    4 UA 274 25APR TH LAXMEX 547P 1121P

    Fare Construction:
    * PRICING RULES VALIDATING CARRIER DEFAULT FJ
    ** 16APR DEPARTURE DATE/ 19MAR IS LAST DATE TO TICKET

    TICKET BASE USD TX/FEE USD TKT TTL USD
    ADT01 1183.00 213.74 1396.74
    *TTL 1183.00 213.74 1396.74

    *LOWEST FARE
    FBC ADT KNN0R8SN*NSPCLU3R*KNN0R8SN
    ADT MEX UA LAX134.00FJ NAN457.50FJ LAX457.50
    UA MEX134.00NUC 1183.00END ROE1.00FJ

    Note that the LAX-NAN and NAN-LAX was charged $457.50 per direction.
    Also Note that MEX-LAX and LAX-MEX was charged $134 per direction.
    All of these segments had fares that are among the lowest in the industry for their corresponding routes.
    What does this mean?
    This means that the lowest fares of Air Pacific (FJ) for LAXNAN and the lowest fares of United (UA) for MEXLAX were “combinable“.
    There was NO REASON for the OP to buy separate tickets.
    There was NO REASON for the OP to worry about late LAX inbound flights. But this was true ONLY if she bought all of her flights on ONE TICKET as described above.

    Next time ask a travel consultant a few questions before you buy tickets to international destinations (even if you buy online from another source). It might save you a few bucks and minimize your agony while traveling overseas.

  • Rebecca Jay

    I agree this story is questionable, and I can’t participate in the poll because of yet another stupid popup that has no ‘x’ to close it.

  • pauletteb

    A couple of those same employees must be monitoring your posts.

  • pauletteb

    You armchair lawyers are always good for a laugh.