Scandinavian Airlines is holding $3,480 I need to pay for my ticket

By | March 31st, 2017

When Allen Norris Dean books an SAS ticket online, the airline places a “hold” on his funds, and then cancels his ticket. But he can’t buy another ticket unless the “hold” is released. Is there a way out?

Question: I recently booked a flight from Atlanta to Kristiansand, Norway, on Scandinavian Airlines (SAS). When I tried to check in online, the system said my reservation had been canceled.

I called the customer-service number, and a representative told me there was a payment error that resulted in an automatic cancellation. The airline had given me no notice.

I then called my bank, which said there was absolutely no problem with the payment and that SAS had put $3,480 on hold from my available balance.

I called back to SAS customer service and was told that the airline does not know what the problem is, but that it can’t help me any further. SAS was unable to even find my card number in its system to tell me when the funds would be released.

Currently, I am unable to travel home to Norway to see my family, and SAS is holding my funds that I require to purchase another flight.

This is no fault of my own. My payment was valid, and the money was withdrawn from my available balance.

I also was provided with a confirmation of my reservation with seat selection. This is unacceptable, and I am incurring damages as a result of SAS’s internal-system error or incompetence. Can you help? — Allen Norris Dean, Atlanta, Ga.

Answer: This is one of the strangest cases of the year, at least so far. It appears that SAS put a hold on the funds but failed to issue a ticket because of a problem with your card. That’s strange, because if there’s a problem with the card, the airline wouldn’t be able to put a “hold” on it.

Related story:   I canceled my room -- where's my refund?

Airlines will automatically cancel a reservation when there’s a problem with your card, but you should receive a prompt notification if this happens, which would give you the ability to resolve the issue and rebook your flight. It’s not clear why that didn’t happen, but in fairness to SAS, I’m not sure it knows what happened, either. Sometimes these billing problems spiral into an unsolvable IT mystery, and that’s what seems to be happening here.

The best way to avoid a situation like this? Monitor your credit card carefully, and watch for the charge. Don’t rely on the airline or your travel agent for a confirmation; instead, wait for the charge to show up on your credit card. I know that sounds almost paranoid, but I’ve seen more than a handful of payment-error cases where monitoring your credit-card statement could have at least offered an early warning, if not helped a traveler avoid a serious problem.

Once you found the problem, you were stuck in a bureaucratic limbo, receiving automated emails and form responses, and talking with script-reading agents. The only way out was to appeal this to someone higher up the food chain. I list the names, numbers and email addresses for the SAS executives on my consumer-advocacy site.

I love the resolution on this one because it shows the power of persistence and the effectiveness of self-advocacy. I shared the executive contacts with you, and you used them to contact Jan-Eirik Persen, head of SAS’s customer service. The airline charged your card and reinstated your ticket.

  • Alan Gore

    So many of these “Did my booking go through or not” dilemmas can be resolved by using your bank’s online site to see exactly what is going on with your credit card account. Even if you hate using online bank access, sign up for it and know how to use it when something like this happens.

  • Rebecca

    I saw this happen all the time. When an airline runs a credit card, they submit data to the credit card company for verification. This includes info like the cvv, billing address, etc. Contrary to popular belief, if something doesnt match, the credit card company doesn’t automatically decline it. It uses an algorithm to determine how suspicious and out of pattern it is. People make minor errors all the time, and if it’s within normal behavior, the charge will still go through.

    Certain merchants verify data with the credit card company to protect themselves from fraud. The best example of this is when you enter your zip code at the gas pump. If the merchant gets an answer back from the credit card company that something doesn’t match, they will decline to allow the purchase. Unfortunately, sometimes the bank DID authorize the charge. So it will sit as an “authorization” and hold against the available credit. Almost always, it will fall off when everything cycles overnight. The merchant reports back that they didn’t allow the purchase and the funds are released.

    In extreme cases, the bank can manually reverse the authorization. However, there are very few people that actually can go in and do this. There are policies at the bank stating the customer must wait for the authorization to fall off. This is because if it is manually reversed, the merchant can still force post the transaction. The bank is out the money.

    This is actually the way the system is set up, it isn’t an error. Something the OP entered on the airline’s website when making payment flagged the airline as suspicious. It’s usually something very simple, like the billing address doesn’t match exactly. The front line customer service at the bank tends to add to the problem, especially the folks in the Philippines. I can’t tell you how many times I had to deal with a customer that had been told by a front line rep that an authorization – which isn’t a posted charge, they’re not the same thing – meant they would be charged for a purchase declined by a merchant.

  • PsyGuy

    I don’t understand how any of the advice would help, the LW knew what was happening, nothing that was advised would have helped or fixed or prevented it from happening.

  • Maria K. Telegdy

    I was just thinking about the same while reading it.

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