Contract text trumps verbal assurance

This item appears on page 30 of the January 2012 issue.

In March 2010 I called Wholesale Flights and booked airfare for my husband and myself to South America.

We were going to fly on Dec. 23, 2010, from Detroit to Rio de Janeiro (via Charlotte, North Carolina) and on Jan. 23, 2011, from Santiago to Detroit (via Toronto). We would also fly from Rio to Iguassu Falls round trip and then to Buenos Aires, with a cruise after that. The price of $6,919 included business-class travel as well as the flights within South America.

Unfortunately, around the beginning of October I had to cancel due to illness. I called the person I had been talking to at Wholesale Flights, the manager Mike Sankin. Mike had told me that my tickets were refundable because we were in business class. For us to get a refund, he now told me to send in a notice of cancellation and include a doctor’s letter, which I did at the beginning of October.

I heard nothing from Wholesale Flights. After a couple of months I started calling every day, sometimes twice a day, leaving messages on the phone. Mike never answered and no one returned my calls. Finally, in April 2011, I wrote a letter to the Attorney General of California, who sent a copy of my complaint to the company, which prompted them to send me a response on May 23.

The company rep, Vlad, stated that Mike no longer worked there. He also claimed that Mike told me that the tickets were nonrefundable. Not true! Mike told me that the tickets were refundable during our first phone conversation and again when I actually made the reservations and a third time when I canceled by phone. He said that business class is always refundable.

Vlad also said he had shown my letter (including the doctor’s letter) to both airlines, US Air and Air Canada, and they denied the refund. He went on to say that the flight date had passed and so now nothing could be done. But I asked for a refund back in the fall and the flight was in late December!

The company did send a copy of a contract that my husband filled out and signed, part of which states, “Once confirmed and ticketed, all tickets are: NON-REFUNDABLE and NOT-CHANGEABLE.”

I spent a lot of money. Is there any recourse in getting back our $6,919?

From now on, I will deal with airlines directly and forgo wholesale ticket companies.

Southfield, MI

For the record, with firms that sell airline tickets wholesale, at a discount, passengers often pay the wholesaler using a credit card, and the wholesaler often pays the airline directly in cash. The contract fare between the airline and wholesaler is unpublished, and the rules regarding refunds and changes may be more restrictive than usual.

ITN mailed and e-mailed copies of Ms. Cohen’s letter to Wholesale Flights, Inc. (1415 Rollins Rd., Ste. 110, Burlingame, CA 94010;, and received a call from Vlad V., who stated, “We’ve done all we can. The airlines have the money”… and, “We told her the tickets are nonrefundable.” ITN asked, “If the tickets were nonrefundable, why was she instructed to send a doctor’s note?” Vlad replied, “Sometimes the airlines make exceptions, for sickness, etc.” ITN pointed out to Vlad, “Ms. Cohen heard nothing from Wholesale Flights despite e-mail and phone messages.” Vlad said, “That’s because our agent was no longer with us.” ITN: “Doesn’t that responsibility fall on your office?” Vlad stated, “It’s too late. There’s nothing more we can do.” Vlad gave permission for ITN to print the letter he wrote to Ms. Cohen, which included the following.

We apologize for any confusion or misunderstanding with your purchase. Mike Sankin is no longer with our company. At the time you requested to cancel your tickets Mike advised you to send us a doctor’s (note) for us to “try” to refund your tickets. We never guarantee or promise that we will be able to refund since it’s really up to the airlines to approve or decline the reason.

When you purchased your flights Mike advised you that you are buying non-refundable non-changeable tickets. Please review the attached contract that you filled out and signed. We did submit your doctor’s note to the airlines and they declined to allow to refund your tickets.

Since your departure date has already passed, we cannot refund or change anything at this point. Your tickets are at a complete loss. We tried everything we could to get a refund from the airlines, however they would not honor the refund. Since the airlines will not refund we cannot refund anything since we paid the airlines for your tickets. We have to follow the airline rules and regulations. That is why each and every of our clients signs an agreement that clearly states all the terms and conditions.