Surprise! She booked the wrong date for her husband’s flight

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By Christopher Elliott

What’s the difference between a “glitch” and a “mistake”? For Patricia Alexander, who booked the wrong date for her husband’s flight, it’s the difference between a $996 refund and the silent treatment.

For you, the distinction matters less than the takeaway: No matter how you book travel, you need to double-check the dates within the first 24 hours of making your reservation. Otherwise, you own the glitch or mistake with little or no recourse.

Alexander contacted me recently to find out if I could fix an incorrect date on her husband’s ticket.

How she booked the wrong date for her husband’s flight

Alexander had booked a reservation through a travel agency, Thomsons Travel & Tours, for her husband and son to fly from Minneapolis to Las Vegas.

“Five days after booking it, I go to the Delta website, and the return flight was not correct,” she says. “The agent says it was a glitch and when I returned to the Delta site later on the same day, the flight info was correct.”

Unfortunately, either the Delta site or her reading of the Delta site was incorrect. When her husband and son tried to check in for their flight home, a Delta representative told them they weren’t scheduled to return for two more days.

“They had to purchase two one-way tickets for $996 and wait 12 hours for the next flight,” she says.

Was it a glitch or a mistake?

Alexander’s paper trail tells a slightly different story. According to her correspondence with Thomsons Travel & Tours, she’d accidentally requested the dates which her agency initially booked.

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I contacted your agency and was assisted by [name redacted].

I had booked a flight with Delta Air Lines and had mistakenly chosen the wrong date for the return flight. She canceled my original reservation and we went through the process of rebooking it with the correct dates.

She assured me that everything had been taken care of. Unfortunately, that is not the case. My husband and son were stranded at the Las Vegas airport, had to wait 12 hours for the next available flight at an additional cost of $900.

What happened and how can your agency help us? I emailed [the agent] but she has not responded.

Hmm, this is problematic.

Both the circumstances of the original reservation and the cost of the new ticket are now different. If this is perplexing to my advocacy team, I can only imagine how it comes across to Delta or the agency. Consistency between the complaint and the paper trail is essential. A company can easily exploit an inconsistency to turn down a legitimate request for help.

What are your rights to change a ticket when you booked the wrong date?

Had Alexander spotted the incorrect dates immediately, she might have been able to fix it without paying more under the Department of Transportation’s 24-hour reservation requirement. It requires carriers to hold a reservation at the quoted fare for 24 hours without payment or, more commonly, to allow a reservation to be canceled within 24 hours without penalty. The 24-hour reservation requirement is mandated by the Department of Transportation’s consumer rule “Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections” (14 CFR 259.5(b)(4), 76 Fed. Reg. 23110, 23166, Apr. 25, 2011) and applies to all reservations made seven days or more before the flight’s scheduled departure time.

If you miss that window, then the airline can charge a change fee or even keep your ticket, depending on the terms of your ticket. That’s what happened to Alexander. (Related: I booked the wrong airport — can I get a refund for my American Airlines ticket?)

But what if this is the travel agency’s fault? Agents sometimes will cover change fees if it’s their fault. Brick-and-mortar agents carry errors and omissions insurance, a type of professional liability insurance that protects them against claims made by clients for inadequate work or negligent actions. (Here’s our guide to booking an airline ticket.)

Since my advocacy team didn’t have Delta’s or the agency’s side, we didn’t know the particulars of her reservation. Did she buy a new one-way ticket or did she pay a change fee and a fare differential? Also, what did Thomsons Travel & Tours’ records say?

Whose fault was the wrong date for her husband’s flight?

Without a full picture of this wrong-date case, it’s impossible to determine who is at fault. So our advocate, Dwayne Coward, reached out to Thomsons Travel & Tours.

Alexander had tried appealing to the agent and had received the following email:

We are the ticketing agent for the website you booked your travel with. We have forwarded your email to the agent you booked with along with management so they will follow up with you.

That’s problematic. It means the agent is dealing with a third party. The odds of a misunderstanding just went up dramatically.

Dwayne contacted the agent on Alexander’s behalf. Unsurprisingly, the answer was silence.

Now, we all know the difference between a glitch and a mistake. Not much good it’s going to do Alexander or us. It would have been nice to hear the other side of the story, but what can you do when a company refuses to answer?

But there is a lesson to be learned. Deal with a travel agent you trust. And as the saying goes, “trust, but verify.” Had Alexander taken a moment to review her itinerary, she would have seen the error and saved $996. Or $900.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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