Mystery of the missing ticket

by Christopher Elliott on January 26, 2006

Q: I recently purchased a ticket through Cheapseats.com to fly from Sioux Falls, S.D., to Oakland, Calif., on United Airlines.

I received a confirmation that day by e-mail, along with a reservation number. But when I arrived in Sioux Falls, I was not allowed on the plane. A United employee told me that I had been issued a paper ticket and that I could not check in without it.

I called my daughter in San Francisco, who retrieved my reservation and contacted Cheapseats.com. I was told that Cheapseats.com still had my ticket, and that I should have called the company when I didn’t receive it.

Cheapseats.com told me to buy a new ticket and assured me I would be reimbursed. When I got home, I faxed supporting documents, receipts and reservation numbers. I was told it would be two billing cycles before I would see a refund.

I waited several months and when I didn’t get the promised refund, I called Cheapseats.com again. I was told that the reason I hadn’t received any money was that Cheapseats.com hadn’t yet gotten a refund from United. I was told to call United. But United just referred me back to Cheapseats.com.

I feel I have been more than patient and have received very poor customer service. My original ticket cost $280.60 and my replacement ticket was $850.30. Can you help me get my money back?

– Jane Christianson, Marshall, Minn.

A: Cheapseats.com should have sent you the ticket you bought. And when it failed to do so, it should have bought you a new one on the spot.

Instead, the company refused to take responsibility for its actions. I can’t believe anyone would suggest that you were at fault because you believed you had an electronic ticket. That’s an easy assumption to make in 2006, since most online ticket providers deal only in e-tickets.

Then Cheapseats.com asked you to buy another ticket. That’s totally unacceptable, too. Cheapseats.com might as well have asked for a loan, because that’s what you gave it.

But the endless delays — that would have made me blow a gasket.

The reason given for the delay is ridiculous. United didn’t refund the money to Cheapseats.com? Why should you care? It’s not your problem. You were promised a prompt refund, and you didn’t get one.

Your problem may not be unique. A few weeks ago, the Chicago Tribune reported that a traveler who made a reservation on OneTravel.com, which owns Cheapseats.com, had an almost identical problem. And I am currently working on resolving another Cheapseats.com case involving reservations that weren’t booked. (Yep, I’m getting the runaround, too.)

Unfortunately, the only way to make sure this doesn’t happen is to be vigilant about your tickets. Read over your reservation carefully. Make sure it’s an e-ticket. If it isn’t, then look for a paper ticket in the mail. That should prevent most — but not all — future misunderstandings.

After several inquiries, Cheapseats.com processed a refund for your United ticket.

Editor’s Note: That wasn’t the end of it. It turns out that after I filed the column, the refund still hadn’t been processed (Cheapseats.com claimed it was, but Christianson never received it; I had taken the company’s word for it). With the help of Cheapseats.com’s Terry Trippler, her refund was secured 10 days later. Trippler also said Cheapseats.com has experienced strong growth during the last year and is working to prevent mix-ups like these. Still, he added, problems like Christianson’s remain exceedingly rare on Cheapseats.com.

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