Who owes me a refund: Vayama? Lufthansa? United? Anyone?

By | February 28th, 2017

When Katherine Welsh cancels her trip to Edinburgh, she is told that she will get a refund. Or will she? And from whom? If only they could find her paperwork.

Question: Last spring, I made reservations through Vayama to travel to Scotland in June via a United flight from Chicago to Edinburgh. The reservation was for me and my three children. In May, I was diagnosed with stage-three cancer and was advised by my oncologist not to travel and to begin chemotherapy.

I wrote to Vayama via email about 20 times explaining the situation and asking for a refund. They described the procedure and I sent Vayama the required info (passports, medical note, medical records, etc.). Vayama has written me back on several occasions telling me they don’t have the info I have sent and asking me to resend it. I have done this numerous times. Every time I write, I get some response to the effect that they can’t find the information and can I send it again.

I would like to get this resolved. It has dragged on for months. I am still undergoing chemotherapy and this is just adding more stress to an already stressful life. Can someone help me navigate this with Vayama? — Katherine Welsh, Northbrook, Ill.

Answer:I’m sorry to hear about your travel troubles, compounded by your awful medical diagnosis. This case sounds like a riddle inside a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Typically, in situations such as yours, the airlines will waive the change fees, but give you a travel credit for up to a year from the original date of purchase.

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Part of the complication with your claim is that you used a third-party travel agency (Vayama) to book your flights rather than booking directly with the air carrier. In addition, sometimes agencies will purchase “code-share” fares, discount fares from an airline that is actually using a partner airline to transport the passengers. Often this leads to confusion, finger-pointing and projection of blame between agencies and airlines. Our forums are littered with problems caused by code-shares.

Another good idea would have been to take out insurance on your flights. The nominal cost would have offset the hassle you had recouping your money.

You contacted Vayama on your own but hit a brick wall with them. Well — it was more like a rubber wall, because the requests for documentation kept bouncing back to you. It’s probable that you started with a low-level representative with the travel agency. Our experience is that you get the best results by corresponding with executives of a company. We publish a list of Vayama’s corporate contacts, which you can find on our website.

You then contacted us directly, and one of our advocates reached out to Vayama on your behalf. Their representative told our team member that the agency was “in the process of getting an answer from the airlines” regarding the waiver and that once the request was processed by the airlines Vayama would respond with an answer. The agency rep did not indicate, however, which airline would be processing the refund.

In the meantime, we contacted United, whose representative told us that your tickets were purchased through a travel agency on Lufthansa (a travel partner of United’s) ticketing stock. (Confused yet?) Since Lufthansa collected the money, United claims that Lufthansa’s policies would take precedence. The representative also promised to have someone from United’s executive customer care team reach out to you directly.

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You finally received a positive email from Vayama, whose representative said “the airline” would credit your account but did not specify whether it was Lufthansa or United. United claimed that Vayama would be compensating you, and apparently that is what ended up happening. You’ll be getting a refund from Vayama.

  • cscasi

    Good work by Chris and his advocacy team in contacting Vayama and then United Airlines. Perhaps that got them to working off the same page and as a result Ms. Welsh would get her account credited. This is a good example of why reaching out for additional help from a good advocacy team can many times help one get their issues resolved.

  • Alan Gore

    Abandon hope ye all who codeshare.

  • John McDonald

    a little off topic but …

    codeshared flights worked really well for us last year.
    We wanted to go to USA from Australia departing in late December or early January.
    Catch is Australian summer school holidays run from late November/early December to late January, so it was going to be at peak season prices.
    When only United & Qantas flew nonstop from OZ to USA mainland, fares on Qantas were always AUD$3k plus(USD$2280+ at current exchange rate). More nonstop competition in last 10 years from Virgin Australia, Delta & more recently American + other direct flights on Air New Zealand & Fiji Airways lead to fares around AUD$2k plus(USD$1520) so it was to our surprise that when searching online around May, I think it was, that we found a return fare to LAX (round trip) inc all taxes for AUD$1030(USD$783) but with only 1 departure date of 4 January, with 2 return dates within the school holidays period.
    So we phoned airlines, wholesalers, tour operators & general travel agents & all said, in their “system”, the flights we were quoting were within AUD$10 of AUD$1970 (USD$1497), so we booked the flights online, through a real live travel agency who have an online presence, fully expecting to get an email or phone call a day or 2 later, saying sorry for the error, you owe us $$$$$ or get a refund (we know of an data entry error where some friends got flights OZ to NZ for AUD$49 one way & then got the bad news few days later) when airline wouldn’t honour the deal.
    It turns out our tickets were on Delta, but we were actually flying on Virgin Australia aircraft(our preferred option anyway) & we would still get Virgin Australia frequent flyer points.
    Was it a data entry error ? We never found out, but it was the 1st time, we’d flown Virgin Australia long haul & they were excellent (far better than Qantas)
    NOTE: Qantas used to be govt owned & as you know, governments should never be in business, as they are incredibly inefficient & although Qantas was privatised many years ago, it still has a govt feel about it.

  • PsyGuy

    At what point does everyone think the critical mass of PAX will sufficiently shift to direct purchase of TX that the OTA’s can no longer remain profitable?

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