AirTran declined my credit card and now I have to buy a new ticket

Gary Murray’s credit card is declined when he buys an AirTran ticket, but he doesn’t find out until he gets to the gate. How much should he pay for the new ticket?

Question: I made a reservation on the AirTran website recently for two tickets from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to St. Louis, and was sent a confirmation by email. I went to the airport on the day of departure, and I was told that I did not have a reservation. The reservation was canceled because my credit card was declined when I tried to book the flight.

I was unaware of that, and hadn’t been informed by AirTran. I panicked and bought a ticket for the flight anyway. I paid $500 for each of the two tickets. My original ticket price was $134 each.

I got on my laptop and searched other airlines, and found that Delta cost $242 per ticket. I complained to AirTran, and it gave me a “take-it-or-leave-it” offer to resolve the issue: two vouchers for $182 each. I would have been better off not panicking and flying Delta.

I have been traveling for 40 years, and I know better than to wait until the last day to buy a ticket. I asked the airline for a copy of my cancellation, and was told that it could not provide one.

I think the $182 per ticket is insufficient. That’s still $318 per ticket for a one-way flight that should have been $134. If the airline had told me about the cancellation earlier, I would have repurchased a ticket. Can you help? — Gary Murray, Florissant, Mo.

Answer: AirTran shouldn’t have confirmed your ticket if your credit card was declined. And if it didn’t send you a follow-up email notifying you of your card problem, you were correct to assume you had a ticket.

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You could have prevented this by doing two things. First, review your credit card statement regularly to make sure you made all of the purchases you thought you made. If you didn’t see the AirTran tickets on your statement, you would have flagged this problem earlier. Also, checking the airline’s site 24 hours before your departure to confirm your reservation would have alerted you to the problem.

As a side note, spam filters can be tricky, so be sure to whitelist the airline’s email address when you make an online reservation. That would have ensured that any emails from the company made it to you. (Again, since you received the first email, it’s understandable that you’d assume that any subsequent messages would make it through the spam filter. But that’s not always how it works.)

If you’re ever in a situation like this, with no valid ticket, don’t panic. Calmly explain the problem to a ticket agent, and if that person can’t help, ask for a supervisor. If showing the confirmation doesn’t work, you should consider doing some last-minute fare shopping. As you noted, Delta would have been a less expensive choice for your trip to St. Louis.

AirTran was acquired by Southwest Airlines in 2011, and has been operating as a subsidiary of the carrier. The carriers are scheduled to be completely integrated by the end of this year, and when I reviewed your case, it looked like this might be a little merger-related hiccup. I checked with Southwest, and its records show that it did, indeed, email you a notification that your credit card had been declined.

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“However, it’s clear he did not receive it,” an airline spokeswoman said. Southwest issued you two more vouchers to make up for the difference in fare.

Should AirTran have refunded Gary Murray's ticket?

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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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