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He canceled his airline ticket... but didn’t get the refund

By Christopher Elliott
Travel Troubleshooter
Christopher Elliott
Have a travel problem? Want to avoid vacation hassles? See what Christopher Elliott has to say. The Charlotte native is also National Geographic Traveler's reader advocate, and Travel Troubleshooter is his syndicated consumer column.

When Chad Cleven cancels his Air Canada ticket, he expects a refund in a few weeks. But it never comes. Now the airline wants to keep his money. What’s going on?

Q. A few months ago I purchased a nonrefundable airline ticket directly from Air Canada for a friend to travel from Seattle to Cairo. Within 24 hours of booking this ticket, I learned that he wouldn’t be able to accompany me on this trip, so I called the airline and requested a refund.

I had heard about the new rule requiring airlines to issue refunds to travelers within 24 hours of purchase, so I didn’t think this would be a problem. When I spoke to Air Canada reservations to cancel the reservation, I was told that the funds would be credited back to my credit card.

A little under two months later, I realized that I had not yet received the credit to my credit card. Upon checking on the Air Canada website, I found that this reservation hadn’t been refunded because the agent on the phone had not actually processed the cancellation.

At this point, it was a few days before the ticketed flight date. I canceled the flight online, and contacted Air Canada to again request that the funds be credited back to my credit card. I was then told that my refund could not be processed because there was no record of my cancellation within the 24-hour cancellation window.

I disputed this charge with my credit card company, and they initially credited my card, but they ended up reversing the charge back to me as the airline told the credit card company that the ticket was nonrefundable, and there was no record that I had canceled the ticket within 24 hours of purchase. The credit card company then wanted a cancellation number to prove that I had canceled the reservation, but the airline never gave me such a number, so I had nothing to provide.

I’ve sent an email to Air Canada once again requesting that my refund be processed as I originally requested, but so far have only gotten an automated response stating that it will take up to three weeks to review my email. Considering that there’s a rule requiring refunds in the 24-hour period, is there anything that can be done to actually receive this refund? – Chad Cleven, Tulalip, Wash.

A. You’re right, there’s a Department of Transportation rule that says your airline must refund your ticket if you cancel a reservation made within 24 hours. What’s more, the refund must be made within seven days of the cancellation.

So what went wrong? Even though you called to cancel your companion’s ticket, the agent with whom you spoke apparently never processed it. If that person had done so, Air Canada would have given you a cancellation number, which would have at least ensured your credit card dispute would go your way.

If you’d canceled your flight online, then Air Canada would have sent you a written confirmation with a cancellation number and the other particulars. If you didn’t have anything in writing, then you could have complained directly to the Department of Transportation. You can file a consumer complaint at its website, www.dot.gov/airconsumer/file-consumer-complaint.

Securing a cancellation number is helpful as some form of written verification, but it’s not the only way to verify your cancellation. Air Canada, like other airlines, records its customer service calls for “quality assurance” purposes, and can review the transcript. If you can’t reach anyone at Air Canada, try one of its executives. I list them on my website: http://elliott.org/contacts/air-canada/.

I contacted Air Canada on your behalf. It decided to refund your ticket “on an exceptional basis” and promised you a full refund within three to four weeks.

Charlotte-born Christopher Elliott is the author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money and Hassle)” (National Geographic). He’s also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips or contact him at his website: www.elliott.org.
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