What happened to my tickets? And where’s my refund?

Sanda Anca Sperneac’s trip to Budapest, Hungary, turned out to be more expensive than she expected. She had to pay extra to get home to Toronto because of her travel booking company’s mistake – to the tune of 922 Canadian dollars ($689).

Is she entitled to any of it back?

Sperneac, her husband, and their three children, one of whom is an infant, were returning from Budapest to Toronto. They had made their bookings through the online travel site CheapOair, and paid for them using their Visa card.

But when the Sperneacs got to the Budapest airport, they were not able to check in for their flight. They were told that “their tickets were not associated with the booking.”

Sperneac then spent seven hours on her mobile phone with CheapOair’s agents trying to resolve the matter.

The Sperneacs, meanwhile, had to book hotel rooms for two extra nights and pay for meals as well as telephone charges for the calls to CheapOair. In addition, Sperneac’s husband lost time at work as well. During her conversations with CheapOair, one of its supervisors asked her to send CheapOair her receipts for her family’s extra costs and promised her a refund within 7 to 14 business days.

But the promised refund never arrived. Sperneac called CheapOair again and was told that its billing department had rejected her claim “because the policy of the company is not refunding food, telephone bills, etc.” (As travel companies do not issue compensation for lost time, Sperneac had no reasonable expectation of getting reimbursed for the two work days her husband missed.)

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Sperneac might have used our contact information for Fareportal, the parent company of CheapOair, to escalate her complaint, but she contacted our advocacy team for assistance.

CheapOair’s terms and conditions indicate quite clearly that it won’t accept liability for technical ticket processing errors, but will issue compensation for human errors:

CheapOair is not responsible for any tickets that could not be processed due to … technical glitches. … In the event that your original flights cannot be honored, CheapOair will make every effort to provide alternative flight/fare options. … If any of our agents make a mistake in the booking process we shall make reasonable attempts to rectify these errors at the time of occurrence. CheapOair stands committed to providing compensation up to a maximum of the entire service fees that CheapOair has collected for that booking in addition to a $50 coupon as redemption towards purchases from CheapOair within 12 months in the future. You must notify us of errors within 24 hours of receiving your itinerary. Beyond this 24 hour period, CheapOair will not be responsible for these errors.

It isn’t clear from Sperneac’s paperwork whether the booking error was the result of a technical glitch or of a human agent’s failure to associate her booking with her tickets. But even if the error was the result of a technical glitch, CheapOair should have reimbursed Sperneac’s meals, hotel and telephone expenses as promised by its agent.

There were some problems with Sperneac’s claim, which might explain the delay in her receiving the refund. Her emails contained sarcastic language written in all caps, which is the online equivalent of shouting. She also threatened legal action against CheapOair if its agents did not respond to her request for assistance within 24 hours. While Sperneac’s frustration with CheapOair’s service or lack thereof is understandable, sarcasm, shouting and threats of litigation are not appropriate ways to express disappointment or disagreement in business correspondence.

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Our advocates reached out to CheapOair on Sperneac’s behalf. Despite the problems with Sperneac’s claim, CheapOair has agreed to issue a check to Sperneac for her refund.

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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