Help! I accidentally made a double booking for my flight

When Melanie Facen accidentally made a double booking for herself on a flight from San Francisco to Zurich, she had plenty of time to fix it. But she didn’t fix it, and now her case has crossed my desk in a desperate attempt to recover $1,670 from her airline.

Does she have a case? Whether she does or not — and you can scroll down to find the answer — her story is a valuable learning moment for anyone who is thinking of booking a flight online through a third party. Sure, you can save money by shopping through an online agency, but you also have to take precautions — precautions Facen didn’t take.

Where’s her reservation?

Facen says she found a $1,670 round-trip fare from San Francisco to Zurich on United Airlines, code-sharing with Swiss International, through OneTravel, an online agency. She tried to book it.

“I never received a confirmation or e-ticket from them,” she says.

Concerned that fares might rise, she tried to book the same flight again. But before doing so, she consulted her credit card to make sure OneTravel hadn’t charged her. It hadn’t.

“I tried to book with United through its site,” she says.

She also spoke with a United reservations agent.

“The agent checked the reservations and told me that there was no reservation in my name for this flight,” she recalls. “He went ahead and booked the same flight for me. I did receive a confirmation immediately.”

A “big shock” after receiving her confirmation

But things were just starting to get interesting for her. A few weeks later, Facen received her credit card statement. And there, in black and white were two reservations: one from OneTravel, the other from United.

“It was a big shock,” she says. “I tried to cancel my reservation with OneTravel by email several times and also called them. The connection was bad, it must have been a person in India. Nothing was resolved.”

Facen wants one flight canceled and a refund.

Why is this happening?

Time out. Airline reservations systems should be smart enough to flag a duplicate reservation. I mean, if someone books two reservations for the same flight and dates on the same day, with identical passenger names and birthdays, alarms should be going off.

How could this happen? Conspiracy theorists might argue that airlines allow double-bookings precisely because they’re profitable. United will cheerfully pocket her $1,670 since it’s a nonrefundable fare. How many other passengers have been taken in this way? We started our own double-booking archive to track the stories, and Facen’s is just one of many.

If you’re not a conspiracy theorist, you can chalk this up to antiquated airline reservations systems that need upgrading.

Argue amongst yourselves.

At any rate, before we go blaming Facen for what happened, I thought it would be fair to look at a system that allowed this to happen. It’s a system that should not exist but does.

Speaking of blame, Facen should have allowed OneTravel to resolve this before booking directly with United. She should have been mindful of the 24-hour rule, which allows her to cancel a reservation within a day, under most circumstances.

How to fix an accidental double booking

There’s just one way to fix a double booking after the 24 hours: Throw yourself on the mercy of the airline or online agent. Executive contacts for OneTravel and United Airlines are on this site.

Instead, Facen went for the nuclear option. She filed a credit card dispute for the OneTravel charges — and lost.

I think a brief, polite email to the right person at OneTravel might have helped. OneTravel has a special “waivers and favors” department that negotiates with airlines, often successfully. I think they might have gone to bat for her, given that she had a second reservation under the same name.

Sometimes, online agencies wait a day or more before processing their reservations, which may be why United didn’t have Facen in its system. It’s difficult to know for sure since we didn’t get access to her reservation details.

OneTravel did, however, agree to review her case after our advocate, Dwayne Coward, contacted it. The company refunded Facen’s fare, minus a $300 cancellation fee. This appears to be a goodwill gesture since OneTravel had already won the credit card dispute.

Should OneTravel have refunded Facen's ticket?

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