How to double-book your flight reservations

Double-book your flight? Yikes!

Melanie Facen bought two airline tickets from San Francisco to Zürich, Switzerland — one through One Travel, the other through United Airlines. But she only meant to buy one. Now she wants to know: What can you do when you double-book your flight reservations? Is there a way to fix it?

On that last question, the answer is yes — and no.

As is so often the case in the world of airline reservations, it’s all a matter of timing. Did she wait to make sure her first reservation went through? Is she past her 24 hours, which allows her to get a no-questions-asked refund?

Of course, her story is filled with lessons for the rest of us, which includes a warning about booking with credit cards and about the rigidity of airline refund rules. I’ll get to all of that in just a second. But first, let’s get a few details from Facen.

Here’s how to double-book your flight reservations

Last April, Facen clicked on One Travel (owned by Fareportal, an underwriter of this organization) to book a flight from San Francisco to Zürich in September.

“I never received a confirmation or a ticket from them,” she says. “Two days later, since I hadn’t heard from them, I tried to book this flight again through United Airlines.”

Facen says she checked her credit card first to make sure the original flight reservation hadn’t gone through. Now, bear in mind that Facen has 24 hours to cancel a reservation once it’s made. After that, it’s nonrefundable.

Facen also checked with United about the One Travel reservation.

“I explained to the agent that I had booked the flight two days before with One Travel,” she says. “The agent checked the reservations and told me that there was no reservation in my name for this flight. He went ahead and booked the same flight for me. I received a confirmation immediately.”

And then … well, you already know what happened next.

“Big shock,” she says. “I received my credit card statement and was charged for two tickets — one from One Travel and one from United.”

She tried to cancel her One Travel reservation, but she was already past her 24 hours.

“Nothing was resolved,” she says.

And so she contacted my advocacy team.

Why is this refund taking so long?

While Facen’s problem seemed simple, the resolution was anything but. There were actually several companies involved, including One Travel, United, Swiss International (yep, a codeshare!), and, of course, Facen’s bank. Because you can already guess what she did next, right? She contacted her credit card company, Chase, to initiate a dispute.

Now it’s getting complicated.

Making matters worse, Facen admits she is “not very good with computers,” so she couldn’t even forward an email to our advocacy team. That left us at a disadvantage in helping her untangle this mess.

Quick sidebar. I don’t think you should have to be good with computers to resolve a dispute when you double-book your flight reservations. But if you’re going to book your trip online, you should have some basic computer proficiency.

Anyway, this was starting to look a lot more difficult than it first seemed.

Had Facen waited a while and checked directly with One Travel on her delayed reservation, then she wouldn’t have contacted United to make a new booking. But credit card transactions don’t always go through immediately. Sometimes companies wait a few days before processing all of their transactions. That may have happened to her.

And, had Facen canceled within 24 hours, then this would have been a slam-dunk. You wouldn’t be reading about it here. But now, everyone was involved, and it looked as if she’d have to pay for an extra seat.

A resolution from One Travel

Here’s the thing: When you have two tickets under the same name on the same flight, and the passenger says she’s accidentally made two reservations, then you can believe her. Either United or One Travel — or both — should have been able to see that. They should have found a way to wade through an illogical and customer-unfriendly process to obtain a refund for her.

Alas, it took a nudge from one of my advocates to get this fixed. In the end, One Travel agreed to cancel Facen’s ticket, sending her $ 1,350, minus a $300 cancellation fee. It’s a resolution Facen is pleased with.

I’m happy for her, too. But I wonder: Should the ability to double-book your flight reservations even exist? How hard would it be to add one more algorithm to the airline industry’s many ticketing and seating algorithms — one that spots a double reservation like Facen’s coming from an online travel agent?

I can think of only one reason they haven’t, and it’s probably not a technical issue. It’s a profitability one. Having these double reservations is profitable. Why would an airline do anything to reduce its profits intentionally?

Should airlines do more to prevent double bookings by customers?

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