Why is my travel agency making it so hard to get my $9,000 back?

Jacob Mock has to cancel his Hawaiian vacation. The trip appears to be refundable, but his travel agent doesn’t provide a copy of the cancellation policy, something that agents are required to do. As a result, he has trouble getting his money back from the agent. Can our intrepid advocates make him whole again?

Question:We booked a trip to Hawaii, the airlines changed all of their flights completely and our flights had to be rescheduled. Our travel agent couldn’t find us comparable flights. Having had back surgery a year ago, I have issues with sustained air or car travel. I was willing to make the original trip, albeit a long trip I felt I could manage.

The only flights the agent could find lengthened our trip considerably or had us driving from Philadelphia to Newark and departing from there. We told her we preferred to cancel our trip and to start the refund process. While a portion of the airfare was refundable because of the change, the agent told us we had to file a claim with the travel insurance company for medical reasons only for the balance.

If we had booked the trip ourselves, the hotel and car rental companies would have given us a refund. We had no problems in the past with things like this. The airline is giving us a refund minus a $20 per person charge, but we never received a penny. Could you please help me get a refund from the travel agent? —Jacob Mock, Lafayette Hill, Pa.

Answer: Wow. I can’t believe your travel agent appears to be so evasive and difficult. The job of a travel agent is to facilitate arrangements between you and travel providers, and, most importantly, to be there when something goes wrong.

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In this case, it sounds like all your agent wants to do is put the onus on someone else to get you your refund. She also insisted that you file a “medical claim” with your insurance company, which definitely does not sound appropriate. And when you refused to do something you felt was unethical, the agent chose to ignore your attempts to follow up with them. “I cannot help but feel I am being asked to commit insurance fraud,” you told us. “In addition to this, I am going to have to ask a doctor to collude.”

And there’s more to this story. The agency did not purchase your airfare directly from United Airlines but instead from GoGo Travel, which is a third-party air travel wholesaler. They bulk-purchase seats on planes and resell them to travel agents, who pass them on to consumers.

So what happened to your money?

When you attempted to follow up with the agency, you demanded to speak with the owner, who told you to contact GoGo for the refund of your airfare despite the fact that you paid his agency directly for your travel. In fact, consumers are supposed to have no direct contact with GoGo, since it doesn’t work directly with the traveler, so it’s baffling why the agency asked you to go around them and contact GoGo on your own.

Frustrated with your agent’s behavior, you reached out to our advocate, who contacted the agency on your behalf. Initially, the agency responded to our emails and then stopped responding when we asked the owner to provide us with a copy of his agency’s cancellation policy.

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So we then moved on to contacting United to find out what happened to your refund, and an airline representative confirmed that it was processed and submitted to GoGo. When we contacted GoGo, it informed us that it is just a wholesaler, it does not deal directly with travelers, and that it was an odd suggestion for the travel agent to direct their client back to GoGo.

Finally, we sent another email to the agency about GoGo’s response. We asked the owner again for the cancellation policy and told him that we would be writing a story about the case.

Fortunately, that communication did the trick — you subsequently received a refund of $8,772 to your credit card.

You thanked us for our intervention after believing your only chance at restitution was in the courts. We’re glad we were able to help you get back all your money and hope that you have better travel experiences in the future.

Mark Pokedoff

Four-time Emmy-award-winning television sports production specialist and frequent traveler. Longtime freelance writer and travel blog enthusiast. Proud papa of four amazing kids who have been upgraded to first class more than all their friends combined.

  • Altosk

    Name and shame this travel “agent,” please. I want to make sure I never make the mistake of doing business with them. Not sure why they are being granted the privilege of anonymity.

  • sirwired

    Where’s the name of the agent? You mention the name of the airline and wholesaler, both who didn’t do anything wrong…

  • cscasi

    Was this travel agent working in a “brick and mortar” agency or just a one person operation? We see these stories fairly often here, with the majority of cases appearing to be from customers who use “online” agencies or a person holding him or herself out as a travel agent, but doesn’t have the width and breadth of experience to handle travel requests with any real complexity.
    I guess this travel agent used GoGo in order to get the tickets at a cheaper rate than using the actual airline and probably pocketed the difference in order to make more money.
    Again, this is just another example of why travelers need to ensure who they are doing business with and that they should use due diligence by checking to see what the agent’s or agency’s rules are and whether or not those are acceptable,
    Glad he finally got his money refunded; although he might not have had he not asked Chris and his team for help. Well done!

  • Rebecca

    This is what I can’t understand either. To be fair, both come across as responsive, and both immediately did exactly what they should have.

    If a giant faceless corporation can be shamed, the same should apply to a small agent. This isn’t a borderline case. There was a significant itinerary change. The OP is due a refund.

  • Rebecca

    In this case, the OP apparently paid by credit card. The second the agent didn’t respond, if be filing a chargeback. Then the agent is also stuck with a fee. On top of that, if they make this a habit, a small business getting large chargebacks like this will have their agreements with the credit card companies and/or their merchant bank suspended.

    Also, I’d suggest the OP complain to the travel insurance provider. I’m sure they wouldn’t take kindly to an agent telling a client to commit fraud.

  • Jeff W.

    I will agree the chorus of people that have said the travel agent should be named. If we can call out United and GoGo — and they did nothing wrong — then the true culprit should be named.

    But I think this is what happened. The agent no longer had an incentive to work with this customer. Baring information to the contrary, the agency was paid by commission and with the trip being canceled, they were no longer being paid. And now they had double the work. The work it took to book the trip and now the work necessary to secure the refunds. And I am just guessing the agency did not have a fee schedule to account for valid cancellations. So it would be work for nothing.

    Unless this was a repeat customer, only then would the agency find value in doing the work necessary to get the refunds. Because it would know more opportunities would be forthcoming.

    Just a guess…

  • Carrie Livingston

    In that case, the agency should ask for a fee for procuring the travel arrangements. Or in their terms provide for a cancellation fee.

  • Asiansm Dan

    The Compensation Money is from the Insurers, why GoGo tours took so long to bug. Unless. Gogo Tours, cashed the prime and be the insurer themselve Make a Lottery bet on the prime. The Travel Agent and Gogo Tours should do any effort to help the customer to get the money from the Insurer otherwise we could suspect of something else under the rock on the side of the travel agent and Gogo tours.

  • Carchar

    If you’re not going to name the travel agent, could you please tell us why you are not naming them? Would you be liable in some way?

  • greg watson

    I agree with most of the other comments. Was a deal made with the travel agency / agent to not disclose their names if a refund was given. The agency’s behaviour is not acceptable & they should be outed, including their city & affiliations.

  • Maxwell Smart

    the statement …….

    “travel agent doesn’t provide a copy of the cancellation policy, something that agents are required to do”
    is not 100% correct. Maybe the cencellation policy is in the brochure you read or received ?

  • Maxwell Smart

    always 2 sides to a story. The complainant, might have been very hard to deal with.
    Most travel agent charge for their time these days. Maybe these cancellation conditions weren’t forwarded. Maybe if they had been, the complainant, might not have been entitled to the amount of refund.
    NOTE: most airfares, package holidays, cheaper hotels rates sold these days, are completely non-refundable, which is why they are cheaper in the 1st place.

  • Rebecca

    The truth is always an absolute defense. There’s written communication proving these claims.

  • Rebecca

    But the agent received the refund. No matter how awful the customer was (and I’m not saying they were – I don’t get that impression, just for sake of argument) the agent isn’t entitled to keep the refund.

    You know what I think happened? I think the agent “floated” the payment to another customer. And didn’t have it to refund. With small businesses, it happens more often than you’d think. (I dealt with this sometimes at the bank – some of these awful business owners would bounce payroll checks.)

  • Mel65

    Exactly, and if I came to Elliott to ask for help, they wouldn’t grant me anonymity either…

  • MarkKelling

    Or, the agent could have responded quickly, provided the refund, and been there the next time this customer needed to book a trip of this type. $9,000 in airfare is not a small amount and given the discount buying through GoGo gives the agent could be a good money maker.

    There also is no mention of a fee charged by the agent (but I am unsure of the $20 fee charged to cancel the tickets which is a strange amount that might actually be the agent charging something). If it was me traveling, I would let the agent keep whatever fee they charged not even mentioning it, recognizing they did do the work.

  • Lindabator

    wow – BAD travel agent here. But this is NOT a case of bulk tickets, but contracted rates, which means they are still standard tickets, still get mileage, still face standard penalties and change fees – but as they are part of a package, they airfare is contracted at a lower rate than published airfare, and this is why package tour operators can offer airfare hotel and car packages so less expensively. NOW – that being said, they have different cancellation penalties – but once the airfare tanked as badly as this, the agent should have worked with GOGO to get the entire trip refunded, insurance or no. Frankly, we work with several package tour operators regularly, and this is never an issue. And GOGO is a very good company to work with, so not sure why this agent dropped the ball so badly. Next time, try a different agent

  • Lindabator

    true – but in a case like this, it wouldn’t even BE an issue for one of my clients – I would be working with the vendor to ensure they got their money back

  • Lindabator

    no – most agencies use package tour operators, as they can offer packages for lower prices, and do NOT require full payment upfront – giving the client the best price and time options. its not a matter of “pocketing” the difference, but offering a better option. Unfortunately, they didn’t bother to follow up with the vendor to ensure the refund, and that is just LAZINESS

  • Lindabator

    no – GOGO will have a nonrefundable deposit, but even that is negotiable when the airlines has such a massive change as to make the trip impossible — the agent just didn’t due their job here

  • Lindabator

    GOGO will refund, and to the original form of payment (YOUR credit card?) – but the agent has to request it – I think you all are making more out of this – she wasn’t trying to steal from him, she was just too lazy to put in the request – period

  • Lindabator

    the agent doesn’t HAVE the credit card – NEVER had the credit card – and would NOT be penalized. GOGO would — and the chargeback would not work at that point, as they agreed to refund —- the agent just needs to be the one to fill in the refund request – she was just lazy

  • Lindabator

    wow – you are WAY off here. NO insurance claim, as this was NOT a medical issue — and GOGO was not the owner of the agency, but the vendor who sold the package. United has schedule changes, and the client did not like them — not an issue for insurance. GOGO would gladly refund, but they do not deal with the client, and the agent here just did not want to put in the refund request – had she done so, this would never have been an issue

  • Lee

    I’d suggest the OP do some research on this travel agent – there may well be others who have been treated similarly; then, if so, I’d get in touch with the state attorney general’s office.

    The OP has all the documentation needed and, for me, the kicker is they only did the right/legal thing when told a story about them would be published. I’m a bit sorry the agency is not named and shamed. They deserve it.

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