How did a simple passport mistake end in a $17,766 travel disaster?

This is a passport mistake you'll want to avoid.

Ted Kelley says his wife made a simple passport mistake last year that snowballed into a $17,766 travel disaster.

The couple had never heard of the Schengen area or its passport requirements for U.S. citizens. But when they tried to check in for their business class flight to Italy, a Lufthansa representative quickly explained the facts. Kelley’s wife’s passport didn’t have the required 90-days validity from their return date, and the airline denied boarding to the couple.

Since that day, Kelley has been in a relentless battle to retrieve the money he says Lufthansa stole from him.

But hold on. There’s much more to this story. The couple did take that dream vacation — a day later. So what’s the basis for the refund request?

This unfortunate tale serves as a warning to travelers: Don’t be misled by your passport’s expiration date. Attempting to travel internationally with a soon-to-be-expired passport can be a pricey mistake. And misunderstanding the rebooking costs to fix the original problem can make the situation worse — much worse.

Important: Don’t forget to check the passport requirements for your destination

Late in 2017, Kelley says he and his wife decided to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary with a special trip.

“We planned our 50th wedding celebration trip to Italy,” Kelley remembered. “We booked with Lufthansa before, but this was our first time in Business Class.”

The couple spent the next several months anticipating their Italian adventure. Unfortunately, in all of their planning, they forgot to check the passport requirements for their journey.

On the day the couple was set to leave for their vacation, they arrived early at the airport. They intended to enjoy all of the amenities of their business class ticket — including relaxing in the lounge before takeoff.

This passport oversight would soon have devastating repercussions.

When the couple stepped up to the check-in counter, their plans took an abrupt turn. They wouldn’t be visiting the lounge or flying to Italy on that day

Fact: To enter Italy, your passport must have 90 days left before expiration

At the check-in counter, a Lufthansa representative broke the bad news to the couple. Kelley’s wife’s passport was about to expire and wasn’t valid for entry to Italy.

The couple had never heard about this passport requirement before that moment. The representative explained that to enter Italy, U.S. citizens must have 90 days left on their passport before expiration from the date of their return ticket.

Staring at the agent in disbelief, Kelley asked what they could do to save their vacation.

The representative suggested to the stunned couple that they could visit a U.S. Passport office and renew the passport. She noted that there were business class seats available on the same flight the next day. Kelley asked the agent to switch their tickets to the following day. But the agent explained they could change the flights only after the confirmed renewal of the passport.

Disappointed but hopeful that their passport mistake would only impact one day of their vacation, the couple left the airport. They quickly found the closest U.S. passport office with emergency services and made an appointment.

The Schengen Area and its passport requirements for U.S. citizens

The Schengen Area is a block of countries located in Europe that have removed border restrictions between one another. Once a traveler is approved for entry to one member country, they may travel freely throughout the Schengen block. However, there are some entry requirements that a traveler must meet for entry.

To enter the Schengen Area, a U.S. citizen’s passport must be valid for a minimum of 90 days beyond the date of their return ticket.

Unless a traveler has been approved for a visa to enter the Schengen Area, they must prove their intentions to leave within 90 days.

The passport requirements for the Schengen Area demand that a U.S. traveler have 90 days left on their passport from the date the plan to leave the Schengen Area.
A common passport mistake: not checking requirements for entry to the Schengen Area. This block covers most of Europe. (Photo: Schengen Visa Info)

Unfortunately, this passport mistake is a common one that we see at Elliott Advocacy. Many travelers have been caught unaware of the Schengen Area passport requirements for U.S. citizens.

How much is it going to cost to fix this passport mistake?

Kelley and his wife made their way to the passport office and paid the emergency fee to have the document renewed ($170).

The couple hoped that the emergency passport renewal fee would be the extent of the cost to fix this mistake.

Unfortunately, that $170 wasn’t even close to what it would ultimately cost to save this vacation.

In fact, the couple was soon in for massive sticker shock when Kelley’s wife called the reservation center to rebook.

The agent told my wife that Lufthansa would charge a re-booking fee of $900 plus the cost of the Business Class tickets — now $8,433 (up from the $6,124 originally charged). We thought this was an exorbitant increase, but because of the special celebration, there was no way we would cancel.

Kelley says his wife agreed to the $2,309 upcharge, and the couple flew to Italy the next day.

The business class service impressed them both and, although they found the fare increase “exorbitant,” they tried not to dwell on it.

It was only after the Kelleys returned from their fantastic journey that the actual price of correcting this passport mistake came into shocking focus.

A walk-up fare to Italy in business class

A few weeks after the couple returned home, Kelley opened up his credit card statement and couldn’t believe his eyes. He had expected to see the additional charge of $2,309 plus the $900 change fees. Instead, he found four charges from Lufthansa: two for $8,433, and two for $450 each.

The total Lufthansa charged the couple on the day they rescheduled their flight: $17,766.

Kelley hoped a quick phone call to Lufthansa would clear up the overcharge. But it didn’t. He says he was unable to reach anyone at the airline who could fix the problem.

But soon, Lufthansa notified Kelley that there was no mistake. The couple’s original tickets were advance purchase business class fares. When Mrs. Kelley’s passport problem caused the couple to miss their original flight, they received a credit of $6,124 to apply to their new tickets. The new flights were last-minute walk-up fares.

This passport mistake ended in an expensive travel disaster
The Lufthansa agent explains the true cost of this passport mistake.

“It makes no sense to me that we would originally be charged $6,124 for two Business Class tickets from Boston to Florence,” Kelley lamented. “And then to be charged $17,766 more for the same exact flight 1 day later. That’s a total of $23,890 for this flight.”

Unfortunately for the Kelleys, walk-up fares are some of the most expensive tickets that a traveler can encounter. And last-minute business class flights to Europe in one of the busiest months of the year for travel can easily reach into five digits. Lufthansa explained that the full fare for each of these tickets was $11,495.

But Kelley refused to believe it. He was sure that the agent had told his wife the $8,433 represented the entire cost of their flight to change to the new date.

And so from that moment on, Kelley has been on a determined mission to retrieve his money.

Elliott Advocacy team can help, but not in the way this traveler hoped

By the time Kelley reached out to the Elliott Advocacy team, 18 months had passed since Kelley’s wife’s passport mistake had led the couple to be denied boarding of their flight to Europe. But much had transpired since that time.

When I read through Kelley’s hefty paper trail, I wondered how he hoped we could help. He had already escalated his complaint to numerous agencies, none of which had been able to achieve his desired result.

In fact, before asking for the assistance of the Elliott Advocacy team, Kelley had already:

  • Filed two credit chargebacks
  • Hired an attorney
  • Filed complaints with the Attorney General’s Office, The Better Business Bureau and The Department of Transportation
  • Engaged two other consumer advocacy organizations to defend his case.

As I plowed through all the many documents Kelley hoped would prove his case, the reason none of these other organizations could help became clear to me. In fact, some common misunderstandings about the dynamic nature of airfares formed the foundation of Kelley’s argument.

Sometimes it’s important to tell consumers when they’re wrong

Part of being a good advocate means that sometimes, it’s necessary to tell a consumer when they’re wrong. Many times, travelers don’t want to hear that truth. But it’s an essential aspect of our mission.

And in this case, all signs pointed to one passport mistake that was then compounded by an additional misunderstanding of the rebooking costs after a missed flight. The Kelleys had nothing in writing that supported the belief that a Lufthansa agent told Mrs. Kelley that the tickets would cost just $3,209 additional to switch.

But before I gave the bad news to the couple, I asked my colleague Dwayne Coward to take a second look. Unfortunately, Dwayne’s assessment matched mine. The passport mistake that got this travel disaster rolling caused the original advance purchase fare tickets to be canceled. The new cost was spectacularly higher but in line with last-minute business class fares to Europe on all the major carriers. In fact, I priced business class fares on the Kelleys’ route for the following day on Lufthansa and, as I suspected, the cost for the roundtrip flight was over $11,000.

I showed that information to Kelley and explained that our team could find no way to mediate his request successfully. But I hoped that maybe if he heard the truth from an uninvolved third party, he might be able to end this battle and focus on the wonderful trip that the couple enjoyed.

Although Kelley thanked me for reviewing the case, he says he’s still convinced that Lufthansa tricked them. And he wants his story told so that others don’t fall for the same, what he calls, “bait and switch.”

How to avoid an expensive passport mistake

  • U.S. citizens should always visit the State Department’s website before making any international travel plans. This site will provide you with almost everything you need to know about your destination before your global journey — including your entry requirements.
  • Check the consulate website of any country you intend to visit. The internet makes it quite simple to find all the information you need for seamless travel.
  • Use this helpful (and free) tool from the International Air Transport Association (IATA). It can quickly give you personalized passport, visa, and health documentation requirements for your destination.
  • Check the expiration date of your passport well in advance of your trip. Remember, if you have less than six months left until your passport expires, you’ve entered the danger zone — it’s time to renew.
  • If you find it necessary to rebook a flight, make sure to understand all the costs associated with the rebooking. Be certain to review the confirmation, which will include an itemized list of charges. If you don’t receive a confirmation, check your spam folder or call the airline and request a copy.

Should Lufthansa refund any of the rebooking fees for this flight?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirportParkingReservations.com

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at AirportParkingReservations.com, ParkSleepFly.com, AirportParking.com, and ShuttleFinder.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by G1G.com

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend