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Friday, April 18, 2014

Price guarantee doesn't get high priority with online travel site


Q: I am writing to complain about poor service I received in connection with Travelocity's price guarantee. We recently returned from an 11-night trip to Cancun, Mexico. Our package, which included airfare and accommodations at the Valentin Imperial Maya all-inclusive resort, cost $4,615.

About a week before we left, I found the exact same package on Travelocity for $1,170 less. I filled out a form on its site and followed up several times by e-mail. I sent screenshots as proof. Each time they responded they claimed to have not received the proof. Finally, I posted the proof to a website to be sure they could see it.

Last night, I called Travelocity and was told they would get back to me in a few hours by phone. They did not. I have always been happy with Travelocity's service — until now. Why is this such a problem? Travelocity has a guarantee. Is it asking too much for them to honor it?

— Steven Estrella, Fort Washington, Pa.

A: You qualified for Travelocity's price guarantee, which promises a $50 coupon and up to $500 back if you find a qualifying lower rate up until the day before you check in. Travelocity should have processed your claim — or at least responded to it — promptly.

It appears that the proof Travelocity needed never arrived. You say you sent the files several times, but Travelocity's representatives say they never saw them. Rather than simply resending the files, you might have considered reducing the size of the files. Often, e-mail spam filters block large images.

Still, it's unlikely that the files sent through the form, e-mail and finally posted to a website, were all rejected by the system. Instead, it's far likelier this was an electronic hiccup on Travelocity's side.

I'm given the impression from dealing with many price guarantee complaints (not just Travelocity's) that these types of requests aren't assigned a high priority. As with any travel business, a lot of effort is expended on quickly processing your purchases. It takes only a few seconds to remove the money from your credit card account, but weeks, months and even years to return it.

What incentive — other than making a customer happy — does an online travel agency have to expeditiously refund the money under a price guarantee? I can't think of one.

You took all the right steps by sending your request through the site, then by e-mail and finally posting the evidence of the bargain online. I have a few contacts at Travelocity on my site that might have been useful (www.elliott.org/help/travelocity/).

I contacted Travelocity on your behalf. A representative e-mailed you and offered the maximum $500 refund, plus a $50 voucher toward future travel.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or e-mail him at celliott@ngs.org.

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