The Travel Troubleshooter: Am I stuck with this $378 phone bill?

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By Christopher Elliott

Jeffrey Grim can’t make a connection in Brussels because of an error made by his online travel agency. In order to fix the problem, he racks up $378 in phone bills. Should the company cover his expenses?


I’ve been haggling with Travelocity for almost three months about a flight, and I need your help. I recently booked flights from Newark, NJ, to Madrid, Spain via Continental Airlines and on to my final destination of Barcelona, Spain, via Iberia.

I completed the outbound trip without any issues, although I had to claim my baggage in Madrid, pass through customs, and return to the ticketing counter to obtain my second boarding pass.

Unfortunately, the return trip through Brussels was less successful. The itinerary that Travelocity sold me left me just one hour to make my connecting flight in Brussels to the U.S., but I had to claim a bag, go through customs, and then back to the ticketing counter again to get my boarding pass for the U.S.-bound flight.

When I arrived at the empty Continental ticket counter approximately 35 minutes before my flight, I managed to track down a Continental customer service agent, who refused to check me in because it was too late. She also told me the next flight was the following morning.

When I tried to dial the number provided by Travelocity for assistance outside of the U.S., the number would not connect. I tried multiple phones in the airport. Without other options, I collect called my fiancee in the U.S. and had her call the domestic Travelocity telephone number and after more than 30 minutes of international telephone calls, I was booked on the flight for the following morning.

My problem with this scenario is that I incurred a telephone bill of $378 in order to correct this situation caused by Travelocity selling me an itinerary that was physically impossible to achieve. Travelocity won’t refund my phone bill. Any ideas? — Jeffrey Grim, Boston


Travelocity shouldn’t have allowed you to reserve the itinerary that you did.

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If your flights were connected on the same itinerary (which they appear to be) then the system should stop you from reserving a flight that doesn’t meet the minimum connect time rules. Something appears to have gone wrong, because you obviously didn’t have enough time to transfer to your overseas flight in Brussels.

Travelocity also should have provided you with a number that worked from Brussels. I think you did your best to contact the online travel agency through normal channels before resorting to an expensive collect call. And yes, calling Travelocity was the best option, since this was an immediate concern. Had it been something less urgent, I would recommend sending an email. (Related: Can Travelocity help get my flight refund?)

Travelocity agreed to refund your phone bill

But I think you could have prevented this from happening, too. Did you take a moment to read your itinerary after you booked your tickets? If you had, you might have noticed the short connection times, and could have asked Travelocity to fix it. One hour is barely enough time to change planes domestically, so this is a challenge that could have been identified and addressed long before your trip. (Here’s how to fix your own consumer problems.)

You had a second chance to fix this when you experienced a tight connection on your inbound flight. You might have wondered if the connection problem would happen on your return flight, reviewed your itinerary and contact Travelocity.

It’s unusual for an online travel agency to refund a phone bill, but in this case, I think it should consider doing so, at a minimum. I contacted Travelocity on your behalf. It apologized and agreed to refund your phone bill.

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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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