Should a glitch in Lufthansa’s website cost me $840?

When Laura Dovalo tried to book tickets on Lufthansa for herself and her children, she received an error message — twice. She tried to rebook her flights, and the third time was a charm – until she discovered that she had booked “overlapping flights” that cost her $840 more than she had intended to pay.

“How is it even possible to purchase overlapping flights?” Dovalo asks.

Unfortunately, sometimes consumers who self-book flight or hotel reservations run afoul of websites that seem to reject initial bookings. When that happens, they often change booking sites or alter their reservations slightly, by changing travel dates or payment methods — only to find themselves with two or more sets of reservations. Dovalo’s story is a warning to self-booking travelers to not hurry to rebook travel reservations if online bookings don’t seem to go through — and not to change travel plans. Otherwise, you may end up charged multiple times for similar reservations.

Dovalo’s story begins with her initial attempt to book three round-trip “Economy Light” tickets from Santiago de Compostela, Spain, to Helsinki via Frankfurt, Germany, on Lufthansa’s website. After selecting the flights and completing the booking screens, she clicked the button to complete the purchase. A red error message flashed on the screen, asking Dovalo to change her payment method. It did not contain a confirmation message or reservation number.

She tried again, only to receive the same request that she change her payment method. And again, the website did not provide any confirmation of her purchase or reservation number. So Dovalo began the booking process again from the beginning. But this time, she couldn’t find any available flights for the same departure date, so she made a third attempt to book tickets, now on flights with a departure date a few days later than the flights she had originally tried to book.

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Using still another payment method, she successfully booked the reservations and received a confirmation with a reservation number.

Then Dovalo checked the payment account that she had tried to use on the two failed booking attempts. It showed two charges pending. She then called Lufthansa and found that both the first and the third purchase attempts had resulted in completed reservations.

Don’t worry, Lufthansa’s agent told her, the charges were not “real” and would eventually disappear. The next day, Dovalo called her bank and was told the same thing — don’t worry, no funds had been transferred.

But five days later, Dovalo’s bank account was debited for the first “failed” purchase attempt. She then called Lufthansa’s customer service and was told by an agent that no funds had been transferred.

At this point, Dovalo checked her email and was shocked to find confirmation letters for the two overlapping sets of flights. She called Lufthansa’s customer service yet again, but was told by the same agent to whom she had previously spoken that yes, she had purchased overlapping flights.  And when Dovalo explained the error messages again to the agent, she “was met with rudeness and disbelief.”

The agent told Dovalo that there was nothing Lufthansa could do, because Dovalo had not canceled the extra flights within 24 hours of the issuance of the tickets. Dovalo responded that she had called Lufthansa that same day, only to be told that the transactions were “not real.” The agent then accused Dovalo of not having mentioned the two different departure dates to her colleague, who would have seen that she had been issued two sets of tickets.

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After a third call to Lufthansa’s customer service, a supervisor told Dovalo the same thing: she should have canceled within 24 hours of the purchase.

Dovalo filled out a form on Lufthansa’s website asking for a transcript of the first call she had made to Lufthansa’s customer service, in which she had mentioned the different dates and given a detailed description of her transactions to the agent to whom she had spoken. She asked for full reimbursement of one of the two sets of flights, and indicated that as an alternative, she was willing to pay for an upgrade from “Economy Light” to “Economy Classic” seats.

Lufthansa sent Dovalo a “Form reception email” in response, assigning her an identification code. She replied to the email, attaching the two statements of her first two purchase attempts, and also made a claim against her bank for reimbursement of one of the charges. The bank wanted to wait for a reply from Lufthansa, suggesting that she could file a claim on travel insurance available through her credit card if Lufthansa refused.

Dovalo might have escalated her complaint to executives of Lufthansa using the contact information on our website.

But, worried that Lufthansa would keep her waiting indefinitely for a response to her request, Dovalo posted in our forum about her case.

Our forum advocates advised Dovalo to write letters to Lufthansa’s customer service and executives, explaining what happened and requesting a refund for one set of tickets. Unfortunately, Lufthansa rejected her request, reiterating that she did not cancel her reservations within the 24-hour window and pointing out that her tickets were nonrefundable. The forum members suggested to Dovalo that she hadn’t presented her case properly to Lufthansa’s agents and that the delay in checking her email for the confirmations hurt her case. Dovalo then turned to our advocacy team for assistance.

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Lufthansa’s general conditions of carriage” provide that to change tickets,

Should you wish to change any aspect of your transportation you must contact us in advance. The fare for your new transportation will be calculated and you will be given the

option of accepting the new price or maintaining your original transportation as ticketed.

But this provision assumes that the tickets are refundable, which Dovalo’s were not.

Lufthansa also posts terms and conditions for the use of its website. But nowhere in the general conditions of carriage or the terms and conditions does it guarantee that information provided by the website is correct (it carries a disclaimer for information posted by third parties) or address  instances of duplicate or near-duplicate reservations caused by glitches such as Dovalo experienced.

So the lack of any language addressing the consequences of glitches in the online booking process, together with the nonrefundability of Dovalo’s tickets and her delay in checking her email, pose some doubt that any attempts by our advocacy team to assist Dovalo will succeed in securing her a refund for the extra reservations.

On the other hand, the whole business was the result of Lufthansa’s website incorrectly advising her that the original booking was rejected. And its agents’ first informing her “not to worry” followed by accusatory treatment compound the poor customer service stemming from that rejection.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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