Can “nightmare ending” to a Continental ticket purchase be fixed?

When Dimple Kelley used a service called Bill Me Later to book a Continental Airlines ticket for her son, Brian, she never imagined she’d be fighting with the payment company’s collection department half a year later. But then, no one can see a nightmare ending like this coming until it’s too late.

Question is, what can you do when they then they stop listening? What happens when they start sending nasty collection letters?

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(I’ve covered Bill Me Later in a previous column, by the way. Interesting reading.)

First, let’s hear from Kelley.

Last July, I logged into Bill Me Later site to access my account, to make reservations from Detroit to Villahemosa, Mexico via Continental Airlines.

After selecting a flight, two security questions have to be answered to verify the customer. According to BML’s instruction on its site, If either one of the security questions is incorrect, the transaction will not be authorized.

I entered the wrong last four digits of my Social Security number.

I immediately call BLM customer service. I was informed that without the correct answer to the security questions the transaction would be voided and they will investigate.

This is where the nightmare begins.

The next day, I received email from BML to go on line and register my account. I called Continental Airlines and was informed that the reservation had been authorized by BML. But BML stated they had no record of this transaction on my account. They promised to investigate.

But the investigation yielded nothing. Eventually, Bill Me Later opened a second account without Kelley’s authorization and began sending her bills for her Continental ticket. Efforts to appeal to Bill Me Later were unsuccessful. Her son didn’t use the tickets to Mexico, because she didn’t authorize the purchase and wasn’t sure if he’d be allowed to fly.

Now Bill Me Later wants its money. Not only is it sending her letters, but its billing department has begun calling her.

“It’s a nightmare ending,” she told me.

I don’t want to second-guess anyone’s decision to use a company like Bill Me Later. I’m sure it provides a necessary service to travelers. But I would be hesitant to buy a ticket for which I don’t currently have the money. Also, it may be worth investigating how Bill Me Later works before using it.

Here’s my bottom line: If Kelley didn’t authorize the ticket, then she shouldn’t have to pay for it.

I contacted Continental on her behalf. Last week, I got the following update from her:

Continental is refunding the ticket back to Bill Me Later. Also, Continental will be watching this matter very closely. I did not receive a February bill for the erroneous account.

The nightmare is over. Now I can get some sleep, and peace of mind. Thank you very much for your assistance!

I think a brief, polite email to Continental, explaining the problem, might have resolved this issue months ago. I’m very pleased that Continental came to the defense of one of its customers and made this right.

(Photo: johannes pape/Flickr Creative Commons)