Well, it’s not quite a full refund, but it’ll do — or will it?

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By Christopher Elliott

After Cathleen Kirk flew from Oakland to Washington for a funeral in April, she noticed something unusual: Her online travel agency, Globester.com, had charged her twice for one ticket.

The double billing proved to be an error, and yes, I did get involved. But the resolution leaves a question that I’ve been meaning to ask you dear readers: When should you be happy with a fix, and when should you push for more?

Kirk says she flew to Washington and while she was there, needed to change her flight. “I called Globester and the changes were made with no penalty,” she says.

A no-penalty ticket change is highly unusual, but when it involves a death of a relative, airlines are known to waive their rules. In this case, she was dealing with Delta Air Lines, which can be a softie when it comes to the dead. I mean that in a good way.

So you can imagine her surprise when she saw a $650 charge for the same ticket on her credit card, courtesy of Globester. I reviewed the paperwork and thought it was worth checking in with Globester.

For those of you who don’t know Globester, it’s basically a ticket consolidator. That means it buys airline tickets in bulk and resells them to the public at a markup.

Here’s how the travel agency describes itself

Globester is a leading global online travel services company specializing in negotiated / discounted flights, air plane tickets cheapest airfares to Asia, Europe, Latin America, Middle East, Africa and Australia. Globester provides secure online reservation capabilities for airline tickets, cheap international flights, hotel, cruises and vacation packages to worldwide international destinations. You can book really cheap plane tickets online and save more on your travel tickets.

Kirk says she received a phone call from a Globester representative, admitting that an “error” was made by a Globester representative who should have cancelled one of her flights.

Global Rescue is the world’s leading provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services. Founded in 2004, Global Rescue has exclusive relationships with the Johns Hopkins Emergency Medicine Division of Special Operations and Elite Medical Group. Global Rescue provides best-in-class services that identify, monitor and respond to client medical and security crises. Learn more about Global Rescue.

Globester was offered a $615 refund. It’s not entirely clear what the $35 represents, but it’s probably some kind of “nonrefundable” booking fee.

Holdbacks on refunds are fairly common. Most passengers are happy to get something back, so they don’t complain when the refund is a few dollars short. I usually check back to make sure they are OK with getting a little bit less, and they almost always are.

But sometimes not.

Kirk’s double-billing problem had dragged on for months, so she didn’t have any reservations about waiting a few more days. Or weeks.

Hers is actually one of the biggest dilemmas I face as an advocate. Should I let companies shortchange their customers when they often unwillingly cough up a refund. Can they deduct fees, credit card charges, or whatever they please, instead of offering a full refund?

Double charging errors happen quite frequently in the travel industry. I flip-flop between “take-the-money-and-run” and “what-part-of-a-full-refund-don’t-you-understand?” A partial refund is better than nothing at all, but when a company does offer to refund the money, shouldn’t it be for the entire amount?

The worst offenders are airlines, with their fuzzy math. They recalculate the fare to avoid refunding a customer for an unused leg. That’s highly irritating to their customers — and to me. (Here’s how to find the best travel advisor.)

I probably shouldn’t look the other way when it happens. Kirk’s case was an important reminder that every penny counts when it’s someone else’s money.

Kirk didn’t accept the $615 refund. Instead, she pushed for the full amount. A few days later, Globester, the online travel agency, sent her a check for $650.

When someone gets a refund from a company, should they be content with getting most of it back?

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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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