Q: My husband and I have been planning an extended trip to South America this summer. We found a great airfare through an agency called Adventure Travel Company. We spent a few days talking with a sales representative, trying to get the best fare and found one that allowed us to stay four months.
Throughout the conversations we had, the length of time we could stay was our biggest issue – we wanted to stay as long as possible. So you can imagine our surprise when our tickets finally arrived and we were scheduled to return August 28 instead of October 28.
We had received the tickets on a Friday afternoon after work, so we called first thing Monday morning and were told that it was too late to make a change. Now it would cost an extra $200 a ticket to get the dates we wanted.
The sales representative we had worked with apologized for the mistake but said the best he could do was split the cost of the change with us. This puts us out an extra $100 for a mistake he made.
Do we have a case to pursue?
— Carrie Lamb
A: Sure. You shouldn’t have to abbreviate your vacation by two months because of a ticketing error. And you shouldn’t have to pay for someone else’s mistake – unless, of course, it wasn’t someone else’s mistake.
You could have easily prevented this by taking a few common-sense precautions. First, review the itinerary for its accuracy at the time of the booking. (In fact, a competent agent would go over the information before making the reservation, anyway.)
Second, ask for an immediate confirmation of your ticket, either by fax or e-mail. Look over the printout carefully. Are the dates correct?
It’s a little-known fact that travel agents have a grace period of a few days during which they can void tickets without a penalty. If you had caught the error before Tuesday, which is the day on which airline tickets are typically settled, you could have probably changed your itinerary without a penalty. By the way, as of June 2003, settlement must take place within 24 hours of the purchase.
Your mistake was waiting for the tickets to be delivered by mail, by which time the airline already had your money. You don’t want to be at an airline’s mercy, not in this day and age.
As it turns out, your agent, Joseph O’Connell, wasn’t sure what had happened. “Maybe I misunderstood the date,” he told me. “Maybe she accidentally told me the wrong date. Maybe I made a typo when keying in the dates. Maybe she changed her mind on the date and instead said I booked the wrong date. Who knows?”
According to O’Connell, your recollections of the transaction dates were a little fuzzy. His records show you made the first reservation on February 7, paid for them on February 24, and didn’t bring this to his attention until March 10 – almost a month after making the first booking. That’s a lot more than a weekend.
So after listening to both sides of the story, I think it’s possible either one of your may have made the mistake. Since you waited an entire month to dispute the reservation dates, I think O’Connell’s first offer – to split the difference – is more than fair.
However, after I contacted him, O’Connell agreed to pay the entire penalty, “if it will make her happy and there is a chance we can continue business with her.” I think that’s extremely generous, and I hope you will reward O’Connell by booking your next vacation through his agency.