My brother died. Can I get a refund from GoToGate for my airline tickets?

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By Christopher Elliott

After Debbie Schembri’s brother dies, she cancels her Alaska vacation. Can she get a refund from GoToGate for her airline tickets?

Question

I had tickets on United Airlines to fly from San Jose to Anchorage last summer. In August, my brother died unexpectedly, and we canceled our travel plans. 

I reserved my airline flights through Booking.com and followed all their instructions regarding a refund. I sent my brother’s death certificate and obituary. Booking.com asked for more proof that we were related and finally, they asked for his birth certificate. They kept asking for more documentation. Then they denied our claim. 

I appealed to United Airlines and it graciously agreed to refund our tickets even though we booked through a third party. Shortly after that correspondence from United, Booking.com also agreed to refund our tickets. 

As of now, I still have not received the refund to my credit cards even though they say they have refunded me. I have sent numerous emails to all the people listed on your consumer advocacy site, and I continue to get the runaround about waiting for Booking.com to receive responses from the airline. I don’t know where to turn! I’m so frustrated at this point. I hope you can help me. — Debbie Schembri, San Jose

Answer

My condolences on your loss. Airlines will almost always refund a ticket if a passenger dies or if the travel companion of a passenger dies. But when it comes to relatives like brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, it depends on the carrier. 

Online agencies like Booking.com, the online agent you were using, have a special department that handles waivers and favors. United Airlines turned down your request through an intermediary but then agreed to refund your ticket when you contacted it directly. By the way, excellent job on the self-advocacy. You worked your way up the ladder, first contacting your online agency and then your airline — and you didn’t take “no” for an answer.

You might have avoided this with a reliable travel insurance policy. Insurance would refund your prepaid, nonrefundable expenses such as airline tickets and hotel rooms, in the event a close relative dies. 

Insubuy is the premier online marketplace for travel insurance, visitors insurance, international travel medical insurance, international student health insurance, and exchange visitors insurance for individuals, groups, multinational companies, international workers, and others. Visit insubuy.com to get instant quotes, make side-by-side comparisons, and make an instant purchase of most insurance plans.

How to get a refund from GoToGate

I like the way you kept all of your correspondence in writing instead of calling. Too often, people try to phone the airline or online agency, hoping that they can get a quick resolution. But they don’t have a record of the conversation, so when they don’t get the outcome they want, they have to call again and explain the situation all over. That’s so frustrating and it rarely fixes the problem. (Related: How long is too long for an airline ticket refund?)

What made this case a slam-dunk was that you had a promise from United in writing that it would refund your ticket. But here’s where things went off the runway. Although you booked your ticket on Booking.com, it was actually made by a third party called GoToGate (you can find executive contacts for GoToGate on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org). It looks like there was a miscommunication between United, Booking.com, and GoToGate, which led to the delay.

You reached out to me via my nonprofit advocacy organization, and I contacted GoToGate on your behalf. You received a full refund, as promised.

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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. He is based in Panamá City.

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