Is this airline downgrade disaster a lost cause?

By | July 30th, 2013

Christopher Parypa /
Christopher Parypa /
I’ve been struggling with this case for months and am about to place it in the “can’t be fixed” file. But before I do, I wanted to run it past you.

This one’s got it all: peculiar airline math, an intransigent online travel agency, a credit card dispute and, of course, a referral to a collection agency.

But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Meet Steve Cary, who was flying from San Francisco to Shanghai last March. He’d booked his reservation through Orbitz on a US Airways flight operated by EVA Airways.

One more thing: Cary had a seat in business class the entire trip. Total cost: $4,941. I’m told that’s a pretty good fare.

But the flights were anything but smooth, he says. On at least two occasions, EVA couldn’t locate his reservation because of a miscommunication between US Airways and EVA. (Don’t even get me started on the joys of codesharing. Not going there today.) A ticket agent fumbled around for what seemed like an hour before finding his reservation and issuing a valid ticket.

Then, when he tried to check in for his connecting flight from Taipei back to San Francisco, an agent delivered more bad news. “She informed me that business class was completely sold out and that I would have to accept an economy class seat,” he says.

Cary accepted the economy class seat — what choice did he have? — and decided to take the matter up with US Airways when he returned. At first, he asked for a full refund for his roundtrip ticket. The airline refused.

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Then he disputed his credit card charge with Chase to the tune of $2,500, which was what he calculated the business class seat from Taipei to San Francisco to be worth.

“Since US Airways did not respond to Chase’s request and my dispute of the $2,500 by Chase’s deadline for such disputes with a vendor, Chase credited me the full $2,500 and considered my dispute satisfactorily resolved,” he says.

Case closed? Nope.

He explains what happened next:

Subsequent to this matter being “resolved” by Chase, I received a series of phone calls (sometimes several months apart) from Orbitz asking me to pay the $2,500 balance due.

Each time they called, I asked them to tell me (i) the price of each leg of the trip, and (ii) the price difference between the Economy-Plus type seat that EVA put me in and the business class ticket that I paid for, had they been booked on the same date of my original booking through Orbitz.

They told me that US Airways was not able to provide them with this information. On March 27, I received a letter from Receivable Management Services, a collection agency which is seeking to collect $2,525.00 on behalf of Orbitz.

I contacted Orbitz on Cary’s behalf. An Orbitz representative called me immediately and explained that Cary’s math was wrong. You can’t just divide the cost of a roundtrip, business-class ticket in half and demand a refund from the airline. Orbitz still owed US Airways the fare, and was well within its rights to try to collect the $2,500 it says had been wrongfully refunded by Chase.

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I agreed with Orbitz that the case could probably be remedied with a simple explanation, as opposed to the series of denials Cary claims he’d received. But a few more weeks went by and according to Cary, Orbitz didn’t furnish Cary with any of the promised details. Again, he turned to me for help.

I contacted US Airways on Cary’s behalf. It has not responded.

I’ve been back and forth with Cary several times in the last few weeks. It seems that both the online travel agency and the airline are taking a hard line in this dispute. I agree with him that he’s entitled to some kind of fare adjustment, since he was downgraded from business class to economy — just maybe not $2,500. It’s up to US Airways to show him its math, which is something it hasn’t done yet, according to Cary.

What am I missing here? Should I contact Orbitz and US Airways again, pressing them to resolve this, or should I advise Cary to pay his bill? What would you do?

Update (11 a.m.): Orbitz has agreed to contact Cary with an explanation. I hope to have another update soon.

What should I do with Steve Cary's case?

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  • vivano

    Interesting how US Air didn’t have time to properly respond to the credit card dispute, but they promptly billed Orbitz after the chargeback had been issued.

  • Rebecca

    A quick search of Orbitz shows the price of business class vs economy is a few hundred dollars more than double from Taipei to SFO. How can the airline and Orbitz claim he must pay business class fare for economy seats? So he should have been entitled to around a 25% refund, at least. The fact that they didn’t respond to the credit card dispute is their own problem. He shouldn’t owe them anything at this point. I normally don’t agree with all of the compensation requests on this site, but in this case, the OP should get to keep the $2500.

    He also NEEDS to send a certified letter to the collection agency disputing the validity of the debt.

  • Cat

    If the customer had let a deadline pass it would be the end of any and all negotiations. Should be the same for the airline, and any other business.

  • They want their money, but they won’t show their math. Mmmmyeah, no.

  • jpp42

    Agreed – I think it would be appropriate to be reimbursed less than $2500 had it been handled in a reasonable timeframe immediately after the downgrade. But given that deadlines have been missed and it’s now months later, it seems the most straightforward thing is for the matter to be dropped. But Orbitz shouldn’t wear the cost – they need to send that debit memo right back to US Airways who in turn sends it to EVA – EVA is the one who didn’t provide the service and should pay.


    It seems its already been resolved, Carey has the money. Send a certified dispute to the collection agency, if they want to dispute the matter direct them to the appropriate court. If the agency attempts to negatively impact his credit take the CRA to court and file suite. If Orbitz, EVA, United want to prove their case they will need more then an exacerbated “But you cant do that” to show a judge or jury.

  • JenniferFinger

    He probably needs to sue EVA, Orbitz, and US Airways to make them show their math.

  • John Baker

    The OP needs to send a certified letter to the collection agency disputing the receivable based on non-delivery of purchased service. I would CC the legal departments at both Orbitz and US Air. At that point, Orbitz and US Air will have the choice to either continue to not provide the proof of claim or negotiate a different amount. It really doesn’t matter to the OP because the collection activity has to stop.

    I’m betting that they opt to negotiate for something.

  • sirwired

    Orbitz needs to be pursuing this; they are his travel agent after all. Time for them to stop whining, call off the dogs, and do their *bleeping!* job. If Orbitz can’t, he’ll need to sue US Air in small claims. (Unless Orbitz happens to be based in, or registered to do business in, his state…)

    As a side-note, when checking in for a flight, ALWAYS request a receipt. Printed on the receipt will be the fare and taxes (all broken out) for each leg of your round-trip booking. (It’s several lines of codes and dollar amounts one after another in a big Wall Of Text, but can be decoded if you sit down and work it out.)

  • Joe

    I’ve found that writing to your congressmen and CC’ing a number of related agencies seems to do the trick. In this case, Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Trade Commission. When possible, get contacts and use specific names at each department. Keep it unemotional, state the facts and the outcome you are expecting. Airlines do this because most people give up and eventually go away, and they can get away with it. If you bring it into the open and shine the light on the ridiculousness of their scam, they have nowhere to hide.

  • EdB

    “An Orbitz representative called me immediately and explained that Cary’s math was wrong.”

    Since Orbitz and US Airways failed to respond as to what the correct math was, then Cary’s math is correct. Simple as that. It was up to the airline and OTA to provide the correct math at the time of the initial dispute. Since they failed to do that, his math stands.

  • jim6555

    “they are his travel agent after all”. Are they really his TRAVEL AGENT? A travel agent looks out for the best interest of his/her retail client. These online agencies look out primarily for themselves and secondarily for the vendors who provide the service (airline, hotel, car rental provider, etc.). I can’t think of a time that an on-line agency provided any value for the traveler except a slightly lower price. Perhaps ON-LINE AGENT is the best way to describe them. If it were up to me, the term ON-LINE AGENT would take on negative connotations. The phrase TRAVEL AGENT should only be applied to brick and mortar or home based agents.

  • John Baker

    I’m sure their math shows him owing them money. After all, he purchased a discounted fare and when you add in the full Y (Economy walk up) fare that he used for hours, I’m sure if exceeds half of what he paid…

    Of course that’s airline math. Never let not delivering what you sold someone to get in your way… I’d love to see a restaurant try charging you for an aged prime fillet, deliver a US Canner grade hamburger and argue that you owe them more (or that they don’t owe you a refund).

  • MarkKelling

    Currently looking at two receipts for recent trips I took, one on UA and the other on Frontier. I see the total broken down into airfare and the various taxes, but this does not break down the fare into each of the segments as you indicate. I do remember seeing something like you describe in the past, but not recently. I think the more detailed breakout is kept hidden form us now on purpose.

  • NakinaAce

    Tell him to contact the Attorney General in the State where he lives or where he purchase the ticket. Also, tell him to notify the collection agent in writing that he disputes the charge and demand that they provide the details from the original party. If all that fails tell him to file suit against all involved in his local court.

  • Raven_Altosk

    US Airways and Orbitz. Two crappy companies that make ugly children together.
    Good luck with this one.

  • Uh, thanks. I’m really conflicted over this one. I don’t think either of the companies will budge, but I don’t want to give up on this guy either.

  • SoBeSparky

    First, never negotiate from a position of weakness. So Cary is right to start at $2,500, knowing he must eventually compromise.

    Second, just what value did Orbitz add to this trip? Put differently, why are people still using third-party, anonymous agencies to purchase a ticket? Yes, I can see the benefit of a local agent who knows you and your preferences and provides personal service. But what added value did Orbitz provide? In fact, it just gummed up the works. It advocated for the airline, when the customer was Mr. Cary.

    I only book on the on-line sites when I cannot get the itinerary and fare to show up on the airline’s own website. I can usually get to show me what I want, even if it takes a bit of work. Delta, on the other hand, sometimes simply refuses to show me an itinerary with fewer intermediate stops when ITA and on-line agencies show me the faster alternatives.

  • sirwired

    Taking the collection agency (or the airline) to court is time-consuming and fraught with peril. Not to mention his credit will be hosed until the whole process works it’s way through.

  • Brenda

    I agree, Rebecca. If they downgrade a customer that paid more for business class then refuse a refund, that is equitable to theft.

  • Jim

    His mistake was getting on the plane. He basically agreed to the downgrade by getting on the plane. Sure, it would have been VERY inconvenient to miss his flight and deal with that mess, but by accepting the downgrade he basically told the airline that the convenience of getting home as planned was potentially worth the extra money.

    Also, anyone who wastes 5 grand on a flight is only chasing after the money to prove a point.

  • Carol

    Agreed! Whenever there is a problem I am ALWAYS on the traveler’s side in any dispute.

  • sirwired

    They may not be very good agents, but they are agents.

    And I’m not sure why you think the location of the agent’s workplace makes any difference. Why would a non-retail-office agent be inherently worse than one at home or a retail storefront?

  • sirwired

    The receipt I’m talking about is what you get when you push the “Print Receipt” button on the checkin machine… (not the one you get in your e-mail when booking online.)

  • Carol

    I believe he was referring to sites such as Orbitz etc. Those sites definitely do not offer the personal care and follow-up of a traditional agent.

  • sirwired

    No need to write congress (who will just call the DOT), the FAA (which doesn’t handle consumer complaints), or FTC (which doesn’t have jurisdiction over air travel)…. writing the DOT Aviation Consumer Protection Division is sufficient. The DOT positively enjoys “hard” complaints in which the airline clearly violated their Contract of Carriage.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    I’ve noticed an ever-increasing trend of non-cooperation … seems like these big companies just keep responding with inane information or no information and pretty soon the “victim” goes away. Stay on it! I remember a months-long “conversation” with my health insurance company over about $4K reimbursement for prescriptions. On my last phone call, I said “John, understand me, I am NOT going away. I know that your job when you come to work every morning is to deny claims. My job is to get reimbursed after I followed your rules. I will NOT go away”. I had notes on every phone call, every person and date, every thing I had been told by various reps. I had my check in two weeks.

  • Guest

    Please stay with it. I have been in almost the exact same situation with orbitz, usairways and collections! It is unsolvable for a regular guy. Please help!

  • shannon mccarthy

    Dont give up. I have been in almost the same position with USairways and Orbitz and it is impossible for a little guy to get anything resolved. Help him out! I will never ever use Orbitz ever again because they are horrible.

  • EdB

    I know what you mean about the non-cooperation from businesses these days. Just finished a 3 month fight with one refusing to refund the money for items that was not supposed to have been purchased. I believe they actually had my phone number blocked because when I called, they would never answer but when I called from a number they didn’t know about, they answered after the first ring. It took intervention from the State licensing agency for their business to get the refund.

  • EdB

    Don’t give up on him. Even if the companies won’t budge, give him encouragement and help in filing complaints with the appropriate agencies.

  • EdB

    I’m sure that the airline’s math does show him owing them money and they should have shown it at the time of dispute. Since they didn’t, they can’t (or at least shouldn’t be allowed to) come back crying about it after they lose a judgement. I know a credit card dispute is not a legal judgement, but it is still a judgement that they failed to support their side.

    And in regards to your example, with the airline’s contracts, it is even worse. They would be able to bring you something as simple as a bowl of peas and say they filled the contract because they did give you something to eat. After all, the contract only says they have to get you from point A to point B. They don’t have to guarantee you get the extras you paid for. Only that you eventually made it to your destination. :)

  • EdB

    In regards to the FTC, the complaint is not about the air travel but the use of a collection agency to collect what may be an invalid debt. That they do have jurisdiction over.

  • Michael__K

    What gives you the idea US Airways violated their Contract of Carriage?

    The contract reads that they only owe any difference between the fare paid and Y fare. Which as John Baker aptly pointed out is very likely to be less than zero, which means by the contract US Airways frequently owes passengers like the OP absolutely nothing for getting downgraded.

  • Daddydo

    There are two ways to purchase a business class ticket. The customer rarely knows what he gets except through a real live ASTA agent that present the ticket receipt to them.
    1 Purchase a straight ticket which is usually more.
    2 Purchase a consolidator ticket via any legit travel agent including online. ( they may be a consolidator themselves.

    1 The ticket has a complete breakdown of the entire trip with point to point fares, taxes, eft’s, government cut. etc. It is right there in black and white. Oh, I have no idea why Orbitz has not provided this yet. Ours is instantaneous.
    2. I purchase a consolidator ticket at half price or so and mark it up for profit. All travel agents have their companies as does Orbitz, and there is no ticketing trail. It simply says confirmed and shows all of the taxes.

    USair really may have no idea at all how the ticket was written. All they did was participate in a contracted sale with Orbitz.

    Now, most international tickets are written round trip, so by the time you use the going portion, there is little to no value for the return. (based on ticketing basis #1). You can not assign a return value by the cost on the internet., BUT this sounds more like a BUMP situation and could be worth 4 X’s the value of the ticket. There is a bit of fuzziness between bump and downgrade, but that’s how I would attack this situation).

  • Christopher Bielinski

    I urge you to stay on it, Orbitz was not charged $2,500 by US Airways for this flight. They buy in bulk and get discounts (I used to work for a travel website) so it didn’t cost that much. Second they had the opportunity to respond in the chargeback period, they didn’t so it is their loss. They haven’t even responded appropriately to his requests before dishing it off to a collection firm so they deserve to write this off to bad debt because it is their own fault.

  • John H.

    Would an option have been for the OP to request a later flight that had business class seats? Also, in one sense, he was bumped holding a paid reservation. He was
    due compensation for that plus accommodation and meals. He needn’t have accepted the economy seat as fulfilling the airline’s part of the bargain.

  • jerryatric

    Ah yes this once again shows my contention of how the air travel industry has gone downhill in it’s treatment of passengers over the years.
    I also never use OTA’s as they are of no real use if a problem arises. AND if you go to the airline sites you can find great deals.

  • Daddydo

    USAir and EVA have no idea of what is going on and they should not! Orbitz has the figures. They are the ones not showing their hand. Every ticket issued through IATAN and ARC issue some form of a fare break down. The company issuing that particular ticket has all of the information. Sometimes, research will allow you to have the knowledge to cast blame.

  • bodega3

    Orbitz had not paid the carrier? All this is done through ARC and is done weekly. So this had to be a last minute ticket and the OP traveled for less than one week. Is this correct? Also, if he was ‘checking in’ for the flight from Taipei, how did he get to Taiwan from China? That wasn’t a part of his international ticket?

  • Barry Moss

    Considering that business class fares are usually a lot more than double the cheapest economy fares, I think Steve is being rather generous with his calculations.

  • suke

    Since neither Orbitz nor US Air has responded, let him keep the $2500 and dispute the debt when the collector calls.

  • Alan Gore

    As online agents go, Orbitz was always supposed to be one of the better examples. Guess this is another one I will have to cross off my list now. And what in hell is EVA? If I wanted to pay extra for a Business experience, I would go with a carrier that has a reputation for great premium service, like Singapore or Emirates.

    Usually a case like this is a lost cause because of the length of time that has elapsed since the flight; the company just ignores you, and eventually you will go away. But the OP in this one has the advantage, because of the successful chargeback. I would just sit it out until taken to court, then explain the circumstances to a jury. If he plays it right (certified letter to the collection agency, etc.), he could become the long-suffering airline passengers’ Zimmerman.

  • bodega3

    To be fair, it isn’t the OTA’s fault. I booked our trip on the carrier’s website and it was a code share. I couldn’t check in on the return and that made me very nervous. All worked out, but the codeshare situation has flaws.

  • TheButlerDiditt

    Had a similar thing happen to me. The airline thought we missed a segment of our trip (we didn’t) and cancelled/resold our First Class seats on a Hong Kong-NYC flight. They tried to put us in economy as well. NOT A CHANCE! We did nothing wrong and there was no way I was going to accept that sort of downgrade! We had to stay over an extra night to get on a flight in our booked class, but it was all on the airline’s dime. Hotel and meal vouchers. It put us off schedule a bit, but we got a free extra vacation day out of it. :)

  • bodega3

    What Orbitz’s net is on this isn’t part of the issue. They also aren’t the ones who changed the return ticket from biz class to coach. They are caught between the client and the vendor but since they don’t really provide a service, it isn’t surprising to me that they aren’t assisting the OP in this.

  • bodega3

    They calculate the difference based on a Y fare, as that is the class of service he would have been rebooked in for a last minute change. The comment in the article about the carrier not being paid yet, leads me to believe this was a last minute booking and therefore the low APEX fares usually don’t apply.

  • jerryatric

    I’m only trying to make 1 comment & that is the whole Travel experience has gone downhill over the last many years. I do believe these OTA have added to the problem for passengers.
    I’m sure every major company in the Travel Industry has individually & in groups many lobbyists pushing their agendas. None of which really help the consumer.
    And finally the item that pushes it over the top? I agree 100% with Chris, your TSA!

  • emanon256

    Except the OP paid orbitz, and orbits paid US Air. Then when the OP disputed it, orbitz had the money taken from them, but had still paid US Air. So orbitz is out the money. They weren’t billed after the fact. While I feel the OP deserved a partial refund, I do think Orbitz is also a victim here. And that means a lot coming for me as I advocate 100% against ever using an OTA like orbitz. This is a perfect case as to why one should only book with the airline directly or a real personal travel agent.

  • vivano

    From the post, I understood that OP disputed the charge with the US Airways, not with Orbitz. He says: “US Airways did not respond to Chase’s request”. And that may not be unusual — from my experience with Expedia or Cheapoair, OTAs frequently let airlines charge my credit card for the ticket.

  • John Baker

    @4a58b6930d0b32ac252b73abdfa18b1e:disqus I didn’t read it that way.

    I read it that US Air still charged the entire fare amount (ie US Air didn’t discount when they didn’t deliver) and was holding Orbitz responsible for the CC refund. I did not read it that Orbitz did not pay. In fact, the OP states that the CC dispute was with US Air not Orbitz so I don’t think that this was a consolidator fare.

    More of US Air having bad service.

  • bodega3

    If the card given to the OTA shows on your cc statement, the charge was put through the GDS and the airline is the company charging you. If the statement shows the name of the OTA, then you got a net or bulk fare that is charged in house and the money is showed as a cash transaction between the OTA and ARC, which is how those tickets are handled.

  • bodega3

    That is weird. It was in the article and now it is gone. He stated that the carrier said that Orbitz hadn’t paid the carrier for his ticket at the time of his initial contact.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Fraught with peril? Not sure why. In any event, he shouldn’t have a black mark in his record if he disputes it timely. I’ve done that regularly for my clients without any problems

  • John Baker

    Here’s the line I thought you were referring to .. “Orbitz still owed US Airways the fare, and was well within its rights to try to collect the $2,500 it says had been wrongfully refunded by Chase.”

    I just took it to mean the normal ARC accounting where the airlines get to stiff the agent for the airline’s mistakes…

  • bodega3

    This wasn’t the OTA’s fault from what I am reading regarding the ticket. They issued the ticket and the carrier got the OP to Asia in biz class and the return was the problem. Now how Orbitz handled their customer service when contacted is an issue.

  • DavidYoung2

    Or he can do what I did with Continental when they left us stranded in Houston on a flight that was supposed to connect to New Orleans. They said the IAH-MSY portion was only $25.00. So I sued in small claims court. Court costs were $35.00. Once they got served, a ‘senior customer service rep’ contacted me to say how sorry they were that I was upset and offered (1) cash refund of 50% of the ticket plus $100.00 voucher plus reimburse court costs or (2) full refund of the ticket plus $100 plus the $35.00 in Continental funny money

  • bodega3

    I guess I missed it. Thanks.
    How this works is that the agency issues a ticket and the books close at midnight every Sunday. All tickets issued via the GDS are reported by Tuesday to ARC. ARC then handles things on their end with the carrier. Even if the fare is net or bulk, it still goes through ARC as a cash payment. If that is the case, then your cc statement would show Orbitz as the charging company, not the carrier. After that if there are any disputes, the agency would receive notification from the carrier.

  • Thomas Ralph

    Actually the fare component can cover multiple legs of the journey.

  • sirwired

    They charged for something, a business class seat, they did not provide. Refusing to provide both a refund and an account of costs seems pretty straightforward to me. While his business class seat may have been cheaper than full-fare coach, the proper pricing to apply would have been whatever advance-purchase discounts would have applied at the time he booked.

  • bodega3

    I disagree with you. He booked a biz class ticket and due to an issue with the carrier, was downgraded. Having sold airline tickets for several decades, he indeed should be entitled to some sort of refund.
    It is a matter of opinion, not fact as to whether or not he wasted his money. I will not fly coach for long international flights and it is my money to decide on how I wish to travel. I flew coach once from SFO to LHR and have never done it again and won’t.

  • Michael__K

    The Contract of Carriage is written such that US Airways is perfectly entitled to charge for things they don’t provide. The Contract of Carriage does not have any provision for applying what you call the “proper pricing.” We have no facts presented here to demonstrate that US Airways violated their Contract of Carriage in any way.

    If you want to argue that the Contract of Carriage is adhesive, unconscionable, and unenforceable in this circumstance, then I completely agree.

    But Chris has written about downgrades before: again and again and again and again. In every case, the passengers never receive more than a pittance in compensation unless the airline is embarrassed into doing so (not because they are legally forced to do so). And the apologists make excuses and nothing changes.

  • Thomas Ralph

    Chalk up another consumer protection victory for the EU, where a downgrade on a long haul flight gets you a 75% refund on the whole ticket.

  • bodega3

    USAIR isn’t the operating carrier. EVA was the operating carrier.

  • Michael__K

    US AIrways’ contract states that they are entitled to keep your money and take no responsibility for the “acts or omissions” of their codeshare partners (i.e. charge for things not provided).

    And how is EVA’s contract different from US Airways when it comes to downgrades? EVA’s language is vaguer — they don’t explicitly refer to ‘Y’ fare — but are you suggesting they don’t use Y fare as well?

  • bodega3

    I honestly don’t know how the payment between the two carrier work with regards to the codeshare. We are not privy to that. In the C of C, it pretty much states that the operating carrier rules apply. Certain rules are the same and some aren’t. I am pretty sure that EVA rebooked them in Y unless they operated a premium class on the flight and the OP was given that. I am still unclear on how the OP got to Taipei.

  • Agent John

    Unfortunately, when a customer disputes a charge it goes to the airline who acts as the merchant and the airline automatically sends a debit memo to the travel agent. By the time the agent gets the debit memo it is usually too late to address the dispute and the agency has to pay the airline for the chargeback. Consequently, the airline gets all the money so they don’t care. Refunds of tickets are a always a problem as it is difficult for the purchaser to understand the airline policy. Fully refundable fares are extremely expensive and the fare that was purchased here was very low for business class which makes me believe it was a highly restricted non-refundable fare. However, that should not be the center of the dispute, being bumped from business class to economy is what the dispute should be about. Although the ticket was issued by US Airways the dispute should be between Eva Air and the passenger, as it was they that bumped the passenger to economy. There is no refund due but there should be compensation due by Eva Air. Orbitz has every right to demand the amount of the disputed charge. Moral of the story is, stay away from codeshare flights.

  • Michael__K

    I see that EVA flies PVG to SFO daily with a connection at TPE.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    As I’m sure Elliott knows, the airlines can engage in fuzzy math when considering compensation. This no doubt happens all the time (business class passengers getting bumped to economy). They can calculate the price difference from retail business class to retail (refundable) economy which isn’t that great. As my business traveling friends often tell me, the different in fare between refundable economy and business class is often negligible so they pay the difference themselves (a few hundred bucks) and enjoy. When the airlines need to pay off a bumped business class passenger, they play that game in reverse.

    If the airline had done its homework, they could have probably gotten away with this. Now that Orbitz is left holding the bag, it’s a mess for them and the airline. He’s in a position of strength and can file an injunction against the collection agency since Orbitz lost the CC dispute by default under its agreement, yes? That’s the legal precedent here. Simply because the collection agency has a creditor that claims based upon their logic that they are entitled to the money isn’t the same as an actual legal debt. If companies sued like this after CC disputes, then the courts would be quite a busy place, eh?

    I say that Elliott offers to do this: Go online and look up a fare with similar attributes and calculate a ratio of difference. Doesn’t matter what it is but 1/2 segment of a RT flight on economy versus one on business. Apply the ratio to the cost of the flyer’s ticket, $2500, and offer that as restitution. That will build a further case for a court to find in favor of the flyer if it ever comes to that.

  • bodega3

    He could have had a layover and had to then check in again in Taipei, making it all one ticket. But then he would have had the same confirmation number out of China and did he fly biz from China to Taipei?

  • bodega3

    But he didn’t fly 1/2 of the ticket. He flew to Shanghai, then he flew home from Taipei. You have routing, layover, plus you don’t just figure out at today’s fare, which BTW you can’t find online, as you only see what they show you in flights. A GDS gives us current fares and we get historical fares, which Orbitz.should be able to do, Now what we don’t know is what the carrier knew of the fare issued. If this was a net or bulk fare, the carrier might not have access to this information and then Orbitz would have the fare calculation.

  • Michael__K

    I take Chris’ article at face value:

    Cary had a seat in business class the entire trip.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    Oh, that’s a bit apples and oranges then. But still, it’s good that he can ask Orbitz to calculate this or do it on his own rather than having had to rely upon the airline making the calculation as I indicated above. Then they could have gotten a much better deal.

    I think the best deal would have been a $2000 voucher on a future flight. But the problem is that having gone through Orbitz, Orbitz is left holding the bag so the airline won’t make that gesture.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Problem is, he already has the money so he can’t sue in small claims court.

  • Guest

    Does it really matter how he got to Taipei? If his return ticket started in Tapei, that’s all that matters. He could have had several business stops over there that he booked on a separate ticket that left him in Taipei.

  • Lindabator

    He wasn’t bumped if he got on his flight – this was a downgrade situation only.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Also, anyone who wastes 5 grand on a flight is only chasing after the money to prove a point.
    That’s a pretty bold statement to make. Not to mention that statement has little or no truth behind it.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    He’s in a position of strength and can file an injunction against the collection agency since Orbitz lost the CC dispute by default under its agreement, yes? That’s the legal precedent here….
    Every legal statement made is untrue.

    1. The credit card decision has no affect on whether the OP owes the money.

    2. The OP cannot get an injunction against the collection agency under these facts. However, the agency should not ding his credit.

    3. The company, or collections agency, depending on the relationship, could sue the OP is they desired.

    4. Making an offer will have no effect on any ultimate court resolution as offers in compromise are generally inadmissible for all purposes.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    If I buy a business class ticket and business becomes full. Am I required to accept the downgrade?

  • PolishKnightUSA

    Doing research, I see the flight from Shanghai to Taipei is about 2 hours while from Taipei to SF is 13 hours. So while relevant, it’s trivial. Yes, business class on a 2 hour flight is probably better than economy, but barely noticeable. On a flight from Dulles to Odessa, we have a layover in Moscow. The difference in fare between flying to Moscow versus onward to Odessa, round trip, was about 15%.

  • James Penrose

    Seems to me the airline lost their claim when they failed to respond in a timely manner to the initial dispute. They certainly use a lot of “if you do not respond, you agree to our terms” when mucking about with the consumer so it seems fair to hold them tot he same standard.

  • bodega3

    It isn’t trivial in the sense that if it was a part of his ticket, then his reservation number was the same all the way through. He said they could not find his reservation easily. Something then happened, which is why he lost his seat. Did he have a new res number? While you don’t get it, those of us with access to an PNR in the GDS where the original ticket was issue can look this up and see if an SSR message showed a cancellation, a noshow, a reaccommodation. This is in history.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    Appreciate the education, Carver. Question about number 4: For “all” purposes? Not even to make a legal argument? “I made this offer X based upon Y logic?” Regarding number 1, point taken. So in disputes mediated by my CC company, they just yank away the money and leave it to the vendor to determine if it’s worth coming after me in court on the dispute.

    That all said, it makes sense for him to run some numbers and offer to make a deal. The collection agency as well as the other players should know that they face legal bills to take him to court that are in excess of the amount they would hope to get UNLESS would he face bills for those if he lost?

  • bodega3

    We don’t know what his ticket was from China to Taipei. That isn’t trivial when you are calculating fares based on the routing and any layovers. Now did he book coach from China to Taipei and did a separate ticket, therefore a separate PNR and reservation number? Did he fly a carrier that doesn’t interline and hence the reason for the checkin in Taipei or was it a layover? If it was a layover in the same PNR and reservation number all the way through, then in history should have some notes and SSR messages. Also, was the new flight info sent to Orbitz as a schedule change? If so, the class of service the OP was rebooked in will be accessible in history.

  • bodega3

    No. But you might have to wait a day or two to get out, which might not have worked for the OP.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    HI Polish,

    I agree that If he wants to resolve this he should run some numbers and figure out a compromise. Although, if it were me, I’d be so pissed, I’d send them 2 letters. The first to timely dispute the debt, the second one, telling them not to contact me again. If the collections agency purchased the debt then the second letter will prevent further contact. I doubt if this would be litigated.

    As far as offers in compromise, the strong public policy favors settlement. Accordingly, if settlement offers were admissible, that would frustrate the public policy. Accordingly, offers for the purpose of settlement cannot be introduced. Also, in this case, as in many cases, the offer has no bearing on the OPs liability.

    In the words of the immortal Joe Friday, “Just the facts…”

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Yeah, that would royally suck. Would the airline be responsible for meals and lodging.?

    What could the OP do to protect himself? Seems like he’s just screwed, but for the fact that they screwed up the CC dispute

  • bodega3

    It depends on the laws of the country regarding the carriers responsibility. I know I would be pissed off and would pay for everything with a credit card if they said they were not covering it and deal with it when I got home if I wasn’t getting anywhere with them at the airport. If he had a paid ticket for biz class, he should have been accommodated in biz class either on another flight, even on another carrier, which I wonder if he asked about the latter.
    I want to know why they gave up his seat. Was he late in checking in? Was it there when he check on his flight online? Had he provided a contact number to EVA while in Taipei? If not, he was required then to reconfirm and if you don’t reconfirm, you can lose your seat.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    Understood. But you still didn’t answer my question whether he’d face paying their legal fees. Usually, companies try to get you to sign off on waivers with binding arbitration and paying their legal fees if you lose. Since this is now a straight commercial services non-payment dispute, that wouldn’t apply right? Also, would they go after him in federal court or state small claims? Venue might get complicated (it’s a great law school question): Someone buys a ticket on Orbitz for a codeshare ticket with another (foreign) airline that mucks things up.

  • disqus_wK5MCy17IP


    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Sorry, I hadn’t noticed. The answer to all of your question is, I’d have to see the contract. That’s what would define the each parties rights and responsibilities.

  • Michael__K

    US Airway’s contract is here:

    EVA’s contract is here:

    A plain reading of these contracts (section for Eva; section 08-02 for USAir) implies they owe nothing more than the fare paid minus the “applicable” (Y) economy fare. Which very likely is a negative amount in which case they would owe absolutely nothing.

    Even if a passenger were completely IDB’d, it looks like EVA offers no compensation unless the flight originated in the US or some other country where IDB compensation is mandatory.

    I can’t imagine that these contracts could hold up in a US Court but I’m curious as to your thoughts.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    Just wait until the US Airways merger with AA.
    There will be double ugly children

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    Makes you wonder who gave you a “down” vote.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    The problem is that I wouldn’t feel comfortable commenting unless I read the entire 34 page contract.

  • EdB

    Yeah. I was wondering the same thing. I had posted the situation on a consumer complaint board. The board allows others to vote, like our up and down votes here. They give 3 options. Useful, Funny, and Bulls**t. I just checked and there are 6 bull votes. Gee. I wonder where those are coming from. :)

  • Lil’ Miss Nightmare

    If OP would of jumped into a business class seat after paying for an economy seat, would that be considered or something equitable to theft?
    You bet your butt that US Airways would of pressed some sort of criminal charges against him! He would be tied up with air marshals and homeland security for the rest of his life.
    He does deserve some reimbursement, but unfortunately Orbitz footed the bill. Orbitz should request reimbursement from US Airways on behalf of their traveler.

  • TonyA_says

    Something’s very wrong here. I don’t think Orbitz could have sold a correct fare and ticketed him on EVA Airways (BR) metal routing SFO-TPE-PVG and v.v. using USAirways Fares and Codeshare flights. There is no such USAir fare, and there was no such fare in the last 6 months (historical) I can find that could made this happen. Of course I could be completely wrong and embarrass myself in front of the crowd :)

    If I am correct then was there any basis of the said ticket in the first place. What tariff was used? What fare basis rules and what contract applies?
    Common sense tells me if I was sold junk by an OTA, then they weren’t playing fair in the first place. So it is within reason that I protect my interest by using my credit card company to pay what I believe is fair. If they can prove otherwise then show me how.

  • TonyA_says

    FYI I could not find a BC Fare SFO-TPE for USAir. I could find a BC fare SFO-PVG for USAir, but the routing requires UA/CA only over the Pacific. There are econ fares for SFO-TPE for USAir with routing on BR codeshares.

    I have a feeling he was sold a MIXED CLASS ticket from the get go. Otherwise, the GDS would not autoprice his ticket.
    I don’t think the OTA will issue non-autopriced tickets (i.e. manually priced) because they can’t be automated.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Love the “Princess Bride” reference.

  • TonyA_says

    Tried to do some research. USair has a BC fare using UA metal SFO-PVG, none using BR metal. There is no USAir BC fare for SFO-TPE. So there is no way the OTA could have created a ticket using BR codeshare on a US BC fare. I suspect he was always on a econ class booking code on the return from TPE-SFO and just did not know it :-)
    OTAs sell mixed class itineraries when you search for BC flights. It makes them look cheap. Very deceptive if you ask me.

  • bodega3

    The ‘heckin in TPE sends up a red flag for me. I wonder if he had a ticket from SFO to TPE rt and then another ticket to PVG rt. Unfortunately I can’t get into Sabre today to check on things, so glad you got on here!

  • TonyA_says

    He probably flew UA metal SFO-PVG then on way back PVG-TPE-SFO on BR metal. t the only way you can autoprice that with a US fare basis is coach on the return leg because there is no BC fare on US allowing that route.
    Im not sure a US fare will allow combination with a BR fare for the return but I did not try. But that would not be a codeshare so I did not bother.

  • emanon256

    You know, I often use OTAs to search multiple carriers when it’s a new route for me and have noticed a lot of mixed class. Never thought about why, but it does make it look like a cheap bc flight. I agree, very deceptive.

  • Matthew Montano

    Don’t give up. This situation is likely to arise more frequently. Building up the equivalent of ‘case-law’ should hopefully set future expectations, and potentially future hard rules on how this scenario should be handled by passenger, agent, ticketing and operating airlines.

  • emanon256

    Actually, when I used to work in A/R, and someone disputed a charge, our attorney often advised we not deal with the dispute as the credit card companies often make very arbitrary decisions. It was in our best interest to ignore the dispute and immediately begin collections and then sue the customer. In every case, the debt was still legal debt. What the credit card company did had no bearing in court. Often the magistrate lectured the customer about abusing the credit card dispute process.

  • James E

    I think the person you are talking to really needs to just file a dispute with the major credit bureau s. He also needs to request the documentation of debt from the collection office.

  • backprop

    This is another type of case that I wish you’d mediate 100 times before another “I bought a nonrefundable ticket but [something bad happened to me and now I want my money back]” cases. Go get ’em on this one!

  • DavidYoung2

    So pay it back to make the credit problem go away and sue for a refund.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Returning the money is always a bad strategy. As someone else posted, that’d be negotiating from a position of weakness.

    Given the size of amount “owed”, it is highly unlikely that he would ever get sued. Also, given the nature of the debt, his credit should not be dinged. Therefore, dealing with small claims court is not advantageous to the OP. His best choices, in my opinion, would be either blow off the collections agency or settle with them and return only the amount of the settlement,

  • Mark Carolla

    As a former travel agent, the airline should have issued him a credit immediately for the last leg. Period. Otherwise, the burden rests with US Airways to “fix” this with their agent (Orbitz) and the OP. He also should take this to small claims court – and government consumer protection agencies in a full court press — and throw in all his costs in dealing with this. I’d also suggest a certified letter to the CEO’s of US Airways and Orbitz – and the VP at US Airways for Marketing; and the COOwith a cc to his Congressman the DOT and every consumer protection agency in his chain. The wheel that squeaks the loudest gets the most grease.

  • Joe Reynolds

    If the credit card company credited the $2500 to their customer then who got stuck. Which airline or Orbitz,. The dispute is between the cc company and orbitz or the ailine. So the cc company is able to take the money back from to whom they paid it. Did they pay it to the airline or to Orbitz? Cary should be out of the loop. A collection agency should be looking to the credit card company.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    A collection agency should be looking to the credit card company.
    Not possible. Unlike you and I who don’t have much bargaining power, VISA, Mastercard, and banks do. The merchant agreement gives the credit card companies incredible bargaining power. Consider, which airline is powerful enough to say, we’re not taking credit cards?

  • Helio

    In my point of view, OP received more refund than he is entitled to. He got 1/2 of the total fare, but he flew all the way.

    I believe he was entitled to receive something between USD1000 and USD2000, because the EC is not free of charge, even if he may convinced the CC operator about it.

    For me, it is a situation of double standard – if the company keeps more money that the correct amount, it is a villain; but if the “poor” traveler got a free leg and a change, is it OK?

    (My math: total ticket was USD4941, “half ticket” should be USD2470.50, then he kept the additional USD29,50 as a sort of “inconvenience fee”?!?)

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I view it as compensation failing to provide the services promised.

  • bodega3

    He did not use 1/2 of the fare as the ticket was priced based on routing. He did an open jaw ticket from what is stated in Chris’ article. Now he somehow got to Taipei, as he was not checked in all the way from China to SFO. Therefore, according to the C of C, he has to provide a local number and then not reconfirm. If he didn’t provide a local contact and didn’t confirm, he may have been canceled for the flight to SFO and as such, at the time of check in, he had take the economy seat. Many international carriers use to require a 72 hour reconfirmation time period or your reservation got canceled. With the internet, this is changing, but not across the board. It is up to each carrier. As Michael found, a downgrade is to Y, therefore, a discount biz class ticket might not be much more.
    So while many want to armchair quarterback what you think should happen, the fare, the C of C all play a factor in what might have happened and will dictate what can be refunded or add collected.
    Orbitz is being caught in the middle of the carrier and the credit card and as a ticketing agent, I would be defending my agency in any debit memo. Been there, and won, as what happens after a client departs due to the airline’s action, doesn’t mean we have to pay on our end. Even ASTA went to bat with the airline’s on this for us on certain things.

  • mburrows

    The traveler is mostly whole. Let the carrier and the online agent beat on each other. Tell the collection agency to pound sand, in writing, and again demand a better accounting. These whores buy the debt for pennies on the dollar. They deserve nothing and do not belong in a legitimate business dispute. The companies who hire them, ion this case the carrier or a sad excuse for a travel agent, are the pthier pimps. Do not feed these paraties.
    The traveler did not receive the product he paid for. If his calculation is tha bais for the CC adjustment, let it stand. He deserves more for dealing with the idiots.
    Why does anyone book with these thrid parties anyway? It creates a web of deniability that has to lead to a bad end, as seen here.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Suppose the traveler is flat out wrong?

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    The airlines are probably following the letter of the contract. The question though, is it right. I would opine that an involuntary business downgrade to the highest coach price is unconscionable when it results in effectively the same price for coach and business. In what other business can a company choose to deliver an inferior product and not refund any money.
    Now, if the passenger initiates or the downgrade, then he/she is SOL.

  • Flip44

    The mistake here was trying to get partial payment by breaking down what he considered the difference between business and economy fare. He should have disputed with his credit card bank, by asking for the full amount 0f $4941, since he did not get what he paid for. (The bank can only deal with the actual amount listed on his account). Then he would have had a better bargaining position with the airlines to negotiate. Then the airline might very well say, “we’ll credit you with $2500,” only.

  • EdB

    But he did dispute only a portion of the charge and won. He has the $2500 now and that is why Orbitz is sending the collection agency after him. To get back that money. Right now he has the stronger negotiating position.

    Or am I misunderstanding what you were trying to say?

  • Joyce Gioia

    The solution to this issue would seem to be a no-brainer. Look at the costs of economy and business class tickets for PVG-SFO. Then look at the percentage increase and apply it to one-half of the ticket Cary paid. You may not have it to the penny, but you’ll have a decent approximation.

  • EdB

    That’s the way it shouldwo rk in real world. But in the fantasy world of the airline’s, where they get to make the rules, they get to use their fuzzy math.

  • bodega3

    He didn’t fly PVG to SFO, he flew TPE to SFO. I have made several posts that there are rules by EVA that he may not have followed that could have caused his reservation to be canceled and they reaccommodated in premium economy as there were no biz class seats remaining. There are some details missing for us to really understand what happened. Also, one way vs roundtrip, even with an open jaw usually higher in cost, so you have to look at the class of service, the fare basis and go from there. There is danger in arm chair quarterbacking airline fares as you don’t know how this works unless you have a GDS. Sadly, it is very complicated.

  • bodega3

    When is comes to international fares, governments also have a say, so it isn’t just the carriers making the rules.

  • Joyce Gioia

    It is sad.

  • bodega3

    I just watched our local news. Someone was 3 minutes past the checkin time and their reservation was canceled. They had to repurchase tickets to get to Hawaii and the carrier was Hawaiian Airlines. I wish Chris would report back with more details. I am guessing he didn’t reconfirm or give them a local number or cut his checkin too close. Could be wrong, but something happened for EVA to give up a paid seat.

  • knlfaz

    Wow…I think they should reimburse him for the entire cost of the ticket — after all, he did purchase a business class ticket. This would be likened to booking the Four Seasons and stuck in a roach motel — even though I spent the night in the roach motel, I certainly don’t think I should have to pay for a 5 star property….or even the zero star property. It is not what I purchased. Seems like fraud to me. I booked an economy plus ticket on Delta — others warned me about any flights US Airways — and the seats were the set of two in the emergency exit row. This is the only way I could get my husband to fly. When we boarded the plane, it didn’t even have a row 14 as our boarding passes showed. Well, they stuck is in a middle and window seat — at least together but there was a very heavy set woman with too much perfume in the aisle seat — and partly in my seat as well. Would have flown on Southwest for a lot less if this was my only option.
    Well, long story short, I complained as I did not receive what I had paid for and was reimbursed with gift cards of my choice for about double what the cost of upgrading to economy plus had charged. Appropriate, well — maybe. Can I get my husband to fly with me on Delta ever again — nope, no way, absolutely not!! So, what did it really cost them??
    Orbitz and US Airways should drop this right now and leave the man alone — do not put him into collections. Christopher is on it and a lot of people read his newsletters — it would make me think long and hard about booking with either one of these businesses in the future. A little bad publicity goes a long way.

  • Us airways hater

    US Airways is a dishonest company. They cancelled my ticket 25 days after i bought it and would not work with me to fix it

  • bodega3

    You mean they canceled your reservation? A ticket that is 25 days old is either refunded, voided or resusable. What are the details of your problem as this is a bit of a onesided post without them.

  • bodega3

    There is also the case of trying to break the rules, like hidden city or back to back ticket that can leave you holding canceled reservation with no value to your tickets. Did you do something like that?

  • Lindabator

    No, but they might not be able to get you out as soon as you liked (especially in the case of limited coverage – could be 2 days sometimes)

  • Lindabator

    Yep – happens all the time – and those guys are the biggest whiners when they get caught!

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Who would be responsible for the hotel and meals?

  • Lindabator

    Generally, they have a set per diem they cover (covers cost of standard hotel and meals)

  • jayede

    I am not even getting how the airline rules or any other technicalities are even important here. The OP paid for his ticket with a credit card.

    When a merchant – whoever that merchant was: Orbitz, USAir, EVA, it doesn’t matter – agrees to accept Visa cards, they agree to certain terms with Visa. One of those terms is to respond to disputes in a timely manner. The OP disputed the charge with Chase. Chase contacted the merchant for a response to the dispute. There was none. Chase – AS PER THE RULES BETWEEN THE MERCHANT AND VISA – then resolved the dispute in the customer’s favor and took it out of the merchant’s account. End of story.

    The merchant or any other party to the transaction cannot then send the balance to collections against the holder of the card. That would be in violation of their agreement with Visa. I’m quite sure that if the OP points this out, collection efforts will cease.

    The various merchants in this case will have to fight this one out. The dispute process is one of the huge, huge advantages to using a credit card for any large purchase. The credit card company owns the dispute, and their rules govern the dispute process. In this case, Chase (and the OP) won by default when the target of the disputed charge didn’t provide a response.

  • EdB

    “The merchant or any other party to the transaction cannot then send the balance to collections against the holder of the card. That would be in violation of their agreement with Visa. I’m quite sure that if the OP points this out, collection efforts will cease.”

    Unfortunately, this is not true. The dispute process is between the merchant and the card issuer, not the holder. The issuer can find the merchant violated some aspect of the agreement and as a result, take the money back. That however, does not relieve the card holder from the debt. A dispute resolution is not a legal judgement as to the validity of the debt. Only if the rules were followed in processing the transactions.

  • Us airways hater

    There was no hidden city or back to back ticketing. It was a straight forward one way ticket that was pirchased through travelocity over the telephone and subsequently cancellled by us airways.

    The money was refunded to me but by the time the ticket/reservation was cancelled the ticket price had quadrupeled in price. Worthless dishonest company.

  • Bill___A

    You are good at this stuff, Chris, and it is the kind of injustice that deserves to be resolved fairly.

  • Bill___A

    The airlines shouldn’t sell things they don’t have. If they didn’t have a business class seat, they shouldn’t have sold it.

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