No visa and no flight credit – who’s responsible for this mess?

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By Christopher Elliott

To fall into my dreaded “case dismissed” file, a lot of things have to go wrong. Unfortunately, that’s the situation David Bialke and his wife are facing.

Things went wrong when they tried to fly to Germany recently. Lots of things.

Although his problem is unfixable, it’s worth covering on my site because it can prevent you from making a similar mistake. Bottom line: read the fine print on your airline ticket. Make sure your paperwork is in order. Assume nothing.

Bialke booked two airline tickets on KLM through ABC Travel Service, a German travel agency, to visit his brother, stationed overseas.

“We were told about this travel agency that contracted with many airlines for discounted airfares for relatives of United States service members to visit their military family members,” he says.

Bialke paid $1,459 for two tickets from Minneapolis to Frankfurt, which is a great price. KLM’s codeshare partner in the United States is Delta, and Bialke happens to be an elite-level Delta customer.

“Using my Platinum Medallion status on Delta Air Lines, I contacted Delta and transferred the tickets to Delta codes to get preferred seating and bonus miles,” he explains.

So far, so good.

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But then they got to the airport.

“My wife is a permanent resident of the United States, but holds a Colombian passport as she is not yet eligible for a US passport,” he says. “We were told upon checking in at the airport in Minneapolis we were told that my wife needed a Schengen Visa to travel to Germany.”

Bialke mistakenly assumed his wife wouldn’t need a visa

“It was my belief that she would be treated as an American citizen, given her status as a US permanent resident,” he says. In fact, he’s traveled to the EU on several occasions with an Argentinian who is a US permanent resident and never had an issue.

“We have since found out that passport holders of certain countries, including Colombia, do need the Schengen Visa. This was unknown to us, but at no time during our trip planning did anyone suggest passport or visa issues,” he says.

A quick search on the subject would have revealed the visa requirements for Colombians.

Bialke had no choice but to cancel the trip. In these situations, as a rule, airlines normally offer a ticket credit, minus a change fee and fare differential. (But do the math: at $729 per ticket, the $300 fee would leave them with $429 — that won’t get you far.)

He contacted both KLM and Delta, which referred him to his agency. His agency didn’t respond, so he circled back with the airlines, which told him he’s lost the entire value of his ticket. (Here is our guide on resolving your consumer problem.)

That seems a bit harsh. After all, Bialke had informed KLM of the cancellation before the trip. Does it get to pocket all the money?

Yes.

I contacted Delta, and a representative explained why

KLM rejected the refund request as the passenger purchased the ticket through ABC travel.

The tickets purchased were bulk fares and are deeply discounted rates. The consolidator sets their own price and rules for the tickets prior to selling them to the general public.

The agency selling the ticket is responsible for advising the passengers of the restrictions at the time of purchase.

Bulk tickets have rigid restrictions and any refund requests or alterations must be handled by the issuing agency.

Delta offered to escalate the issue to KLM one more time. But my advocacy team and I don’t think that’s necessary. I’m 99 percent certain of the final answer, and besides, Bialke had three strikes.

– Not checking his traveling companion’s visa rules.

– Failing to review the restrictions on his inexpensive consolidator ticket.

– Not reading the change or refund rules when he decided to cancel his flight.

In a perfect world, every ticket would be exchangeable and refundable. Visas would be easy to secure — even automatic — when you book an airline ticket.

In a perfect world, airlines wouldn’t be allowed to sell “bulk” tickets that can’t be changed or refunded. They would always tell their customers about the paperwork requirements that go with their ticket.

Alas, it’s not a perfect world.

Should I have turned down David Bialke's case?

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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.

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