I bought a ticket, so why did China Eastern say I didn’t have one?


Ningfen Chang buys an airline ticket to China. But, when she arrives at the airport, the airline tells her she doesn’t have a ticket .She has to buy a new ticket. Can we help her get a refund for the cost of the second ticket?

Question: I bought a round-trip ticket on Delta Air Lines to fly from Sacramento, Calif., to China. The return flight had a segment from Lanzhou, China, to Shanghai on China Eastern Airlines.

When I made the reservation with Delta, the flight on China Eastern Airlines was included in my confirmation. But, when I arrived at Lanzhou Zhongchuan International Airport, the China Eastern Airlines agent told me I didn’t have a ticket. The agent said that there was a reservation, but no actual ticket issued to me.

I had to give my tour guide $280 cash so she would use her credit card to buy a new ticket for me. And, because my new China Eastern Airlines ticket was for one leg of the flight, my checked bags were not sent to my final destination in Sacramento. I had to get my bags and check in again at the Shanghai airport. I barely made the flight from Shanghai and arrived at the gate after the plane started boarding.

I filed a refund request with Delta Air Lines and was refunded $62. Delta says $62 is a fair amount for the segment from Lanzhou to Shanghai and that’s all it is responsible for. I complained, and my claim was sent to a Delta customer care agent.

After waiting almost 30 days, I found out that my case was closed. I called Delta customer care to complain, again, and the agent I talked to blamed China Eastern Airlines for the ticketing problem. But, I was offered a $218 travel voucher that would expire in a year. The voucher doesn’t give me back the $280 that I had to pay for an additional ticket.

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I’m surprised that Delta Air Lines sold me a ticket that it didn’t get issued, didn’t take responsibility for the problem, and refused to reimburse me the full cost of the second ticket that I had to buy.

Can you help me get a refund for the full cost of the second ticket? — Ningfen Chang, Folsom, Calif.

Answer: Delta certainly should not have sold you a seat with a ticketing problem in between flight segments, that left you unable to reach your final destination. And, when you had to pay $280 for a second ticket, it should not have refunded you only $62.


You bought a ticket through Delta that included a code-share flight with China Eastern Airlines. That allowed Delta to sell you a segment of the flight on a plane operated by China Eastern. Code-sharing also allowed Delta and China Eastern Airlines to blame each other for the ticketing problem that caused you to buy a new ticket. When Delta refunded only $62 to you, it was refunding the value of the unused portion of your entire ticket. Understandably, that wasn’t satisfactory because you were still out of pocket $218 for a problem that you didn’t cause.

When you contacted Delta to complain about the $62 refund, it offered you the $218 balance in the form of a flight voucher. In our experience, the airline normally only takes responsibility for refunding the unused portion of the ticket. It doesn’t compensate you for the cost of the new flight. And, if there is any additional compensation offered, it is usually only in the form of a credit toward a future flight.

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It isn’t right or fair that you had to pay $218. If you had wanted the flight voucher and could have used it prior to its expiration, the credit Delta offered may have been fair. But you didn’t want it, and that was the challenge our advocates faced.

You engaged in some successful self advocacy. You repeatedly contacted Delta’s customer care team, and got it to add a $218 voucher to the $62 refund. You weren’t happy with what you could accomplish on your own, and felt that you needed help from our advocates. But, prior to asking our advocates for help, you could have posted your question to our help forums, which are staffed by travel industry experts, and often read by company executives.

Our forum advocates may have given you helpful suggestions about how to further address this issue with the airline. And, you could have tried escalating your complaint by contacting company executives who may have intervened on your behalf. We list executive contact information for Delta Air Lines on our website.

Our advocates reached out to Delta on your behalf. It apologized for the communication breakdown with China Eastern Airlines. Delta agreed that it should reimburse you the $218 and because of the inconvenience, it added 10,000 miles to your SkyMiles account.


Diane Perera

Diane and her family love to travel, and they do so as much as they can. Having experienced the downside of travel, and having learned so much from Elliott.org, led Diane to become an advocate and to help fight the good fight.

  • Mark

    Good. Glad that Chang got a refund.

    One tip for future – if I ever buy a codeshare flight (or via an OTA), I will go to the ‘Manage my booking’ screen on the operating airline’s website and enter my booking details. If it can find my reservation, great (and I’ll choose a nice seat) – if it can’t find my reservation, time to phone the people I booked through to ask what’s going on.

  • FQTVLR

    You should call the booking company first and get the record locator for the operating carrier’s booking. (Sometimes it may take a call to the ticketing carrier to get this.) On many carriers it is different than that given by the ticketing airline. I see this a lot on code shares with Delta and its partner carriers.

  • Bill___A

    Good point, I do that too. They don’t have the same PNR locator.

  • cscasi

    According to the above, “…. the China Eastern Airlines agent told me I didn’t have a ticket. The agent said that there was a reservation, but no actual ticket issued to me.” So, she had a reservation but no ticket was issued. It is imperative that people traveling on code share flights check with both airlines involved and ensure the e-ticket has been issued. One should be able to actually see the e-ticket number on the reservation if they have the PNR for the code share flight as well, as in this case, Delta Airlines (they are both different PNR numbers).
    Then, she would have seen that there was no ticket issued for the code share flight and could have called Delta and got that corrected.
    In other words, do not wait until you are ready to board a flight before checking to see if you actually have a ticket.
    Glad things worked out for her; finally. Chris and his advocates do a great job in helping people.

  • Pegtoo

    I can make headway with an IRS letter, and can make sense of a legal contract, but this is too much for me to wrap my brain around.

    I know this has been discussed before, but I can’t keep it all straight to understand it, let alone know if I will actually be able to take the flights as expected. Confirmation numbers, ticket numbers that start with 3 digit airline numbers, record locators, PNR number, 6 digit locator codes, e-ticket receipts/numbers. Are all these numbers/codes clearly noted as such on the documents given by the airline? My head is spinning.

  • AAGK

    How did this happen though?

  • Annie M

    I don’t think the forums could have helped her – they would have told her to write to all the executives. This is one that you needed to handle and again – happy to see you helped her.

  • Annie M

    Who would know to do this? Not the average person – if you see the flight on your itinerary one would assume they have a ticket.

  • Annie M

    That is true but the average consumer doesn’t know about this website to learn to do that. They would rightly assume if the flights is shown on the itinerary, it is booked. Not the fault of the consumer – it is purely the airlines fault.

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