Her plans changed, but now her travel agent wants her to pay up

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By Christopher Elliott

Any day now, I’m expecting a call from Heather Barksdale’s travel agent. That’s because she owes the agency for a plane ticket to Europe — or at least, that’s what they claim.

Barksdale wants to do the right thing, and she’s asked for my help. Should she pay up?

I’m not sure, but maybe you have the correct answer.

Here are a few details: Barksdale made her initial travel plans through a bricks-and-mortar agency. And with good reason. An agency can handle a more complex itinerary and offer advice you might not find online.

Her agency sent her a contract in which she agreed to allow the agency to make a booking on her behalf, even if it didn’t have her credit card information. Barksdale signed the contract electronically, but admits she didn’t read the document carefully. (Here’s our guide to finding a travel advisor.)

“I did not realize it was stating that the agency would purchase the plane ticket on my behalf prior to receiving the requested check payment,” she says.

Then Barksdale asked her agent to book tickets through KLM by email. But within a few hours, her plans changed. She says she had misgivings about the agency — the itinerary, she said, “didn’t feel secure” and so she booked the tickets herself online.

But a few days later, she received an email from her agency, requesting a payment for the tickets.

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“A close friend works with this agency frequently for international travel,” she says. “I do not want to be unfair in my refusal to pay for a ticket I didn’t intend to purchase and I do not want to go up against any type of legal proceedings.”

What should she do?

I think it’s unusual for an agency to not ask for a credit card number before making a booking on behalf of a customer. So that’s my first flag. But Barksdale confirmed that the agency doesn’t have her card on file, just a signed contract.

I asked Barksdale if she’s sure she instructed the agent to buy the KLM tickets. Again, she verified that yes, she’d asked for the tickets.

Did she notify the agency that she wanted to cancel?

Yes. Within 24 hours of my initial communication I emailed the agent to express my thanks for her assistance but that my travel plans had changed.

She acknowledged this with a return email.

Per the KLM’s 24-hour cancellation policy, they allow cancellation of reservations without penalty for 24 hours after the reservation is made.

Barksdale emailed this information to the agent with a check for her professional service fee of $75. But she refused to pay for the tickets.

She wants to know: Did she do the right thing?

Here’s where my advocacy team and I could use your help. The travel agent should have asked for a credit card number. When Barksdale emailed her to cancel the transaction, the agent should have also canceled the plane tickets.

But I haven’t reviewed the emails between the two parties, so I don’t know how clear they were with each other. Given the lack of attention to detail on the part of both parties, I think there’s a high probability that something got lost in the translation.

“With only my name and birthdate and no down payment or credit card information can this company legally bind me to pay for this ticket that I have not technically been issued?” she asks.

I suppose it’s possible. The agency might send her an invoice, a lawyer letter, or refer the matter to a collection agency. They could force her to pay for a ticket she never wanted.

But what’s the right thing to do?

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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. He is based in Panamá City.

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