AirTran declined my credit card and now I have to buy a new ticket

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By Christopher Elliott

Gary Murray’s credit card is declined when he buys an AirTran ticket, but he doesn’t find out until he gets to the gate. How much should he pay for the new ticket?

Question

I made a reservation on the AirTran website recently for two tickets from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to St. Louis, and was sent a confirmation by email. I went to the airport on the day of departure, and I was told that I did not have a reservation. The reservation was canceled because my credit card was declined when I tried to book the flight.

I was unaware of that, and hadn’t been informed by AirTran. I panicked and bought a ticket for the flight anyway. The amount was $500 for each of the two tickets. My original ticket price was $134 each.

I got on my laptop and searched other airlines, and found that Delta cost $242 per ticket. I complained to AirTran, and it gave me a “take-it-or-leave-it” offer to resolve the issue: two vouchers for $182 each. Delta would’ve been a better choice.

I have been traveling for 40 years, and I know better than to wait until the last day to buy a ticket. I asked the airline for a copy of my cancellation, and was told that it could not provide one.

The $182 per ticket is insufficient. That’s still $318 per ticket for a one-way flight that should have been $134. If the airline had told me about the cancellation earlier, I would have repurchased a ticket. Can you help? — Gary Murray, Florissant, Mo.

Answer

AirTran shouldn’t have confirmed your ticket if your credit card was declined. And if it didn’t send you a follow-up email notifying you of your card problem, you were correct to assume you had a ticket.

You could have prevented this by doing two things. First, review your credit card statement regularly to make sure you made all of the purchases you thought you made. If you didn’t see the AirTran tickets on your statement, you would have flagged this problem earlier. Also, checking the airline’s site 24 hours before your departure to confirm your reservation would have alerted you to the problem.

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As a side note, spam filters can be tricky, so be sure to whitelist the airline’s email address when you make an online reservation. That would have ensured that any emails from the company made it to you. (Again, since you received the first email, it’s understandable that you’d assume that any subsequent messages would make it through the spam filter. But that’s not always how it works.)

Don’t panic

If you’re ever in a situation like this, with no valid ticket, don’t panic. Calmly explain the problem to a ticket agent, and if that person can’t help, ask for a supervisor. If showing the confirmation doesn’t work, you should consider doing some last-minute fare shopping. As you noted, Delta would have been a less expensive choice for your trip to St. Louis.

AirTran was acquired by Southwest Airlines in 2011, and has been operating as a subsidiary of the carrier. The carriers are scheduled to be completely integrated by the end of this year, and when I reviewed your case, it looked like this might be a little merger-related hiccup. I checked with Southwest, and its records show that it did, indeed, email you a notification that your credit card had been declined.

“However, it’s clear he did not receive it,” an airline spokeswoman said. Southwest issued you two more vouchers to make up for the difference in fare.

Should AirTran have refunded Gary Murray's ticket?

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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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