Well, it’s not quite a full refund, but it’ll do — or will it?

After Cathleen Kirk flew from Oakland to Washington for a funeral in April, she noticed something unusual: Her online travel agency, Globester.com, had charged her twice for one ticket.

The double billing proved to be an error, and yes, I did get involved. But the resolution leaves a question that I’ve been meaning to ask you dear readers: When should you be happy with a fix, and when should you push for more?

Kirk says she flew to Washington and while she was there, needed to change her flight. “I called Globester and the changes were made with no penalty,” she says.

A no-penalty ticket change is highly unusual, but when it involves a death of a relative, airlines are known to waive their rules. In this case, she was dealing with Delta Air Lines, which can be a softie when it comes to the dead. I mean that in a good way.

So you can imagine her surprise when she saw a $650 charge for the same ticket on her credit card, courtesy of Globester. I reviewed the paperwork and thought it was worth checking in with Globester.

For those of you who don’t know Globester, it’s basically a ticket consolidator. That means it buys airline tickets in bulk and resells them to the public at a markup.

Here’s how it describes itself:

Globester is a leading global online travel services company specializing in negotiated / discounted flights, air plane tickets cheapest airfares to Asia, Europe, Latin America, Middle East, Africa and Australia. Globester provides secure online reservation capabilities for airline tickets, cheap international flights, hotel, cruises and vacation packages to worldwide international destinations. You can book really cheap plane tickets online and save more on your travel tickets.

Kirk says she received a phone call from a Globester representative, admitting that an “error” was made by a Globester representative who should have cancelled one of her flights.

Related story:   ‘Am I in some kind of bureaucratic travel hell?’

Globester was offered a $615 refund. It’s not entirely clear what the $35 represents, but it’s probably some kind of “nonrefundable” booking fee.

Holdbacks on refunds are fairly common. Most passengers are happy to get something back, so they don’t complain when the refund is a few dollars short. I usually check back to make sure they are OK with getting a little bit less, and they almost always are.

But sometimes not.

Kirk’s double-billing problem had dragged on for months, so she didn’t have any reservations about waiting a few more days. Or weeks.

Hers is actually one of the biggest dilemmas I face as an advocate. Should I let companies shortchange their customers when they often unwillingly cough up a refund. Can they deduct fees, credit card charges, or whatever they please, instead of offering a full refund?

I flip-flop between “take-the-money-and-run” and “what-part-of-a-full-refund-don’t-you-understand?” A partial refund is better than nothing at all, but when a company does offer to refund the money, shouldn’t it be for the entire amount?

The worst offenders are airlines, with their fuzzy math. They recalculate the fare to avoid refunding a customer for an unused leg. That’s highly irritating to their customers — and to me.

I probably shouldn’t look the other way when it happens. Kirk’s case was an important reminder that every penny counts when it’s someone else’s money.

Kirk didn’t accept the $615 refund. Instead, she pushed for the full amount. A few days later, Globester sent her a check for $650.

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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 check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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