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My airline is giving me the cold shoulder

  • Story Highlights
  • Airline charges a customer's credit card twice for tickets
  • Credit card company denies the second charge and the airline cancels tickets
  • The customer has no tickets, despite the initial charge
  • The airline refunded the charge and rebooked the tickets
By Christopher Elliott
Tribune Media Services
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Jessie Lourey books seven tickets on Icelandair's Web site. Then it tries to bill her twice and cancels her tickets. If she wants to rebook, the new tickets will cost her $100 more -- apiece. Meanwhile, there's still a $6,897 charge on her credit card. What now?

Q: I recently bought seven plane tickets on Icelandair's Website. The airline charged me $6,897 and my credit card company authorized the transaction.

Half an hour later, Icelandair charged my credit card again for the same seven tickets. My credit card company denied this charge, and the airline then sent me an email saying my credit card had been declined and that all of my tickets had been canceled.

Here's the problem: I don't have a ticket, but it looks like I still have the first $6,897 on my credit card. And my credit card company says the airline is the only one who can cancel it. Icelandair refuses to cancel it because it says the charge doesn't exist, and this morning said if I want to re-book, the price for each ticket has gone up by $100 each.

I've called Icelandair, and it refuses to call the number my credit card company gave me to cancel the charge. It won't even allow me to speak with a supervisor. Can you please help me?

-- Jessie Lourey, St. Cloud, Minnesota

A: Icelandair shouldn't have charged your card twice, and it shouldn't have canceled your first set of tickets. Refusing to fix the error is one matter. But asking for an additional $100 to correct a mistake that clearly isn't yours -- well, that's just cold.

Applying pressure to Icelandair was a good idea, but you might have also leaned on your credit card company. You should have been able to forward the cancellation letter to your credit card company to secure a prompt credit for the tickets.

I've been there. I had to pay twice for a hotel room and when I tried to remove one of the charges, a company representative had no idea what to do. By the time I phoned my bank, it had sorted itself out. The phantom charge, which was nothing more than an electronic hiccup, had disappeared.

Fortunately, federal law is on your side when it comes to these kinds of mistakes. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, you're protected from charges that list the wrong date or amount or for goods and services you didn't accept or weren't delivered as agreed. So the worst-case scenario for this billing error is that you have to dispute this charge with your credit card, in which case you'll win.

As for the seven tickets that now cost another $100, that's another issue. It appears Icelandair canceled your first tickets by mistake. At the very least, the airline could have rebooked you at the original rate instead of charging an extra $100.

Why didn't it? Probably because you called them instead of sending an email. A brief, polite email to america@icelandair.is that explained your problem probably would have resulted in the reinstatement of your original tickets. Sure, it takes a little bit longer than a call, but it's almost always more effective than picking up the phone.

Next time, you might want to consider using a travel agent. A travel professional may be able to find a better deal and you would be protected from a double-billing error or an accidental cancellation.

I contacted Icelandair on your behalf. An airline representative called you and assured you that the money was refunded and rebooked your flights for $500 less than you'd originally paid. Or thought you had paid.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. E-mail him at celliott@ngs.org.

Copyright 2009 CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT, DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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