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?