Airline declines credit card, then hires collection agency to extract $510 “cancellation” fee

Kalevi Ruuska contacted me with an urgent problem recently. One of his friends was being asked to pay an odd cancellation fee by Air Berlin, and would not take “no” for an answer. The airline had hired a collection agency to pursue its claim.

His story underscores a fact few of us here in the United States seem to understand: No matter how bad airline fees are here, they’re worse in Europe.

It also suggests that when it comes to surcharges and ancillary fees, there’s a lot of room for growth. I almost hesitate to write about this case, because it might give some of the more fee-happy airlines here in the States ideas for making more money.
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“It’s a laughing joke that Expedia says they offer great customer service”

Last December, Caesar Ho booked a night at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport Hotel through Expedia. But when he couldn’t reach the hotel because of inclement weather — snow on the 5 Freeway and dangerous winds on the 101 — he phoned the hotel to see if he could cancel his room.

A hotel representative said he couldn’t help, and that he needed to contact Expedia to cancel his stay. Expedia refused.

Because they were unwilling to do anything, we filed a dispute with our credit card company. Visa investigated the issue and sent a notice to Expedia.com for mediation.

Expedia was given a full 45 days to respond to the dispute, but according to Visa, they received no response from Expedia.com and the case was then closed. We received a notice from Visa stating that our account had been credited the full amount and the case solved.

End of story? Not quite.
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Collection agency demands $1,700 for lost airline ticket — should I pay?

airline ticketTravel companies routinely use collection agencies as tools to enrich themselves at their customers’ expense. That’s what seemed to be happening to Gabrielle Durana when her online travel agency tried to strong-arm her into paying $1,700 for an airline ticket it lost.

But looks can be deceiving.
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5 secrets travelers must know when dealing with a collection agency

counterIt wasn’t John Martellaro’s fault. His rental car’s registration had expired, so he was pulled over twice and ticked on his way to the Philadelphia airport. “Clearly, that was Hertz’ responsibility,” he says. “Not mine.”

Or was it? Martellaro handed the citations to a rental agent, who assured him she would “take care of it,” he says. But a few weeks later, he received an unpaid ticket notice from the state of Pennsylvania, and although he contacted Hertz and was again assured that the ticket would be fixed, nothing happened.
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“Delta has contacted a collection agency to force me to repay”

Can an airline send a debt collector after you to pay for a missed flight?

Strangely, the answer is: yes.

Consider what happened to Eehern Wong, who was scheduled to fly from Sacramento, Calif., to Boston by way of Los Angeles.

When I went to check the status of my flight, I noticed that the itinerary had been shifted up by nearly half a day. In fact, by the time I checked on the flight, the plane had already left Sacramento and was already landing in Los Angeles.

At no point was I contacted and notified of a change in scheduling. I called Delta to see if they could put me on the next flight, and after being redirected a few times, found out that not only would I be unable to get put on the next flight, but would actually have to pay for a new ticket a day later for my trip back to Boston.

I am a student right now, and this seemed outrageous to me. I had class and prior obligations and needed to get back, so I paid for the flight with my credit card. After returning to Boston, I contacted my credit card company, recounted the story, and had them investigate on my behalf.

After a few months of investigations, they sided with me, citing that Delta provided insufficient evidence, and withdrew payment to Delta. Now Delta has contacted a collection agency to force me to repay. What can I do about this?

Obviously, Delta should have notified Wong about the change in schedule. But Wong should have checked in 24 hours prior to departure, at which point he would have learned about the change in plans. So there’s plenty of blame to go around.

My question is: Was Delta correct to hit Wong with the price of new ticket? I don’t think so. The airline should have accommodated him on the next flight at no additional charge.

That’s how he sees it. That’s how I see it. And that’s how his credit card company sees it.

I contacted Delta on Wong’s behalf. It did not respond.

What about the collection agency?

Under federal law, a collection agency can be managed, particularly when the debt is in dispute. Even if this gets on your credit report, you have the ability to correct the error with a notation.

For smaller amounts, travel companies often threaten to call a collection agency but don’t follow through. It’s possible that Delta is just posturing with these threatening letters.

Bottom line: Delta could have done better. Much better.