“We feel pressured to refund the ticket costs”

When a company does one of its customers wrong, the last person to feel bad for it is usually me. But this CheapOair case has left me deeply conflicted. It involves William Bensinger’s flight from Seattle to Antalya, Turkey — a flight that didn’t happen for reasons beyond his control. And beyond the control of his online travel agency.

The biggest problem started when Delta 232 had an eight-hour mechanical delay in Seattle.

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I called CheapOair to ask what to do since we would miss out flight in Amsterdam on SunExpress 103 to Antalya. Since the ticket was issued by Turkish Airlines, CheapOair agents assured me that when I arrived in Amsterdam, Turkish Air would rebook me on one of their flights.

This information was totally incorrect.

In fact, he says, Turkish Air wouldn’t rebook him and he ended up spending the night in Amsterdam and paying another $505 for two one-way tickets to Turkey.

My question is after more than a day delay of my trip and my extra out-of-pocket expenses for the new air ticket, who owes me? CheapoAir,
Delta or Turkish Air? And how much ?

Excellent question. I suggested that he start with his travel agent, CheapOair. You know the drill — brief, polite email.

A little background about CheapOair before I continue. Not so long ago, I was overrun with complaints about this site. But then I got to know some of the folks at CheapOair, talked with them, and was left with the impression that they really wanted to offer great customer service. After this interview appeared on my site, the number of complaints dwindled to just a few, and those were quickly resolved.

I asked CheapOair about Bensinger’s case. A representative responded promptly. Turns out there were a few missing details.

Mr. Bensinger was offered reprotection by the airlines on 5/20 to fly out to Antalya, Turkey, on 5/21. They put him up in a hotel as well.

He declined their reprotection and according to him had the people sponsoring his seminar offered to pay for his tickets. He flew on 5/21 the same day the airline had offered to exchange his original ticket for.

He wants the money back to pay these other people back according to him. We have copies of the new flights. In our review based on the facts, he chose to pay for the new flights even after the airline offered him new flights.

I have reviewed Mr. Bensinger’s e mail exchanges and we feel pressured to refund the ticket costs. We shall ask the customer to submit us his ticket costs and we will reimburse him the cost of tickets as a gesture of goodwill and our exceptional customer service.

Hmm. If Bensinger had been offered an alternate flight, but declined it, then shouldn’t he be responsible for any alternate arrangements? I was bothered by CheapOair’s answer, and emailed the company back, saying that they shouldn’t be refunding the customer on my account.

Please do not think at all that we felt pressured since you forwarded to us the customer’s concern. I wanted to thank you for bringing it up to our attention.

I mentioned the word “pressure” since I saw there was e mail exchanges by the customer. Since we care for our name and reputation, it has been our intention to resolve all customer issues to best of customer satisfaction. This reimbursement of payment will therefore be for customer satisfaction.

Well, it’s nice to know that CheapOair cares for its customers enough to offer a refund where none is due. And I’m happy for Bensinger, who won’t have to pay for two extra tickets.

Still, I’m troubled by the way this one turned out. Bensinger could have taken another flight, but chose not to — a detail I wasn’t aware of until later in the grievance process.

Had I known about it, would I have contacted CheapOair on his behalf? Probably not.

Update: (2 p.m.) Bensinger responds:

Neither CheapOair nor KLM offered to rebook me on 5/20 or 5/21. I spent more than an hour with CheapOair long distance from AMS without any such offer. I went to KLM on 5/20 and they could not rebook me as they said all the flights were full. The best they could offer was standby which I found unacceptable.

There’s obviously more to this story.

(Photo: Casual Perspective/Flickr Creative Commons)