Travel Agency Charges For Airline Tickets, Cancel Tickets, Can't Be Reached For Refund

Dhanushka is having some trouble getting money back from his travel agent. He writes,

Last January I purchased two tickets from Kansas to Sri Lanka from a travel agent to go on a vacation in May to June. When I went to the airport with two paper tickets in hand I was informed that my tickets were canceled by the Travel Agent. This was due to the negligence of the travel agent. So I had to spend two nights in a hotel while they book me on another flight which was a much difficult route than the route that I was intended to fly.

So after getting back from my vacation I wrote them an e-mail asking for a partial refund of the tickets for all my expenses, trouble and lost two paid vacation days. This was about 2 weeks ago and after that I have given them 14 calls but they have been avoiding me. Telephone operator always tell me that currently the agents are unavailable and that they would get back to me.

This is a small travel agency based in NY, http://topholidaystravel.com, (not a big name like Orbitz or anything). They mainly cater to Sri Lankans who lives in USA and goes to Sri Lanka for vacation.

1. Is there anyway that I can persuade them to get a partial refund?
2. If that didn’t work out I’m filing a complain with BBB in NY. Any advice?
3. Is there a Travel agent association or something like that which I can report to?
4. Since it’s located in NY and I’m located in Kansas, I don’t think that I could go to Small Claim Court. Any advice o this too.
5. I’m planning on creating a web page with the whole story (in my web site) and e-mail the link to all the Sri Lankans I know and ask them to forward it to their friends as well. Am I doing anything wrong here? Can they take any action against me for doing this?

Normally I would just advise doing a chargeback. Unfortunately, Dhanushka paid by check. So then, to answer his questions:

1. Find somehow to get past the customer service line and reach an actual decision maker and pitch them your case. Don’t settle for a call-back. Demand to speak to a supervisor or manager immediately.

2. It’s a pretty straightforward process and you just fill in a few fields online. The complaint, beyond the satisfaction of warning other people, will only be effective if the place cares about its BBB reputation. Since it’s so small, I checked and it doesn’t even look like they’re BBB members. So this may be wasting your keystrokes.

3. Dunno, but I do know it would depend on whether they actually belong to one.

4. You can go to small claims, but you’ll have to take a trip to New York and file there, and then either hang around until or come back when you get your court date.

5. 100% protection against libel or getting sued is the truth. As long as you tell the 100% truth, you are fine. Here is an article I wrote about fighting back against companies by making a complaint webpage. You do, however, take a chance that it will blow all your chances of getting money back from the company (without an outside agency forcing them to). You might be better off finding a way to leapfrog over the customer service people to the real people in charge (either by phone or by letter) and tell them that if you don’t get your money back, then you will launch the webpage. A threat is much more effective if you tell them about it before deploying it.

Lastly, not to kick you while you’re down, but I checked out the travel agency’s webpage, and it was just a stock image and their contact information. To me, that screams sketchy. If a company doesn’t represent themselves professionally, it’s a pretty good sign that other parts of their business aren’t going to be professional either.

Good luck!

(Photo: Getty)

Comments

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  1. GavinEstecado says:

    I called the number on the webpage and got a live person. I wonder if they specifically avoid a number if they are an existing customer or send that call to a line that never gets answered…

  2. matthewgerber says:

    I’m guessing that the poster paid by credit card (due to the distance between poster and agency). Wouldn’t a chargeback of the original booking transaction be feasible to recoup at least some of the loss?

  3. reiyaku says:

    this is the very reason why i dont use travel agents… theyre incompetent and would suck every penny out of your pocket…

    i suggest research! went on a 5-day vacation to vegas from east coast and it cost me only $400! thats with hotel and round trip ticket!

  4. reiyaku says:

    oh forgot to mention… that was a vacation trip for 2

  5. ARPRINCE says:

    Yup…that website screams SCAM!

  6. LokiJB says:

    Okay. I work at a travel agency, and this screams SCAM to me. Paper tickets are almost completely phased out. Most airlines rely only on electronic tickets (e-tickets). A good reason why is because it is so easy to scam people with paper tickets. All a sketch travel agent needs to do is book the ticket, issue a paper ticket, accept payment, and then give/mail out the paper ticket to the client. After that, the agent can then cancel the ticket, keep the money, and the client will be none the wiser until he or she gets to the airport to find out their ticket was cancelled without their knowledge.

    If it is a genuine travel agency, I would find out if they are IATA (or similar) certified: this means they are registered and operate for a larger association. If they are, then it might be easier to get your money back as the company will lose its ceritification and will be fined heavily if they scammed the money. Not to mention, possible lawsuits and jail time.

    I’d also like to add, not all travel agents are evil or out for your money. Look for an agent that is well-established: someone who’s been in the business for a few years. That usually means the agent knows what the’re doing and isn’t out to rob you blind. We try to give you the best deal so you’ll come back for future travel plans.

    Sorry for the long comment. Hope any of this helps.

  7. MercuryPDX says:

    <meta name=”generator” content=”Created Using Yahoo! Wizards 2.61.65″>
    The sparsity of the page could just be someone who’s taking a cheap shortcut to getting a page built.

    AIR LINE CONSOLIDATION AT ITA BEST

    Considering the lack of text on the page, this typo is a bit hard to overlook. ;)

    I managed to find a web form which could work as another vector of contact:
    [www.go2lanka.com]

    Not saying you should be deceptive, but maybe a large party booking travel but needing some assistance might get an agent to call you? ;)

  8. MercuryPDX says:

    @ARPRINCE: If they didn’t appear on several other sites and directories, I’d be prone to agree with you.

  9. emilayohead says:

    In regards to #5 – “100% protection against libel or getting sued is the truth.”

    The truth is 100% protection against libel, but it most certainly is not any protection against being sued. Happen to know from experience, as my husband and I are being sued for some allegedly libelous comments made on a message board. They were true, but we’ve already spent $12,000 defending ourselves and we aren’t even to trial yet. We also were slapped with a restraining order forbidding us to mention the other party online – the judge said that he could not review whether or not we were speaking the truth, only whether or not the things we said were potentially damaging.

    Just thought I’d throw in my .02, not that I can spare it.

  10. ‘Charge back’ was my first thought.

  11. dmuth says:

    6) Contact the New York State Attorney General’s office. They have their “Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection” which handles this sort of thing. Their website is at [www.oag.state.ny.us] and their consumer helpline is 1-800-771-7755.

  12. bobpence says:

    @MercuryPDX: The other websites it appears on look like web yellow page aggregators, like the one I found four hobby shops on last week. Three of them closed.

    Area code is New York City alright — New York City cell phones, which I could probably get on a prepaid phone bought in Kansas. Address could be anything.

  13. GavinEstecado says:

    @reiyaku: If you don’t mind me asking, where/how did you book such a trip for so little?

  14. irjustin says:

    Doing a WHOIS of the website (topholidays.com) I managed to obtain this information:

    Administrative Contact:
    Fernando, Ajith ajith@topholidaystravel.com
    51-01, 39th Avenue R63
    Sunny Side, NY 11104
    US
    3472564068

    Maybe this may help in contacting them. Also Ajith Fernando is both the owner of topholidaystravel.com and topholidays.com.

  15. Stormslanding says:

    Sounds like you got scammed. Did you pay with Credit card so you can do a chargeback?

  16. Shappie says:

    Is it normal for a website for a company in NY to be setup by a person in California?

  17. Mistrez_Mish says:

    I decided to check out this so called “travel agency” on my lunch break, since I work right around the corner. There is no signage what-so-ever indicating that there is a travel agency in that building… nothing. And I bet that if I went to the suite there wouldn’t be a soul there (being a travel agency, the building would be open to the public… aside from the sunglasses store downstairs). I don’t know if I can be of any help, but let me know if you need someone to infiltrate the “office”. I am also available for breaking some kneecaps. :P

  18. samurailynn says:

    [www.iatan.org]

    IATAN is a Travel Agents association, but they may or may not be registered there. It’s still possible that they could help you figure out what step to take next.

    Also, I know that in California, travel agents had to be registered with the state, so there may be a state registration in NY as well.

    I agree that you should demand to speak to someone, not just accept a call back. Also, if you have any email addresses for their company, repeatedly trying to contact them that way would show proof that you were desperately trying to get this resolved.

  19. JustThatGuy3 says:

    @bobpence:

    347, 646, and 917 are also landlines now, as well. no more rigorous cell/landline area code split.

  20. Mistrez_Mish says:

    pardon my amazing typing skills:

    “… you know, aside from the sunglasses store downstairs… that goes without saying”

  21. shorty63136 says:

    @reiyaku & @GavinEstecado: I’d VERY much like to know as well!

  22. shorty63136 says:

    @Mistrez_Mish: Ooh, please take pics of Operation: Travel Agent Annihilation! Pleasekthanx. :)

  23. MissPeacock says:

    @Mistrez_Mish: Now that’s service!

  24. bobpence says:

    @JustThatGuy3: Thanks for the correction, my points stand.

  25. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    The website is registered to a PO Box in California.

    Maybe you can convince them to go on People’s Court – also located in NYC. You get a free trip and if you win it’s no money out of their pocket.

  26. kepler11 says:

    Let us hope that the person paid with a credit card. Also, as mentioned in other stories, travel insurance against such disasters, is your best friend, whenever going with a less than completely known reputable source of tickets or travel arrangements…

  27. MercuryPDX says:

    @IfThenElvis: That’s not the travel agency, it’s a private registration so the info is that of the company that provided the private registration for the domain.

  28. camille_javal says:

    @emilayohead: Yeah, unfortunately, this is what keeps people from being able to really enjoy rights of free speech and, in the case of copyright, fair use. It doesn’t matter if, at the end of the day, you’re exonerated – if, at the end of the day, you’re broke. You can recover costs (e.g., filing fees, photocopying, depositions) as a prevailing party, but attorneys’ fees are only available in particular situations, and even then it’s pretty rare. And, because injunctive relief is often the outcome, more than particularly large damages, you’re not going to see a huge number of contingency cases.

  29. unnes says:

    A lot of “travel agencies” that cater to non-resident Asians vacationing in their home countries are actually mom-and-pop operations working out of other businesses. When my dad went to India a couple years ago, he ordered tickets through a travel agent in LA. When he went to pick them up, he was a bit surprised to see that the agency was, in fact, just a normal looking ethnic grocery store. The store proprietor was the travel agent.

    The website might just be an effort on the part of the agents to give a more professional online presence, despite the spelling errors and total lack of information on the site itself.

  30. P41 says:

    By selling to someone in Kansas, aren’t they doing business in Kansas? Are you afraid of being scolded by the judge? And you did already contact the credit card company, right? It’s not clear if “expenses” means cost of a new ticket (that’s called fraud) or just food and taxi during the two days.

  31. Cliff_Donner says:

    So after getting back from my vacation I wrote them an e-mail asking for a partial refund of the tickets for all my expenses, trouble and lost two paid vacation days.

    Why is the OP only requesting a partial refund for the tickets? It seems that he should be asking for a full refund, plus some extra to cover the additional expenses he had in having to re-book a last minute flight.

  32. snoop-blog says:

    @reiyaku: I don’t know about all that. My travel agent has always been way cheaper than the travel sites. @GavinEstecado: and Vegas is dirt cheap to go to, not so much to be there, But depending on where you stay, I got a 4 day 5 night vaca at the stratosphere for my parents for only $350

  33. Geekmom says:

    @reiyaku:
    It depends on the travel agent. I use a very nice, professional local lady who was recomended to me by an instructor at the college I attend. It cost me 200 dollars less using her and that was with her 25 dollar fee.

  34. illiniowl says:

    @emilayohead: good cautionary example
    @dmuth: Good advice, and I would just add that if the OAG chooses not to act, a NY lawyer might be willing to take the OP’s case, especially if there is an applicable statute that provides for recovery of attorney’s fees (Illinois has a Travel Promotion Consumer Protection Act at 815 ILCS 415/1; maybe NY has an analogous law). Or OP could write to the agency threatening legal action; letters have a better chance than phone calls of prompting an exchange that leads to a mutually desirable settlement.

    BTW, OP might be able to file suit in KS if the agency engaged in business in KS, such as local advertising to the local Sri Lankan community (just having a website probably isn’t going to cut it, though).

    OP can try a chargeback but should be prepared for it not to work. AFAICT, he paid for 2 tickets, and he got to Sri Lanka and back without having to pay extra for the tickets themselves. What he actually wants is compensation for the hassle/expense he endured while the accidental/negligent cancellation of his original tickets was resolved and other consequential damages. The credit card company is not going to assume the role of arbiter and determine how much to charge back as just compensation. That is what courts are for (or arbitrators if there was an agreement to arbitrate-OP needs to read whatever travel agency documents he signed).

  35. eirrom says:

    Could their website be anymore sketchy?

    I went to the website just to see it for myself. I can’t believe anyone would trust a website that is only one page and it is just contact info, name and address. They do not even have a email address listed! Who doesn’t have email?

    This has buyer beware written all over it! I’m sorry to say but the OP is screwed!

  36. DeeJayQueue says:

    Guys, please RTFA.

    The OP paid by check. They’re Kind of SOL on the chargeback route.

  37. timsgm1418 says:

    @DeeJayQueue: amen

  38. treesyjo says:

    @DeeJayQueue: Thank you for stating the obvious.

  39. williehorton says:

    Telephone operator always tell me that currently the agents are unavailable

    Yeah, that’s a great gag. “Hey, it’s that guy we screwed over. I’ll tell him I’m just the operator…”

  40. coren says:

    Call them from another line, or don’t identify yourself when you call, or do something dishonest to get them on the line (having a friend call also could work). Once you’ve got them on the line, don’t give up til you get what you want.

  41. Cyclokitty says:

    I know the OP paid by cheque, and I think that’s a huge lesson for the rest of us. Buy your tickets with a credit card. In Ontario, travel agents have to stay on their toes because they are members of an association. If an airline goes bankrupt, or a vacation carrier goes belly up, the travel association has to make sure everyone can get home, and refund people whose trips are now cancelled AS LONG AS THE TRAVEL FEES ARE PAID BY CREDIT CARD.

    Good luck, OP.

  42. I’d call and ask about booking a trip, ask where their office is located. After finding out, see about picking up the “paper” tickets at their office. Tell them you live right around the corner, and wish to come in and book the trip. Things like that, to find out where they really are. Maybe even meeting up with someone for coffee to discuss the trip?? THEN NAIL THEM!!

    Such a shame, paying with a check.

  43. caj11 says:

    What kind of travel agency asks you to pay by check? I never heard of that one before. Signs of a fly-by-night enterprise. I only use checks for a couple of bills I can’t/won’t pay online (and parking tickets).

    Another sign of a fly-by-night enterprise: their website is exactly one page where they have one phrase on it where they’ve somehow managed to misspell the word “its”.

    Another sign that this is a fly-by-night enterprise: the phone number on their website is in the 917 area code. 917 area code is in the New York City area, but it is for mobile phones and pagers only. What kind of legitimate business uses a cell phone for everything, particularly when they’re the type of business that uses computers and other equipment. 917 phone numbers can be easily disconnected or shut down and are harder to trace to any one person or place. I might understand if they were a messenger company or some other business that is mobile in nature, but I just wouldn’t do business with them based on the fact they have a 917 phone number and no fax machine either.

    I called that “agency” myself, posing as a would-be customer and asked if I could come in and look at ticket prices and tour packages to Sri Lanka. The guy kept saying he could do everything over the phone and why would I want to come down to his office? I’m guessing that the address they show is, at best, a mail drop, i.e. one of those UPS stores or something.

  44. Bruce Bayliss says:

    1) The tickets didn’t get cancelled, the BOOKING did. (That’s why you were still able to use the paper documents for travel, albeit later and via an inconvenient routing.)

    2) You’re not claiming for a REFUND, because you used the tickets for transportation.

    3. You’re claiming for “expenses, trouble and lost two paid vacation days”

    4. THAT’s IT!!!!

  45. JustThatGuy3 says:

    @caj11:

    FYI, 917 is no longer just for mobile, there are now 917 landlines, have been for several years.

  46. reiyaku says:

    @GavinEstecado, Geekmom, snoop-blog, shorty63136: i reserved my vacation trip about 3 weeks in advance. i pretty much looked at ALL available airlines that goes to LV and pretty much did a price matching. It’s actually cheaper to fly at night on a weekday, the cost for the round-trip flight was about $225 and that was coming out of VA. Now for the hotel, i was actually lucky enough that there was a promotional down at the Excalibur but it took me a long time to find that deal. i stayed there for 4 nights for about $45 a night for 4 nights. Overall, my research paid off… oh on the plus side, while i was in LV, my wife and I were able to watch a FREE SHOW… it was Mystere… so yup, if you look for it, you’ll find it

  47. kallawm says:

    Could he maybe report this to the authorities as fraud. If he paid by check, there has to be a way for them to be tracked.

  48. Meathamper says:

    Ya know, that website looks suspicious and quite frankly, janky.