Is this enough compensation? Orbitz splits the difference on departure tax

Departure taxes are the final “gotcha” when you’re flying. Just as you’re getting ready to board a flight back home someone asks you for money, and threatens to deny you boarding if you can’t cough up the cash.

Fortunately, most departure taxes are already built into the airfare. For example, when I visited St. Lucia in 1993, I was told that if I didn’t come up with the money, I couldn’t fly back to New York. I had to stop by an ATM and pay up. But last month when I flew from St. Lucia to Miami, the $26 departure tax was included in my airfare.

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Eduardo Castresana wasn’t so lucky on his recent trip to Peru. The country’s departure tax — about $6 — should have been included in the TACA airfare he purchased through Orbitz. He says for some reason, it wasn’t.

The problem started when we left from Lima to Cusco, TACA charged us airport tax or fee. We showed our electronic itinerary where it describes TACA record locator, Orbitz record locator and TACA’s ticket number.

TACA said no fees or taxes where paid by Orbitz and we had to pay if we wanted to board the airplane. We paid. When we took our journey back from Cusco to Lima and from Lima to Salvador, we were charged again for fees or taxes. Once again, we paid.

By the time every leg of his journey was complete, Castresana had shelled out a total of $84 in taxes and fees. But according to his reservation he’d already paid those, and he thinks TACA charged him twice.

“After I purchased our tickets, beside the price of purchased tickets, it clearly says, ‘all taxes paid’,” he says.

He called Orbitz, which looked at his reservation and explained that charges represented unpaid fees.

I explained in several conversations with them that I did not buy an incomplete ticket.

I did a search on Orbitz, looking for airport taxes and they have no advice about Peru. Therefore, I assumed Peru either does not have taxes or fees or if they do have them, they were paid, as Orbitz said.

Orbitz agreed to pay for half of the “fees” but when Castresana asked them to put it in writing, the online agency declined, he says.

It isn’t so much the $84 that bothers him, but the surprise of having an incomplete airline ticket. The Peruvian authorities insisted on cash payment, and they were also nitpicky.

“They do not accept bills with minute flaws,” he told me. “They have to be pristine.”

That caused a lot of unnecessary stress.

I’m not a big fan of “split the difference” resolutions. Either Castresana paid the departure taxes and related fees, or he didn’t. And if he didn’t, then he shouldn’t be getting any money back. If he did, Orbitz should refund the $84 and seek a refund from its partner, TACA.

But we live in a world of compromises. Is this one acceptable?

(Photo: Agência de Notícias do Acre/Flickr Creative Commons)

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