सहयोग गर्नुस्! Stranded in Kathmandu after my online agent canceled my ticket

Jack Vanesko thought the instructions to the online agents at CheapOair were clear: They were supposed to cancel his traveling companion’s flight from New Delhi to Lhasa. Instead, they canceled both tickets.

“When I became aware that this had happened, I made daily e-mail and phone requests to have them reinstate the flights,” he says. “I was assured repeatedly that this had been done, and this was being handled by the concern team. It was, in fact, never done.”

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Needless to say, Vanesko’s trip was a nightmare, and he missed the Tibet tour. (I’ll get to the unpleasant details in a moment.) Question is, does CheapOair owe him anything for having screwed up is reservation — and if so, what?

When Vanesko tried to travel, he discovered that the “concern team” had failed to restore his entire itinerary.

Through my own efforts I got the last standby seat on the New Delhi to Kathmandu flight with Jet Airways but when I tried to connect to the Air China flight from Kathmandu to Lhasa I was told there was no reservation or ticket in my name and that the plane was full. They left without me.

The next possible flight was three days later. So I was stuck in Kathmandu for three extra days at an additional and unexpected expense to myself of $450. My travel package in Tibet was prepaid and non refundable at a cost of $525. At the age of 67 I have probably lost my only chance of visiting Tibet.

You’d think CheapOair would do whatever it could to fix the problem after Vanesko’s return. “Far from it,” he says.

Since my return, I have communicated with CheapOair by e-mail and phone no fewer than 20 times in an effort, at the very least, to get my ticket refund of $940. It turns out that they are expert liars as well as being incredibly duplicitous and incompetent.

I was told that a supervisor has “escalated this matter to upper management” on at least three other occasions I was told that this matter was, that day, being sent to their “priority customer service department’ for immediate action. I would be willing to make a small wager that no such department exists.

I’ve also been told that the refund was approved and would be sent in “7 to 14 days.” More lies!

They then said it was the airline’s responsibility to make the refund. Why? The airlines did nothing wrong. I paid CheapOair for the ticket. They and they alone committed the egregious error that cost me nearly $2,000 and the heartbreak of knowing I will probably never get to Tibet. It was all their doing and I look to them to reimburse me. Anything less is certainly fraud and possibly robbery. They took my money, did not provide the goods or services and refuse to return my money. Isn’t that the definition of stealing?

In June, CheapOair refunded $498. I also spoke with CheapOair at the highest level, and was assured they would cover the rest of his costs. Seems they were waiting for Vanesko to send them receipts from his travel expenses, so that they could reimburse him.

A week ago, I heard from Vanesko.

CheapOair has agreed to pay me $1,500, which represents the balance of the ticket cost, the money I lost on my prepaid non-refundable Tibet package, and the extra expense incurred in my forced Kathmandu stay. He also agreed to a free air ticket to compensate for enduring this year long horror story.

A happy ending? Perhaps.

The real question here is, could Vanesko have done anything different to make sure this didn’t happen? How about using a travel agent? Nope, his reservation might have been canceled, anyway. But a bricks-and-mortar travel professional might have been able to fix the mistake before he left.

What about the airline? He might have been able to contact the carrier directly and asked for his tickets to be reinstated, instead of pressuring CheapOair for a resolution.

There’s one other way he could have ensured his reservations weren’t canceled: He could have sent his cancellation request in writing, by email, or done it online — not by phone. That may have prevented this mess.

What do you think? How would you have avoided the canceled ticket problem?

(Note: To anyone out there who speaks Nepali — and I don’t — I should explain that I shamelessly lifted the phrase सहयोग गर्नुस् from the useful phrases in Nepali page. It means “help.” I think.)

(Photo: dw rawlinson/Flickr Creative Commons)