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Originally published Friday, July 5, 2013 at 7:01 AM

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Travel agency tries to hang on to passenger’s $1,771 refund

Delta refunded a Seattle passenger’s airline ticket because of medical reasons but her travel agency kept the money, insisting the fare was nonrefundable. Is that allowed?

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Q: I recently had to have jaw surgery, and my doctor recommended that I cancel a planned flight on Delta Air Lines. I submitted a request through my travel agency, but it refused to refund the ticket because it had a policy that tickets are nonrefundable, except in cases of illness or death.

So I contacted Delta directly. It processed my refund, but told me they had sent the money back to my travel agency. I contacted the agency and asked it for the refund, but they refused, citing their refund policy.

I have tried repeatedly to contact my agency, but it won’t return my calls. I don’t want to lose the $1,771 I paid. Can you help me get my money back?

A: I’m sorry about the problems with your ticket refund. The bottom line is: it’s your money and you should get it back immediately.

Using a travel agent is a good idea. I’m a big believer in using a competent travel adviser.

Most agencies have refund policies that reflect those of a travel provider. In other words, if a flight is nonrefundable, then the agency policy would match it. It may add a separate agency transaction fee, in the event of a refund, but that’s usually all.

In your case, the agency policy on refunds matched Delta’s. You had a nonrefundable ticket. Then Delta decided to make an exception to its policy. And then you and Delta assumed the agency would also make an exception. It didn’t.

I suppose your agency was technically right. It could have pocketed the entire $1,771 and made a nice profit on your ticket. But that seems wrong to me. Delta offered you a refund out of compassion, so that you could attend to your health needs. Your agency should have, too.

You could have avoided this in one of several ways. If you suspected that you might need surgery, you could have purchased a more flexible, refundable fare (but those can be significantly more expensive). Booking directly through Delta would have prevented this too, but as I mentioned before, having a good agent can be helpful.

By the way, I’m not sure if you’re working with the right agent. Any travel adviser that would refuse to pass along a refund from your airline needs to have its moral compass checked. I would find a new agent, right now.

I contacted Delta on your behalf and asked if it could put in a good word with your agency. It made sure the $1,771 it refunded made it all the way to you.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance. Contact him at chris@elliott.org.

-- Nartach Djepbarova, Seattle

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