One OTA plus two airlines equals a complicated path to a refund

Gerald Pech’s flight to Baltimore is canceled and he wants a refund. But he purchased his tickets through Expedia, they were issued by Iberia, and the flight was canceled by American. So who is he supposed to ask?

Question: I traveled to the UK on codeshare flights that I bought through Expedia. The ticket was issued by Iberia Airlines, with a final segment from Philadelphia to Baltimore-Washington International Airport on an American Airlines commuter flight.

The American segment was canceled due to weather, and I returned to Baltimore by rental car. AA advised me to file for a refund with Iberia, as ticket issuer. I filed a refund request with Iberia and it took more than 30 days for this response: “We have passed your letter to the operating carrier of your flight so that they can provide you with an appropriate response.” Iberia provides no online or phone means to respond or inquire about this case. Can you help me get a refund for the canceled segment? — Gerald Pech, Baltimore

Answer: It’s frustrating enough to try to get a refund on a canceled flight from one company, but when you have to deal with three it has to be daunting.

Because American operated the flight that was canceled you logically asked its staff for a refund, but the staff at the Philadelphia airport told you that the refund would come from Iberia because it was the issuer of your tickets. So you filed your request for a refund, but after 30 days you hadn’t heard anything so you called Iberia. It couldn’t find your reference number so you made another request.

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When you finally got a response from Iberia, it told you that because American operated the canceled flight, your refund should come from American. And now you had entered the great corporate realm known as “passing the buck.”

That’s when you asked us if we could help you get something from any of the companies.

One of the first things our advocate asked you was if you had contacted Expedia. You had not. While your ticket was issued by Iberia and the canceled flight was operated by American, Expedia is the company you paid. It’s also the agency that should be your connection to both airlines, and it should have been able to help you.

Our advocate did just that — contacted Expedia, which contacted Iberia. Expedia learned that Iberia needed needed a confirmation of the flight cancellation from American, but one had never been requested. American provided the confirmation, and Iberia agreed to refund $34 for the canceled flight. Expedia agreed to add a $50 credit for a future Expedia purchase.

You were aware that the credit wouldn’t be a large amount because it was a short commuter flight, and only a small portion of the amount you paid for your overall itinerary. As our advocate put it, “Airline math can be fuzzy.” In the end, you were thrilled with the outcome.

At any time during your ordeal, you also could have reached out to the contacts we list on our website for American Airlines, Iberia Airlines, and Expedia. But we’re glad that we could help.

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Michelle Bell

Michelle worked in the travel and hospitality industry for almost two decades. Born in Germany, she has lived in 15 states and two foreign countries, and traveled to more than 35 countries. After living and working in Southeast Asia for several years, she now resides in New Orleans.

  • Alan Gore

    Can’t blame the OTA for this one. It was definitely Iberia’s fault. And until our warriors went into action, Iberia played the old game of “Lie to passenger and hope they go away.” Note to self: as this name pops up in an increasing number of sad stories, add Iberia to my no-fly list.

  • Nigel Appleby

    As you add airlines to your nofly list, do you actually have a ‘fly’ list?

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    The OP is at fault in this situation for failing to contact their travel agent, Expedia. Yes…Iberia was trying to pass the buck but if the OP contacted Expedia initially…the refund process would have been started much sooner. It seems like many travelers do not call their OTAs when they encountered a problem…it seems like they don’t understand that their OTAs is their agent and the OTA should resolve the problem.

  • Alan Gore

    To make my list, a carrier has to have an ongoing record of incompetence (mechanical problems, frequent non-weather delays, frequent oversells, lost bags) combined with an unwillingness to help when pax report a problem. The only domestic airlines on my list are the ultra-discounters Spirit and Allegiant.

    Internationally, Iberia, Vueling and Alitalia keep popping up as the subject of passenger stories. I just booked PHX-LHR-PSA and was able to make it British the whole way.

  • John McDonald

    yet another reason to deal only with a real live travel agent, who would have known what to do straight away. The whole concept of an OTA being cheaper than a live travel agent, is a falsehood, that the OTA’s like to perpetuate.

  • Alan Gore

    Yes, a real TA would have been able to play the tennis game between airlines and solved this case.

  • Lindabator

    Actually – client SHOULD have contacted the OTA – there is a system in place which they would have kickstarted and would have been far quicker

  • Lindabator

    Having a client NOT report to the issued ticket agent is not the carrier’s fault – all airlines have a system in place, and whoever issued the ticket (the OTA) must begin that process — so if you book with ABC travel, you need to go to them with an issue.

  • Alan Gore

    Being specifically instructed to contact the issuing carrier caused LW to…contact the issuing carrier. We’re always admonishing people to just follow instructions to avoid trouble.

  • fairmont1955

    That’s an interesting point about the OTA vs TA cost. When I used to use a TA, when there weren’t online options, I was always shocked at the fee in comparison to the cost of the ticket; $40 added to a ticket of $125 (32%) is huge when you are a college kid making $8/hr. Nowadays, I’m sure OTA has feed somehow mangled in there and the lack of transparency makes me ignorant of the cost.

  • jsn55

    Once you purchase a tix using an agent (a real agent or an online booking agency), you are their customer. In case of issues, you go back to your agent for resolution. This is one of the reasons we advise booking direct through the airline or hotel … you have a much easier row to hoe dealing directly.

  • jsn55

    This story so beautifully illustrates what an online booking agent means to the consumer. People booking online with an OBA literally don’t understand who they’re doing business with. When you purchase an airline tix from an OBA, they be come your agent. Any request for compensation, refund, consideration of any kind should be sent to the entity who sold you the tix.

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