Do I really have to pay for this airline ticket twice?

Cebu tail. / Photo by nucksfan604 – Flickr Creative Commons
Question: At the tail end of a trip last year to Southeast Asia, I had a pair of tickets on Cebu Pacific Airways from Singapore to Manila, and then from Manila to Osaka, to connect with my overseas flight back to the States. I bought the tickets separately because Cebu only does point-to-point ticketing.

Before the Singapore gate agents would let me board the plane to Manila, they requested proof of my ticket out of Manila, presumably due to government regulations. So I gave the gate agent my reservation number. But he wasn’t able to pull up the ticket. I gave him my name, my passport, any other information I thought might help, and still he wasn’t able to pull up the ticket.

With time winding down, I did the only thing I could do at that point, which was buy a brand-new ticket from Manila to Osaka from a ticketing agent on the spot. With that ticket out of Manila, I was able to board the flight to Manila and make my connections home.

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Of course, as soon as I got back home, I began calling Cebu Pacific to try to get a refund for the extra ticket they’d made me purchase. Fast-forward nine months later and I’m still waiting for that refund.

I call once a month or so, and each time I’m told they are investigating the matter. Can you help? — Brad Walters, Arlington, Va.

Answer: Inbound air travelers to the Philippines are often asked for proof of onward travel. In other words, they want to be assured you’re planning to leave the country. It’s a problem with your itinerary, and Cebu Pacific’s booking restrictions.

Had your ticket indicated that you were flying from Singapore back to the States, via Manila, then this wouldn’t have been an issue. But as you say, Cebu Pacific would only allow you to book a point-to-point ticket.

Of course, the major flaw in Cebu Pacific’s system was its inability to recognize the rest of your itinerary. If it had been able to see the rest of your tickets, then it wouldn’t have forced you to buy another one.

The best way to resolve a situation like this is right then and there, not later on. Ask for a supervisor when a ticket agent tells you that you need to buy a new ticket. Managers are often able to waive certain rules, and this is one of those times when someone with a little common sense should have said, “Look, the problem is on our end. Go ahead and board.”

Extracting a refund from Cebu Pacific after your flight was something of a challenge. The old “out of sight; out of mind” rule applies. When you’re thousands of miles away, why should Cebu Pacific move quickly on your refund request?

I contacted the airline on your behalf, but even so, it took several more emails from you and a phone call to get this straightened out. But 13 months after your flight, you received a full refund for the ticket you didn’t use.

23 thoughts on “Do I really have to pay for this airline ticket twice?

  1. Dear Christopher, this is a common problem with Cebu Pacific. I live in Malaysia and there was one time (4-5 years ago) I had to get a refund from them. It took them 3 or so months for them to do so and if you haven’t noticed, you have to hound them day and night to remind them you exist. I was hoping this airline would change their system, but apparently not. After this me and my partner have made use of buying separate travel insurance (Chartis) to make sure any unforeseen circumstances get compensated, and thankfully we did because AirAsia made an even worse snafubar on our trip to Beijing. Take care.

    1. Hi Irwin, I’m wondering if that has ever been effective. In other words, have you ever successfully made use of that travel insurance?

      1. Yes indeed! 🙂 You will go crazy dealing with low-budget airlines without your own travel insurance. With your own travel insurance, no matter what happens (or mostr) you’ll know you’re covered and the insurance company will do the chasing for you.

      1. There is free WiFi at Changi (SIN) airport. (But you must have an account first, from the information center.)
        http://www.changiairport.com/at-changi/internet-and-business-services/internet-access

        I prefer HKG airport since there is free wiki without needing an account. I always try to use that airport when flying to SE Asia.
        http://www.hongkongairport.com/eng/passenger/arrival/t1/airport-services-facilities/internet-business-facility.html

        Narita (NRT) has free wifi (but I have not used it yet). Will do soon 🙂
        http://www.narita-airport.jp/en/guide/service/list/svc_33_wire.html#lan02

        Seoul Incheon (ICN) also has free wifi.
        http://www.airport.kr/iiacms/pageWork.iia?_scode=C2603030800

        These are the 4 great Asian airport hubs.

      2. Ever heard of Free WiFi? Changi (SIN) has one but you need a temporary user id which you can get at the Information Center.

        Hong Kong (HKG), Seoul-Incheon (ICN) and Tokyo-Narita (NRT) have free wifi (without needing to get a temp user id). Great airports!

          1. What choice do you have if you don’t have a printout of your receipt and the airline is shaking you down? You need to go to the airlines website and retrieve your booking using the internet. My niece got her Mom to fax her a copy of the ETR in the airport!!! Her other cousins couldn’t, so they had to buy onward tickets.

          2. I’m saying that while you are trying to configure your smartphone to access free Wi-Fi, you might get left behind. I can easily see someone being stressed enough to do exactly what the OP did. Not everyone is computer savvy.

    1. According to the article, he gave them his CONFIRMATION # but Cebu Pacific was not able to pull his reservation up. Sounds like a dumb system if you ask me.

      If you ever get trapped in this situation, buy a fully refundable ticket (by a great airline like Cathay Pacific) to HKG. You know you can always use or trade it for another good ticket if you don’t want or can’t refund for money.

      I can see Cebu Pacific’s weasel out of a refund. They may claim both of his tickets were NON-REFUNDABLE. Sorry.

      1. This is great advice, buying a fully refundable ticket on a real airline. I definitely wouldn’t have thought of that. Very clever.

        1. The Philippines is a former colony of the USA and there are very many people with US Passports who live there (not just visit) on a “long term basis”. Since the Philippines requires an onward ticket for foreigners (or non residents), then most airlines check for it. If you don’t have a Philippine passport they will not board you if you don’t have an onward ticket. IMO it’s like a “shakedown”. So my advice to all my American passport holders who stay in the Philippines (over extended periods) is to buy a long-dated one-way Y class Cathay Pacific ticket to HongKong for about $380. Before the ticket expires or before the bogus departure date comes, have Cathay reissue a new one for another date far away. 🙂

    2. The ticket to a cheaper destination is a clever idea. And since it was just gate agents demanding it, that would have been a good option.

      But if it had been anybody in an official capacity, I’d have been worried of raising red flags by having told them I was going one place, not being able to produce a working number to prove it, then proceeding to buy a ticket to someplace else.

      1. Joe, to me this sounds more like a “shakedown”. According to the OP, he had SIN-MNL and MNL-KIX 5J (Cebu Pacific) tickets. Cebu Pacific uses Navitaire’s ticketless system. If they could check him in on the SIN-MNL leg using that system, then why couldn’t they find him on the MNL-KIX flight using the same system ??? This is totally inexcusable on the part of Cebu Pacific.

        Navitaire is so PROUD they have a TICKETLESS system. According to Navitaire, your (ticketless) records are all on your (payment) account. Think about how Southwest does things? You have a SW “fund”.

        In a ticketless model, funds are associated with a customer account, not with an individual ticket. Settlement is done directly with a customer, bypassing the industry settlement plans. All transactions are electronic, allowing for a completely automated
        (and thus very low cost) revenue accounting process. All of these functions are integrated in one database, eliminating the cost and complexity associated with passing data from one system to another, storing it multiple times and maintaining synchronization.

        That’s exactly what happened to the OP. He was TICKETLESS but the definition of TICKETLESS according to Cebu Pacific is he literally did not have a ticket. So they made him buy MORE TICKETS instead of search his account. Insane!

  2. This happens more often than you think. In fact it happened to my nephews and nieces on a side-trip within Southeast Asia. They spent their holiday in the Philippines and while in Manila, they bought a short trip MNL-BKK-MNL. They did not bring along copy of the USA-MNL-USA (different airline) eticket receipt with them. When they tried to board in Bangkok for Manila, the airline refused because they could not prove they had ONWARD tickets from (out of) the Philippines and they were not residents of the Philippines.

    Lesson of the day – Always take along a printed copy of your whole journey’s eticket receipts while traveling – AND- always print your eticket receipt to pdf and store it on your smartphone -or- at a minimum store your eticket number (13 digit) and your reservation confirmation numbers (usually 6 digits) and take a (clear) picture of your eticket receipts on your smartphone.

    1. ADDITION: Some airlines (e.g. Cebu Pacific 5J) use a ticketless reservation/ticketing platform. You may not get an eticket number but you will ALWAYS get a CONFIRMATION #.

      In the case of the OP, Cebu Pacific screwed up in the airport because according to their website you can pull up a reservation a combination of confirmation #, credit card #, Last Name, First Name, Email address, and/or O&D airports and dates. What else do they expect from a traveler when they (Cebu Pacific) have a TICKETLESS SYSTEM?

    1. TIP: Set you phone’s camera to close-up (macro) and take a picture of the (e)ticket confirmation. Make sure the confirmation # and passenger name is very clear on the picture.

      I have a PDF scan of my passport and my ticket confirmations on my cell phone.

  3. Being charged twice is so common, I could probably write a story about it every week. This one seemed a little different than the others, and a good cautionary tale (and thanks to TonyA and others for pointing that out).

    Most of the other double-billing cases are quietly resolved offline without making an appearance on this site. Maybe I should start writing about them more?

    1. But how would you have time to write about problems with rental cars? Or babies on planes? Or pets? Or codesharing?
      Come to think of it, maybe you *should* start writing about double-billing cases more! 😉

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