The Travel Troubleshooter: Airline won’t refund my ticket after my husband dies

By | September 30th, 2011

Question: I bought a pair of tickets through Expedia for my husband and myself. We planned to visit Germany this fall for as part of a retirement trip. Shortly after that, my husband passed away very suddenly.

I contacted Expedia about a refund, but was advised to get in touch with our airline, Lufthansa, directly. Lufthansa told me my husband’s ticket was nonrefundable. I asked if they would resell his seat, since he couldn’t make the flight, and they admitted they would.

When I said that it appeared that Lufthansa would profit from the death of my husband, they admitted that that was the case. This really offended me. I tried to send an email to Lufthansa’s president, but they have turned me down. What would you advise?
Ursula Maul, Wynnewood, Pa.

Answer: My condolences on your loss. Most airlines refund tickets – even nonrefundable ones – when a passenger dies. What’s more, it’s highly unusual for a representative to “admit” that the airline will profit from the death of a passenger. Maybe the representative you reached was having a bad day. I certainly hope so.

I’m concerned about your online travel agency’s role in this debacle. Why did Expedia hand you off to Lufthansa in your hour of need? One of the reasons you do business with an online travel agency is that they are trusted intermediaries in case something goes wrong with your flight.

If they simply sent you to the airline when you needed help, then why not book a ticket directly with Lufthansa the next time, cutting out the middleman?

Related story:   Help! My connection time was too short and I wasn't allowed to fly!

I might have started the refund process by sending a brief, polite email to Expedia, explaining that you wanted a refund for your husband’s ticket. It may have still referred you to the airline, but at least you would have given it a chance to do what it promises it will do, which is to take care of you.

I would have stayed off the phone, too. These days, the odds of you getting put through to an outsourced, overseas call center, where someone is just trying to process your complaint quickly, is too high. Your case required special attention, which neither your agency nor your airline seemed willing to give you.

You had the right idea with the email to Lufthansa’s president. I might have started a little lower on the corporate food chain. I list the names of the managers on my customer-service wiki, On Your Side.

If Expedia was unable to help you, then a polite email with your husband’s death certificate should have worked.

I contacted Lufthansa on your behalf. It apologized for the “inaccurate” response to your request and agreed to refund your husband’s ticket.

  • Eric

    Nice work Chris! This is why I donate to your site!

  • $16635417

    First off, my condolences to the OP on her loss.

    Another lesson for all of us on the online travel agencies. Why use them? They can be a good tool to compare prices. But then I find the flight and airline I like, and go to the airline’s website to purchase. Travel vending machine websites, such as Expedia provide flea market service. (I woud normally at this point compare them to Wal Mart or a dollar store vs. Nordstrom, but that would be an insult to Wal Mart and dollar stores in this case.) Expedia could have handled the whole transaction in a compassionate manner. Yes, Lufthansa has the money, but Expedia should have worked for her.

    I am also not letting Lufthansa off the hook either for initially refusing. I have not seen a ticket that does not specifically state they will refund in the case of death of a passenger. This is common knowledge and anyone she called should have helped.

    I am sure our travel agents will chime in on how a real, reputable agency would have assisted her…and they’re right. With all the confusing fare structures, fees and choices out there not only would a real agency assisted in the planning portion of the trip, but also supported her in her time of need. 

  • Tom

    With lots of outfits, including airlines, insurance companies, cable companies and the government, the person you reach when you call is likely a low-level clerk with no discretion reading off a script. It’s even worse when you book on the Internet because the server really just follows a script. Exceptions can only be accomodated when you break out of that trap.

  • Raven_Altosk

    My condolences to the OP, and I’m glad to hear that this one was resolved. 

    It certainly deserved to be, and a shame on Expedia for passing this customer off to the airline. A double shame on the airline for hiring incompetent idiots who simply read off a script or just don’t care.

  • NakinaAce

    Expedia is completely useless if any little thing goes wrong and they won’t help you at all. This has happened to me on several occassions and although they may suck up to you Elliott believe me they don’t really give a sh*t about their customers. 

  • Jc Too

    Another reason NOT to use sites like Expedia. I use them & others to comparison shop & then go directly to an airline or hotel site.
    I also back up any verbal conversation, with name I contacted, with a follow up e-mail confirming details.

  • Mel

    This is precisely why I read this blog.  Not for the whiny-ass, laundry-list, “I’m entitled so break the rules for me” complaints, but the legitimately deserving-but-treated-badly by the machine folks like this one.  My sincere condolences on her loss and kudos to you Chris for making this one thing easier on her during this time.

  • Charlie Funk

    Expecting the intermediary service alluded to in the column from an OTA is like buying a fish a bicycle and expecting it to compete in the Tour d’France.  Kudos to LH for doing the right thing.  It is a sad commentary, though, that initial or secondary contact customer service personnel are either so powerless or fearful for their jobs that they can’t/don’t/won’t do the right thing at the outset.

  • Tony A.

    To that Mauls, please accept our deepest sympathy.

    I cannot believe that Lufthansa is this cold blooded. But believe it or not, they do not have a Refund in case of death to passenger clause in their General Terms and Conditions (GTC).

    All they have is an Extension of Validity to the ticket of the passengers accompanying the person who died en route.
    3.2.4. In the event of death of a Passenger en route, the Tickets of
    persons accompanying the Passenger may be modified by waiving the
    minimum stay or extending the validity. In the event of a death in the
    immediate family of a Passenger who has commenced travel, the validity
    of the Passenger’s Tickets and those of his or her immediate family who
    are accompanying the Passenger may likewise be modified. Any such
    modification shall be made upon receipt of a valid death certificate and
    any such extension of validity shall not be for a period longer than
    forty-five (45) days from the date of death.

    MESSAGE TO LUFTHANSA – if you don’t want people here (yeah Americans) to trash your airline then please modify your Conditions of Carriage to adopt your TransAtlantic Joint Venture Partner, United’s rule regarding death of passenger.


    Meantime I hope Lufthansa management has the heart to give the Mauls a refund.

  • frostysnowman

    I feel so bad for the OP, and my deepest sympathies to her for her loss.  Lufthansa really messed up with their initial denial of her refund.  I feel her pain.  Years ago, my mom and dad had planned a trip to Hawaii, flying first class, using airline miles.  My mother died before they could take the trip. My dad had to fight the airline (won’t say which one) to get those miles back for months and months after her death.  This was about 12 years ago, before sites like this one were around to help people with these types of situations. 

    This is also just one of the reasons I use sites like Expedia for research only.

  • Cliffordpwoodrick

    I bet if she wanted to take her husband’s body on the plane with her that they would refund the ticket cost ASAP. Mrs Maul – please forgive my example as I do not make light of your husband’s death but desire to illustrate a stupid solution to a stupid rule. The airlines are really ripping us off and I am tired of it. I now take two trips per year vice the ten that I did in the past because of the airline policies plus the TSA. I currently drive.

    Have a wonderful day – Cliff

  • Steve R

    It bothers me that Lufthansa claims that the representative’s response (that Lufthansa would resell her husband’s seat and thus profit from his death) was “inaccurate” – I say that representative was simply being honest. That it took Chris’s intervention to get a refund for a dead passenger says a lot about the airline.

  • Ames

    My condolences to Mrs Maul as well, and I do hope you enjoy your trip.  I noticed that the discussion was only concerning the one ticket for her husband.  Many people would have canceled the trip altogether and been looking for a refund for both tickets.  Lufthansa does have a written policy for the second ticket, but even that could be unsatisfactory to many people who do not want to travel alone.

  • S363

    Why, oh why do people do business with Expedia?  They aren’t any cheaper than going directly to the airline, and by avoiding them you avoid the ping pong game when anything goes wrong.

  • Kittiesplace1

    In 2003 I had booked a flt with Hotwire to go visit my ailing Mom. I bought the ticket on Monday for departure on Friday. On Wednesday my husband was killed in an accident. With a ph call and a faxed copy of the death certificate, Hotwire refunded every penny of my “non refundable” ticket! Whereas 5 years later Expedia left me stranded in Hawaii when Aloah Airlines went bankrupt. Customer svc? You decide!

  • Wrona

    Except that the answer was inaccurate.  Lufthansa’s policy is that they do provide refunds in the case of death as Tony A. pointed out above, even for non-refundable tickets.

  • Bodega

    “Travel vending machines”.  I like that description.

    Expedia did exactly what I would expect them do to do…..nothing!  I can’t tell you how many calls agencies get from frustrated ‘shoppers’ which we can’t help as we aren’t the agency of record.  These shoppers don’t care about which ‘vending machine’ they use until something goes wrong, then it becomes an issue. 

    I won’t defend LH but I will say that usually published fares do allow for a full refund in the case of death or illness with documentation.  We don’t know what type of fare was booked, as contracted fares can have different rules.  Sadly, we all get employees who don’t give a heck about taking time to look things up.  It just happened to me with my own medical insurance company and I had to file a grievance to get the benefit that is clearly stated in my plan.

  • bc

     Hey Tony, did you read the entire article? They did refund Mr Maul’s ticket.

  • Tony A.

    Expedia’s tagline – “Where you book matters”.
    Damn right, where you book, REALLY MATTERS.

  • Tony A.

    Yes I did, they AGREED to. If so WHEN? But I would like to hear THEY REFUNDED ALL THE CHARGES (including Ursulla’s unused portions) to the credit card. How difficult is that to do for a grieving widow?
    I’m sorry but I don’t trust airline management speak that much.

  • Tony A.

    Sorry but Hotwire and Expedia were/are the same company. Expedia spun off from IAC but the same guys own so much of both.

  • Everyone grieves differently.  Instead of going into her shell at the death of her husband (as it seems you would have her do), she chose to honor him by taking the trip he obviously wanted her to have.

    As these requests for assistance are usually somewhat dated by the time Chris tells us about them, the odds are great there was some time between the purchase of the ticket and the actual trip.

    It’s sad she won’t have her husband with her on this trip, given they had already spent a lifetime together waiting for “someday”, but she can still enjoy it with my warmest regards and best wishes.

    As far as “the second ticket”, yes, she probably should opt to take someone with her and we don’t know she isn’t (or perhaps they were booked with a tour group?).  It could be she is taking someone with her and they’ve chosen to buy their own ticket.  Changing a name on a plane ticket, once it’s bought, takes an act of God.  However, cancelling a ticket due to the death of the traveler is much easier which removes some of the stress of traveling.  She really did this the best way.  I wonder if she was wearing a green shirt when she tried to do this on her own?

  • Tony A.

    Luthansa’s *cheapest* fare today from New York to Frankfurt has this TARIFF provision:

        ANY TIME                                                  
          TICKET IS NON-REFUNDABLE.                               
             NOTE –                                               
              NOT BE REFUNDED.                                    
              A.  EMERGENCY PROVISION                             
                 OF PASSENGER/IMMEDIATE FAMILY MEMBER/            
                 TRAVELING COMPANION. A VALID DEATH OR            

    My comments –
    (1) Why not put the emergency provision on the Contract of Carriage so all consumers can see them?
    (2) Why don’t they refund the Fuel Surcharge (YQ surcharge). That’s $420 today.
    Why should Lufthansa profit from someone’s death?
    (3) Expedia could have and should have processed the refund if the fare they sold had the same tariff provisions.

    Chris Elliott – did Lufthansa promise to refund the WHOLE ticket price or just the BASE FARE and TAX portions? What exactly did they AGREE to do.

  • Tony A.

    I have access to Lufthansa’s Private Negotiated (BULK) fares and they have the same above provision – similar to those of the Published Fare’s.

  • Tony A.

    Also, the OTA’s call center agent could have simply pulled up the PNR, note the fare basis code, check historical fares and lookup the same fare basis code’s PENALTY Provisions and READ THEM.

    I suspect the OTA has poorly trained OUTSOURCED booking agents somewhere maybe in India and who don’t care about their American customers. So they simply lie or hang up the phone. Shame on them.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Good point. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to hear that they refund only a portion of the husband’s ticket…and none at all of hers. I hope Christopher will come back and tell us if this happens.

  • Brooklyn

    I don’t see why everyone is blaming Expedia.  Yes, they should have negotiated with Lufthansa for her, but it was the airline that was going to resell the seat and get the money.  I’m a member of Lufthansa’s miles club, but maybe I need to switch to another carrier; this is outrageous!

  • LeeAnneClark

    Hmmm…how do you know she took the trip? I don’t see that mentioned anywhere in the article. Are you in contact with the OP?

    I’m also a little startled by your comment: “Instead of going into her shell at the death of her husband (as it seems you would have her do)…”

    I’m not seeing anything in Ames’s comment indicating that he felt she shouldn’t take the trip. His comment simply stated that “many people” would have canceled the trip – not that the OP “should” have canceled the trip.

    I’m a little baffled by your response.

  • At least one inference can be made…  (I’m utilizing reading comprehension skills…  You should try it some time.) She only wanted the money back on one ticket so the INFERENCE can be made that SHE took the trip.  Whether she took it at the planned time or not remains to be seen, but she DID hang on to her plane ticket… (thus retaining the money, but perhaps in the form of a travel voucher?)

    I can’t think of a better way to begin healing than to take a trip like this, particularly if it was something her husband wanted to do (which can be INFERRED by the fact he already had a ticket to fly on Lufthansa with her before his untimely and unfortunate passing).

    Next, by Ames making the statements he made, such as: “Many people would have canceled the trip altogether” and “…unsatisfactory to many people who do not want to travel alone” one can INFER he is suggesting she not take the trip at all.

    I don’t see where your befuddlement comes into play unless you merely skimmed what I posted rather than actually reading it all.  Again, reading comprehension is a wonderful, wonderful skill to have.  Schools have ceased teaching it but it CAN be taught on your own or at the college level. Though I always scored highly in this section of state mandated testing when I was in High School, I still took a class in it when I went to college.  Best thing I ever did for myself.  Look into it, you’ll be glad you did.

  • Mark K

    Everyone is blaming Expedia because they are the point of sale for the ticket and should be there for you when you have issues with what you bought from them.  Also, most airlines won’t deal directly with you if you bought your ticket through an agency. 

    Expedia and the other online agencies all promise to be there for you to resolve any issues.  From reading this and many other articles, it appears the only time they are really there for you is when they collect money from you.  Anything else leaves you hanging.

    I have had no issues with LH.  They have always been extremely flexible and accomodating for any issues I have had, so this one surprised me.

  • baasbaas1

    Another reason to buy travel insurance.  I am in a bind because this year I did not.  Supposed to fly JAX to FRA in October.  April I had a compression fracture of an lumbar vertabrae and it is still uncomfortable.  USAir is sorry to hear, but ticked must be used by the original purchase date or the cost (first/business class) will be forfeited!  Nice for them. 

  • Bodega

    Expedia handled the sale.  Expedia should have handled the refund.  That is how it works in the travel industry.  Expedia handled this poorly, but no surprise.  LH also handled this poorly which does surprise me.

  • Susan N

    The exception probably applies to the YQ and other surcharges too – it is meant to in case of someone bought a non-refundable ticket and then asks for the fees back because they don’t want to fly.

  • Robert L

    Shame on them for what? Saving money? So people like you don’t bitch and moan about having to pay $0.50 more for your ticket? Consumers have consistently shown that they care about the price of the ticket and nothing else.

  • Bodega

    Marie, usually nonrefundable ticket have to cancelled before departure and the value of that ticket, with a change fee, can be applied to the purchase of another ticket with that carrier.  You need to get the rules of your fare in print.

  • Bodega

    Shame on them for not doing their job.  They sold the ticket, they are responsible for handling the refund.  Plain and simple.  I think you are confusing things.

  • Tony A.

    Excuse me Robert. I doubt if Expedia’s price on Lufthansa’s PUBLISHED fare would be cheaper than buying the same thing in Lufthansa’s own website. I doubt if the Mauls saved anything by buying from Expedia.

    Oh by the way, do you work for Expedia or IAC? You sound like a shill for them.
    Tell me WHY you think a travel agency should not fight for a REFUND if the tariff provision allows it.

    Shame on YOU for thinking people will give away their consumer rights for 50 cents.

  • Tony A.

    Bodega, maybe we can convince Chris Elliott to have a section here that educates passengers HOW TO OBTAIN and READ THE RULES (Tariff) associated with their ticket.
    It’s amazing how difficult it is for a passenger to this figure out specially BEFORE they buy.

  • Ames

    Wow, I am sorry that I did not write a longer note that was perhaps more clear!  It appeared to me from the information in the initial posting that Mrs Maul was going to travel and I was offering her my good wishes for a wonderful trip!  I was also pointing out that her request for a refund for the one ticket was the simplest of the options that could be presented to Lufthansa (or Expedia).  It might not work for some one else.  I love to travel alone, but I find that many people, at any time, are horrified by the prospect.  And “alone” can still be with a group when many are in “pairs”.   I do not find it appropriate that she should go into a shell and applaud her for continuing to travel !  I believe that one can best honor a spouse by continuing to live and that means enjoying travel and being happy.
    I also realize that “Ames” is non specific, but I am an older woman.  I never expected that what was meant to be good wishes for a happy trip would become so controversial. 

  • Grant

    Couldn’t agree more. Doing business with Expedia is a sad rite of passage for the American traveler… you do business with them, you get screwed (usually sooner rather than later), you don’t do business with them anymore. :-( 

  • I’m thinking of doing a series on that, actually.

  • Tony A.

    Great! I’ll help you Chris in any way I can.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Wow. Just wow. What an unbelievably hostile and insulting response to a couple of simple questions. Before I was only baffled. Now I’m…stunned. What on EARTH would make you turn on me like that, with such incredible nastiness, when I did nothing but ask you a couple of benign questions? I was actually curious! I thought you might know the OP, and perhaps you could shed some light on the topic. You seem to have read my questions as attacks…which they most certainly were NOT. You may want to check your own reading comprehension, dear.

    I would take the time to explain to you all the reasons why your inferences are unsupportable leaps of logic, but I’m not sure it would get through to you, since your reaction to even the slightest question to you is so over-the-top nasty and ugly.

    Yeesh! Please go back and read my questions – do you REALLY find anything in there worthy of such ugliness? Such sarcastic nastiness?

    I did not insult you…but you seem to find insults in the most benign questions, and then lash out in response. Hence I will leave you alone to steep in your negative juices. I want no part of that.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I’m sorry that I responded to NM Dickenson at all. There is apparently a tendency to create ugliness where none existed, which I want no part of.

    Apologies for calling you “he”. :)

    Just for the record, *I* did not see the same things in your post that she apparently did. I cannot for the life of me understand why she jumped to those assumptions about your comments. But if it makes you feel any better, I didn’t read that into them at all. So you have nothing to apologize for.

  • SallyLu

    Wow, I agree with LeeAnne – that was an incredibly hostile and insulting response.  You say in your response that you “inferred” many things from Ames’ comment, however your inference was obviously wrong, so maybe in the future stay away from the personal attacks, so they don’t come back to make you look like you you are the one with no reading comprehension skills. 

  • LeeAnneClark

    I’m with the majority here – I use online sites ONLY to price-shop among travel providers, and then I buy from the provider direct. There is just no value to online agencies that I can find. Their business model doesn’t seem to work anymore. This wasn’t always the case – in years past, I was often able to find better deals through these online agencies than direct. Not sure what changed – I’m not in the travel industry, so I don’t know what happened. But in a way it makes things easier – I don’t have to check a bunch of online agencies to search for the best price, because I know that the best price will always come from the travel provider. All of the online agencies will have the same pricing, and once I find the best deal among the providers, my search is over.

  • Anna

    Regarding the cold-blooded Lufthansa agent – this is purely speculation, but Maul’s description of her conversation with the agent gives me the impression she was a bit on the offensive. If the agent had flat out said “tough luck, lady, of course we resell dead people’s seats,” she would probably have used a stronger word than “admit” in her description. And unless this was an agent gone rouge, I can’t imagine terms like “profits” would have found their way into the conversation on his initiative. Like I said, this is just speculation, and the agent was obviously wrong to deny the reimbursement according to Lufthansa’s policies, however I’m not convinced he was “cold-blooded”. 

  • Tony A.

    LeeAnne, if you travel to Asia and the Middle East, travel agents that deal with airline ticket consolidators can easily beat the OTAs. I know some TAs simply compare their fares with those of the OTAs to determine how much they should discount their own tickets.

  • bc

    They’re under no obligation to refund the Mrs Maul’s tickets, why should they? I think it’s only fair they refund the ticket from a deceased passenger (even though it’s a non-refundable ticket) but why would they refund Mrs Maul’s?

    That’s kind of self-entitled don’t you think? I hate to be one of those people but, isn’t that what travel insurance is for? I bought a policy for my upcoming trips and it includes a clause that allows for cancellation should a passenger in my party or immediate family member dies.

  • Tony A.

    Tom, most of them are not even comprehensible! Watch.

  • Tony A.

    BC, I suggest you read the typical Lufthansa TARIFF.
    It’s clearly spelled out that she may get a refund since her traveling companion or immediate family member died.
    I’ll re-post it for you:
    A.  EMERGENCY PROVISION                             
                 OF PASSENGER/IMMEDIATE FAMILY MEMBER/            
                 TRAVELING COMPANION. A VALID DEATH OR            

    Since tariffs are part of the conditions of sale, then failure to live up to them may be construed as deceptive trade practices.

    So BC, do you still say the Lufthansa has no obligation to refund her ticket? She does not need insurance to get their money back.

  • J.L.

    It has been proven time and time again, as airlines now compete essentially only on price and nothing else.

  • TheDonald

    Take your boyfriend!  A win-win.  

  • Eddy

    It’s one thing to response to problems and (stupid often) people, it’s quite another to offer advice.  I think that would step it up a notch.

  • Tony A.

    Have you flown on Singapore Airlines or Cathay Pacific?
    They are not the cheapest but they are great!

  • Bodega

    I think that wouldn’t be a bad idea.  What most people don’t realize is how complicated fare rules can be and how intricate tariffs are when dealing with international travel.  I worked with a gentleman who rented space in our agnecy and did international pricing for companies all over the world.  He use to be with various airlines in their tariff departments and use to come up with the fares we all paid.  He had volumes of books to reference when pricing international itineraries.  It was mind boggling.

  • Tony A.

    The real basic parts that consumers need to know are probably not that hard to understand. We could start with Refund/Change Penalties. The part that is difficult deals with International Fare Construction and we won’t deal with that part.

  • Guest

    I was also going to post this, but I guess my comment didn’t show up here for whatever reason.

    In my ex-travel agency days, I found Lufthansa to be among the most inflexible airlines ever. But one thing I noticed is that they “generally” won’t refund if their fare rules or ticket rules don’t explicitly say they’ll do that for a given scenario, especially if they’re the cheaper yet more restrictive fares.

    While I’m just speculating, I’d imagine that’s what Expedia’s agents found in the OP’s ticket and felt they really couldn’t do anything for her. If their overall experience with Lufthansa is similar to mine, they know Lufthansa doesn’t really refund for this unless their legal contracts or so specifically say they do. (just like the ones you eventually posted here…)

    Anyway, just guessing. Who really knows what happened other than what the OP and Chris described?

    It’s a shame it had to lead to this. Personally, though, I’m thankful at least something was done to get some “happy” ending, depending how one wants to see this.

  • Guest

    “Why, oh why do people do business with Expedia?”

    Brand recognition and advertising, some of whom have had arguably good experiences with them nonetheless.


  • Guest

    There’s also some online links to help understand and interpret fare rules like this one: me a while to find that among my gazillion bookmarks. :)

  • Guest

    Ahh, blech. Something happened with the comment. Anyway:

  • JonathanChandler

    @Eric: ditto!

  • jennj99738

    Tony, could you advise how you can find these TAs who have access to the consolidators?  I would appreciate it for my next trip to the ME/Asia whenever that might be.

  • Harold

    Many of the comments cover the subject very well.  My comment is on the disastrous public relations of Lufthansa Airlines.  Even without their contract showing their obligation to return a fare for a traveler who died before using a ticket, their callous rejection offends all but a small section of the public… and they probably consist of lawyers. 
    With the hundreds of thousands of travelers that fly Lufthansa each year, the number of cases where a fare has to be returned due to death must be very small.  Why a major carrier, and flagship of Germany would engender such bad publicity for such little financial gain is beyond me.  The smartest people in business sometimes do the stupidest things.
    My guess is the letter to the President of Lufthansa will result in the return of the fare with an apology.
    Addendum:  This is the same type of bad decisions made by employees low down on the chain of employment that was made by Delta when they decided to charge extra baggage fee to military personnel returning from war zones. 

  • Tony A.

    jennj99738, I know several in the NYC area but they are specialized by destination country. Where are you going? Where are you?
    You might also try to ask someone in your local ETHNIC community where they buy airline tickets to visit their relatives overseas. Many of these TAs speak the language of the destination country.

  • Tony A.

    In this particular case both Expedia and Lufthansa did not help the customer.
    It took Chris Elliott to intercede on her behalf. So the going direct to the airline tactic does not work all the time.

  • Tony A.

    DavidZ, I think the OTA’s behavior is more reflective of their business model.
    Those in the ticket selling business know that there is really no commission on Lufthansa “A++” Joint Venture lower priced Fare Bases.

    Many OTAs make money because of GDS fee kickbacks and at least 2 OTAs are actually owned by groups that also own GDS companies. If they cannot make commissions, then selling tickets rack up fees that airlines have to pay to their GDS companies.
    So the margin on booking and ticketing airline tickets is very low. In my opinion too low to provide good customer service. That’s why the call centers of OTAs are mostly  outsourced to India, the Philippines and other low-labor cost countries where the agents simply read scripts.

    Reading scripts is different from reading the Contract of Carriage or the Fare Tariff.
    I doubt if outsourced call center agents are equipped to handle this particular situation (e.g. Refunds due to Death of a Spouse). The agent would likely escalate the call as a Sup (Supervisor) call. But even a supervisor in an overseas outsourced center probably does not have the authority and will need to refer this matter to the USA. But it is easier for the outsourced call center to tell the customer to call the airline directly (because they make too little money to serve you).

    What I find more disgusting is the behavior of the airline itself. They probably reject as many refund requests as possible so their costs don’t go up (or they get to keep as much revenue as possible). Maybe they know many people will not find an ombudsman to take their case and continue complaining. I believe this kind of behavior will increase more and more now that almost all large US and European International Carriers are part of a Joint Venture. You don’t have to fly Lufthansa but if you fly UA/CO/LX and others in the same joint venture, Lufthansa will also get a share of the JV’s income.
    It’s hard to paint a positive picture on the passenger airline industry. The JV’s will soon be too-big-to-fail and we all know what happens to consumers when that happens.

  • jennj99738

    Hi, Tony.  I’m in Las Vegas but I do a lot of traveling with my mom who lives in NYC.  I have no plans right now but I think I would like to go back to China or Hong Kong.  Maybe Thailand, Cambodia (Angkor Wat). My local newspaper is terrible for this type of stuff so maybe I’ll try the local TAs in our Chinatown area but if you have a suggestion for NYC, that would be great.  Thanks for the info!

  • Where is the compassion in the world today?  I see two faults here, 1. Expedia should have stepped up and offer the service they claim to offer and 2. Lufthansa should have issued the refund, even if it’s minus a small admin fee.  No hassle, no questions asked.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Good point – and yes, I too have used consolidators to travel to Asia before. I got a GREAT deal on a trip to Hong Kong and Bali using one. I so rarely travel to Asia that I didn’t think about that when I made my post. But that really is the only market I can think of where you might get a better deal using an online agency vs. purchasing direct.

    Thanks for pointing that out.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Jenny I can tell you that I used Escapes Unlimited for a trip to Hong Kong and Bali, and they had great deals and a lot of flexibility. They offer trips to a variety of destinations in Asia. I had a fabulous experience with them.

  • Jennifer

    How can they resell the seat as long as she has her unused ticket in her name? I thought her nonrefundable ticket was also nontransferable. I’m a bit confused as to how Lufthansa can do this.

  • My condolences to the OP as well. That must be really hard, and then to have to deal with this. OP, you must be a strong person to pursue this under these circumstances. And thank you Chris for helping her.

  • andrelot

    I’d only use Expedia, Travelocity and the likes to book tickets on airlines without representation or offices in US which don’t allow easy booking from abroad, or don’t have English websites, like I once did with a Brazilian domestic flight for my vacation in Brazil.

    The whole issue I take, however, is it LH’s customer service. Each time I’m unfortunate enough to have to deal with one to solve I problem, I get the impression they are more dumb down and more scripted than before. 

    Seriously, once talking to an Air France agent couple months ago, I had to ask “could you answer my question instead of reading your script? I know your next answer will be xyz”. She became unsettled and transferred a call to another one who (supervisor?) who in 5 minutes solved an issue that had taken 3-4 long calls with no results.

  • Willie_mitsacy

    My father recently died before he could travel to my Daughter’s graduation.  The flight was on British Airways and purchased via Expedia.  Expedia refuses to refund the ticket and British Airways says that they cannot refund it because it is an Expedia ticket.  Neither party will take responsibility. It does not make any sense.

  • Bodega

     What is the fare basis?  This then will allow you to find out the rules of the ticket purchased.  What was the routing of the ticket.  With this information, perhaps Tony A or I could provide you with some additional details that might be of help.

  • Tony A.

    Willy, first of all, our deepest condolences to you and your family.

    Even the cheapest British Air tariff today from NYC to LON ($86 Base fare) has this provision:

        ANY TIME                                                  
          TICKET IS NON-REFUNDABLE.                               
             NOTE –                                               
              TRAVELLING COMPANIONS                               

    Document your claim and send it to Chris Elliott.
    Also please look at the e-ticket receipt (ETR) and post here 2 things:
    1) The Fare Basis Code(s) – each flight segment will have one.
    2.) The ENDORSEMENT INFORMATION – usually seen on the bottom of the ticket (or fare information). Sample is:

    Usually the endorsement will tell us whether we need to go back to the travel agent to process a refund because the fare has been discounted or a special commission was granted.

    Nevertheless, I believe you father’s estate has a good chance of getting your father’s ticket price back to his credit card.

  • jim6555

    I would like to see someone (perhaps Chris Elliott) create an online database listing major companies whose customer service operations are located outside of the US and Canada. Then those of us who don’t want to put up with the inconvenience of dealing with offshore help desks could avoid doing business with those companies. The end result would hopefully be that companies who now have their customer service centers in India and other far off places would see a decline in sales revenue. These companies may soon realize that people in North America were avoiding them because of their undesirable customer care operations. Eventually, they will conclude that to sustain and grow their businesses, they need to move their customer care operations back here.

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