Flags and other funny ways around the 24-hour rule


To get an idea how much airlines hate, hate, hate the 24-hour rule, consider the unbelievable case of Michael Kalman’s recent attempted ticket purchase on XL Airways.

The 24-hour rule, for those of you just joining us, is a relatively new federal regulation that says airlines must refund your ticket if you cancel within a day of your purchase, with certain exceptions for last-minute fares.

But airlines want to keep your money, even if you’re making the reservation in the United States and the purchase falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation.

XL, it seems, “has gotten awfully creative about how it defines a website,” says Kalman. “And they also take remarkable liberties when it comes to what’s being marketed to U.S. consumers.”

When Kalman visited the XL Airways site for the first time, he saw several national flags: A US and a British flag with a “Welcome Aboard” link and a French flag with “Bienvenue a bord”. By the way, he recommends using Chrome or Firefox. The page didn’t work for him on IE 11.0.

“When you follow the American flag, prices are quoted in euros and there is no ‘hold’ button,” he says. “And as I found out the hard way, reservations subsequently made are not held for 24 hours.”

Never mind that XL Airways posts the following “customer commitment” on its site.

On www.xl.com/uswebsite and for flights from/to te[sic] USA where travel is more than one week from the date of purchase, we will allow you to hold your reservation at the quoted fare for twenty-four hours without payment. If you choose this option, make sure to note your booking reservation number which will be needed to issue your ticket within 24 hours.

And here’s the ridiculous part.

The “commitment” doesn’t apply when you enter the “www.xl.com” website and click “Welcome Aboard” — which is associated with both a U.S. and British flag — and which keeps you on www.xl.com.

“If you want U.S. laws to apply you have to explicitly type ‘www.xl.com/us’ in the browser address bar at the start of your session,” he says.

I couldn’t believe that. It should be your geographic location, not your URL, that determines which laws apply. But apparently not.

Kalman tried to make a reservation and returned less than 24 hours later, only to find that it had been canceled. He emailed XL to seek clarification. Here’s its response:

The Office-Identification number, on your booking (X4RLSL) shows that you was on the European version of our website (which is available in both French and English). As the “pay later” function is not mandatory in France, this feature is not provided on this page but only on the USA version of our website. The booking on our French website require an immediate payment.

(Mind the English, please.)

In other words, it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from. If you use our site, we’ll apply whatever rules we like.

I wondered what the DOT might have to say about this. So Kalman checked. In response, the agency forwarded his complaint to XL, but he says it’s done nothing in the way of enforcement.

“I’m very disappointed in the DOT’s response,” he says. “They seem to treat this as a he said-she said case, where the facts are unclear.”

Did Kalman enter the XL site through the wrong door? Possibly. Is XL doing everything it can to ensure the 24-hour rule doesn’t apply to it? Definitely.

We already know that airlines don’t always tell you about the 24-hour rule. Should it come as any surprise that they’ll interpret this rule in a way that favors them?

I think it’s a little ridiculous, but the only solution is for the EU to adopt a similar 24-hour rule, which would apply to XL’s ticket purchases in Europe, too. Ah, but asking for more government regulation is the fastest way to start a brawl in the comments.


Update (10 a.m.): Just heard from Kalman, who notes a partial resolution to this case.

I had sent a follow-up correspondence to the DOT requesting clarification on several points. I did not hear anything back from either DOT or XL Airways for two weeks, but then I learned that my case had been forwarded to another DOT agent for further investigation and that they had also requested additional information from XL Airways.

At that point, I finally got a call back from XL Airways. Augustin (the same rep I was speaking to before) conceded that my scenario was problematic and he suggested that he would seek to change the website to fix this.

I respectfully requested that I deserved reimbursement for the difference between the fare I eventually paid and the fare that I legitimately believed I had placed on 24-hour hold.

He suggested he would do so, and I gave him my account information. I had not received confirmation from him but I just checked and I see that my account was recently credited by XL. The credit is for $25 less than what I expected ($138.71 instead of $163.71).

I am going to call my bank to verify that the $25 is not some sort of international fee on their end before I follow-up with XL Airways to ask about that.

Should the EU adopt a 24-hour rule?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Update (1/29/2015): Here’s how the story ended, according to Kalman.

XL Airways did in fact change their website, I believe sometime last October, so that they now clearly distinguish the UK and US portions of the site.

For a long time, they didn’t respond to me about the $25 discrepancy in the amount they credited back to me. I recently circled back to the DOT analyst assigned to my case, not especially about the $25, but to ask if the DOT had any hand in requesting the website change, and to find out if they had validated my complaints about the original website.

The analyst explained to me that they “did not receive a lot of complaints about this issue”, and that they don’t judge a carriers’ compliance with a particular requirement unless there is a certain threshold of complaints about it. I had no idea about that — I suppose that’s a good reason why passengers should submit DOT complaints whenever they encounter a genuine compliance issue. It can help your fellow passengers!

The analyst also explained that the DOT can’t force carriers to compensate a passenger or to resolve a complaint in any particular way. But they can force carriers to reply promptly to their customers. So he sent XL Airways a follow-up note to respond to my question about the $25 discrepancy. I received $25 from XL Airways several days later.

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirportParkingReservations.com

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at AirportParkingReservations.com, ParkSleepFly.com, AirportParking.com, and ShuttleFinder.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by G1G.com

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend