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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Christopher Elliott: Use e-mail to address reservation woes


My 80-year-old parents, who live in New York, planned to join us to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. I suggested that my dad book through Expedia as well. My father called and said that he was having some trouble getting through the prompts and he asked if I could help him book the trip. So, I booked the trip for my parents and requested that Expedia forward all confirmations to my dad's e-mail address.

Three days later my dad phoned to say that it didn't look like his trip was confirmed, so he asked me to check on his itinerary. I looked it up and it did not appear to be confirmed. I called Expedia and they suggested my parents call their credit card company to see if their account had been charged. If it had not, we would need to re-enter the credit card information. My parents called their credit card company and were told that a charge had not posted. I then re-entered the credit card information and saw that the tickets were showing "confirmed."

Three days later, my mother called to say that she contacted her credit card company to double-check that the charge went through and was told that US Airways had placed two charges on her account. My parents immediately called for help. I contacted Expedia, thinking it was a simple mistake and after spending no less than three hours on the phone with their customer service rep, was advised that US Airways was unwilling to remove the additional booking. Can you help us?— Lisa O'Brien, Novato, Calif .

A: Expedia should have only made one reservation for your parents. When it became clear that there were two, the online travel agency should have issued a quick refund.

Before I continue, let me make a quick observation: Expedia is a fine place to buy tickets and vacation packages, but it sounds as if your parents might have benefited from working with an offline travel agent. A qualified travel counselor could hold their hands through the process and ensure their card is only charged once. With an online travel agency, that's less likely to happen.

You spent no less than three hours on the phone with Expedia trying to resolve this. Resist the temptation to pick up the phone the next time this happens (and I really hope it never happens to you again). Instead, send a brief, polite e-mail to the company with your parents' reservation number, and stating the problem and desired resolution.

Truth is, the phone got you and your parents into this trouble. I checked with Expedia, and according to its records, you provided it with an incorrect itinerary number when you first called to confirm your parents' reservation. "Therefore, the customer service representative advised Ms. O'Brien to re-purchase the trip resulting in a duplicate booking," a representative told me.

Had you confirmed your parents' reservation by e-mail, you might have received a different response, but more importantly, you would have had a paper trail to go back to — you offering a confirmation number, Expedia advising you to book again. That back-and-forth would have been useful in resolving this, and you wouldn't have had to spend so much time on the phone.

If Expedia didn't address your parents' problem to your satisfaction, you could have appealed your case to someone higher up.

Given that you tried to confirm your trip with Expedia, and that it advised you to rebook your tickets, I asked Expedia to revisit its denial. Expedia asked their airline for a refund on your parents' behalf, and they received all of their money back.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or e-mail him at celliott@ngs.org.

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