Case dismissed: They charged me the wrong fare, and now they want more

Melinda McGowan had to cancel her European vacation late last year because of a medical emergency. When she tried to rebook her tickets through Lufthansa, an airline representative quoted her a fare differential of $388, which seemed like a lot at the time.

Turns out it wasn’t enough.

“I just got an email message from Lufthansa to call urgently about my flight,” she says. “They said the price was wrong, I should have paid an extra $455 instead of $388. They also said they tried to call me and were unable to reach me by phone.”

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She’s skeptical of that claim.

“They have both my work and home numbers, you can leave messages at both numbers, and I was home last night and the phone never rang,” she says. “The Lufthansa representative I spoke with said they tried last night. If they did make an attempt, perhaps at only my work number, they certainly did not leave a message.”

Airfares are routinely recalculated, often to the detriment of a passenger. Here a recent case involving Virgin Atlantic.

I contacted Lufthansa on McGowan’s behalf. A representative called her, but they played phone tag for the next few days. Finally, she called Lufthansa’s 800-number to see if she could get this sorted out. She reached a woman named Sheila.

She told me that my payment of $388 had been stopped at the New York office and a message sent back to the original agent that the amount was wrong. So although I did not know it, I have not actually paid for the new reservation, even though I did authorize the charge.

So the reservation is ‘on hold’ until I pay $455 to book it. Sheila told me that they had looked into different pricing options and had been unable to find a lower fare. Then she spent about 45 minutes looking for a lower fare for me.

She tried different dates and different routing. She said she could only book S class, that there were no L class fares. She tried for as early as November 2011 into March 2012. The conclusion was that I would need to pay the $455.

Although Sheila was “nice and helpful” the answer remained the same: Either pay up or your ticket will expire and you won’t fly.

“I get that there are no lower fares,” she says.”What I don’t get is why I should pay more than I was quoted. Perhaps the agent made a mistake; it was not my mistake and I thought I made a purchase at that time. That is where things stand currently.”

I’m a little disappointed that Lufthansa didn’t honor the original fare it quoted McGowan. To her, and to me,  Lufthansa’s back-office problems don’t really matter. The airline told her it would cost another $388 to fly to Europe and then reversed itself.

At the same time, I can understand that Lufthansa’s hands are tied. Technically, the new ticket wasn’t booked. Overriding its own pricing system must be close to impossible. And it really tried to find her a better fare.

Or did it?

30 thoughts on “Case dismissed: They charged me the wrong fare, and now they want more

  1. Did she get any initial acknowledgement to her booking?

    Normally when you book through the airline’s web site, or even through a third party agent, you get an emailed confirmation within minutes, listing all the details of your itinerary. That’s been my experience in the past.

    If she had any kind of an emailed initial confirmation from the airline, she would be fairly solid grounds, and the airline doesn’t have a foot to stand on. They accepted her booking, she’s owed a ticket.

    But sounds like she had a credit from a previously cancelled ticket, and she had to talk to a reservation agent to use the credit to book the ticket. She may or may not’ve gotten any confirmation after.

    Here’s one approach that may work. Ask the airline: please send me this request in writing (email’s fine), because I need to get the additional expense approved by my boss (or make up some other excuse).

    There’s reason why the email only vaguely asked her to call them, rather than state up front what the issue is. They DON’T want to have a paper trail on this! They want this matter limited verbally, they don’t want to go on the record. The airline knows that it’s not going to be easy to go on the record without either acknowledging that they either accepted her initial booking, and thus owe her a ticket, and/or the reservation agent messed up. Either way, they would be acknowledging that this was not a customer error, and the customer shouldn’t be responsible for it.

    Sounds like somebody at the airline messed up, but is trying to get out of paying for their mistake out of their own hide. Force the issue. Call them and state: you already have my email address, but here’s also my fax number. Whichever’s convenient for you: please send me this request in writing. There’s no reason why you cannot send a written request.

    They’ll probably say that they can’t send an email or a fax. Don’t accept this answer. State that the initial email from the airline asking her to call back regarding her to “urgently call about her flight” is evidence that the airline has /something/, a reservation, or a ticket, whatever. They have it, so if there’s an issue with it, you are entitled to a written inquiry, so that there are no misunderstandings. Since they’ve already demonstrated their ability to send an email, by emailing a request for the customer to call them, I see no reason why they cannot also email the details of what the issue is.

    Force them into starting a paper trail. I believe they don’t want to, because they’ll have to go on the record stating that they messed up. By pressing the issue, they might fold.

  2. I see fare calculation errors this way. If the agent had discovered it during the call, they can correct themselves. But once the call was complete, and the caller provided a credit card and agreed to the charge, it constituted a contract between the airline and the passenger, and they should honor it, unless the number is so ridiculous as no reasonable person would think it correct(Like someone going online and booking a $1 fare some airline accidentally filed for a business class seat).

  3. What happened is no different than asking a clerk in a store the price of something, getting an answer and then finding out when you get to the register that the price is different. Move on.

    1. In most stores though, the ones that know customer service, if the employee who gave you the wrong price admits to it then they will honor that price. 

      1. I’ll admit to not shopping in the best stores, but I’ve yet to come across   any volunteering to eat that kind of percentage off just because an employee made an error. 

        1. You don’t have to be shopping at “the best stores”.  I’ve worked retail at a department store (Macy’s) and a hardware store (Home Depot) and have marked things down for people because they were told the wrong price.  It happens and managers usually realize that the customer’s good will is worth far more than the small amount of money the store eats (in this case $67 which is pennies for an airline).

        2. I have. At Best Buy they were advertising certain movies for $4.99 for Valentine’s Day, and we didn’t notice that the sale had expired and it rang up as higher. When I pointed out the display to the salesguy (and I was willing to pay the higher price when he said the sale price had expired) he said their policy was to honor the sale price because they should have dismantled the display. Saved me $10.00.

    2. No, this is more like buying the thing, paying for it and arranging to have it delivered, and then being asked to pay more for it before delivery can be made.  Crooks, all of them!

      1. Except that she never paid for it – she offered but it wasn’t accepted due to the price difference. 

  4. It is $67 dollars for crying out loud. She has already given Lufthansa a (guessing) $1000+ interest free lean from her original ticket purchase. She has likely paid $150 fee to switch the ticket to the new date. She agreed to an increase in the fare.  How much more can Lufthansa milk from the passenger.

    I get they have processes and systems, but sometimes it makes sense to waive it here and there.

    Can Lufthansa offer her a $67 meal voucher to spend in an airport along her journey?

  5. I think you’re too easy on Lufthansa.  They quoted a fare rate and then changed it after the call.  This isn’t even a mistake fare where a normal person would think it was too good to be true.  And for the price difference this is bad business. 

    Of course if this was me I would pay the money and then write a letter to every executive telling them how I felt.

  6. I think Lufthansa is totally wrong in this case.  Since she is re-booking an unused ticket, she is already paying a fee, $250 if it’s from the US.  The phone agent quoted her the price, got her card info, and ended the call.  Her deal was complete.  The airline should not back out after that happened. 
     
    It sounds like what happened is that there was only one L fare left for sale on her flight, and somehow it good booked at the same time and only S fare is available.  Perhaps the agent wasn’t fast enough, or someone bought it on-line.  However, if this was a Lufthansa airline she was working with, she completed her transaction.
     
    It’s commendable that the agent looked for other L fares, but at the same time 1. I find it hard to believe they found none at all. And 2. Why did the agent (if they are a Lufthansa employee) not call inventory management, explain the situation, and re-open an L fare bucket for her?  It really is that easy as long as its justifiable, which in this case it is.
     
    I think Lufthansa messed up, and is just being stubborn.

  7. Lufthansa needs to suck it up and stick with the original price given.  It is not so much the dollar amount, as it is not that much more, Lufthansa goofed up, not Melinda.

  8. Surely Lufthansa’s revenue/inventory management can do the right thing and make an adjustment to the fare basis code availability, allowing the customer to pay the quoted $388. Lufthansa’s hands are not tied.

    1.  Most likely the res agent missed a tax or made a math error that the ticketing department caught. For $67, LH should buck up and accept their mistake since the transaction was considered done by the passenger when the credit card was taken.

  9. I read this and wonder what unthinking person at Lufthansa could be behind this idiodacy?  Look it is $67. Assume for a minute that Lufthansa had made the calls they claimed as well as the time of Sheila and others who have looked at this issue. Have they not already spent way more than $67?
    They have needlessly put themselves into a corner. There is really only one reasonable solution at this point. Honor the fare quoted. You might add to that reasonable solution by not charging her any price difference. Lufthansa could do even better and upgrade the customer for the idiodacy Lufthansa has put her through!

  10. I admit to being baffled by this and believe that LH should back up their res agent’s quote.  The passenger booked over the phone, so no errror on her part.  Not sure what the LH res agent did, but res agents don’t ticket and since with was an exchange. the ticketing department found some error, be it in the fare or a tax. 

  11. I simply can’t believe Lufthansa is doing this to her.  They find it far better to lose a customer than to eat the $67?  Uh, there’s a village missing their idiot somewhere.

    The moment she agreed to the price quoted by the agent, there was a meeting of the minds, thus a contract was formed.  The Op could push it, and I feel she did the right thing in not paying the extra money before complaining, but it does worry me she’s on a deadline of sorts before the ticket from the cancelled trip expires.

    Another poster here recommended the OP pay the fees and then complain.  Complaining once they have your money is like beating a dead horse.  They have your money, and your business, so there’s no motivation to work with you.

    Lufthansa needs to pony up and write off the $67 under good will.

    1. I used to work in accounts receivables.  You have no idea how many people, after being sent to a collection agency, would call me and say, “Okay, I’ll pay it, but only so I can sue you to get it back.”  Not one person ever sued, or at least never successfully filed a law suit.

  12. If after the call both the traveller and the airline considered her rebooked Lufthansa should have ate the difference and left it at that… chasing someone down for such minimal after is simply not good customer service.  Maybe a good idea would have been for the traveller to push to hear the recorded call where they discussed the $388 and then the airline would have then had no choice after hearing verbally what had been done?

  13. What if Lufthansa will issue a new ticket in S class pricing since there is no lower fare available at this time but will not charge the change fee of $250? It is almost impossible to overwrite a fare, but much easier to waive a fee. Lufthansa or its agents made an error and they should work it out with the customer.

    1. I’m very skeptical that its almost impossible to overwrite a fare. Perhaps for the rank and file ticket agents, but I’ve seen supervisors and Admiral club agents work magic.

  14. The CEO of LH spends more than $67 every day for his expense account lunch.  Where is LH PR hack Martin Riecken to right this wrong?  I would be ashamed and embarrassed as a CorpComm man to let this type of negative publicity run amok on the net for such a piddly amount.  They should pull the tape on the call….and then reprimand the moron who did the miscalculation…and doubly reprimand the idiot who spent hours chasing after the $67 and turned this into an expanded on -line discourse because of his/her incompetence.

  15. The lady needs to move on, Christopher. The $67 is minuscule compared to a trip of this type. Yes, the airline should have honored the original quote, but it didn’t. If it was in the hundreds, then fight it. Too much time and energy being wasted here.

  16. Until a ticket is written, it is not a ticket! Re-issuing a ticket is the most difficult action in the travel industry. I have had ticket prices go up during a phone call. The original agent quoted a rate based upon what she percieved to be the correct class. When she sent it to ticketing, they said oops, wrong. Had she been at a travel agency, sitting in front of a agent that sold her the original ticket, this most likely would not have happened. Get off of the phone! Agents work with all airlines and know hoe to get the rules and fares. You pay $25.00 – $40.00 for this service. You were cheap, you got what you paid for.

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