But E&O policies shouldn’t be the first remedy for a wronged customer, according to several experts. The policies are basic business liability insurance, with high deductibles, that are meant to be used only when an agency is being sued. In other words, the mistake would have to be so serious that a customer takes an agent to court, in which case the agency would file a claim under its E&O policy, say agents.
Before suing an agency, you have numerous other options. Pleading your case with the company and the airline or hotel you were booked with is the best first step. Forbes had persuaded Hotwire to cover her replacement flight from Richmond to Freeport, something it technically didn’t have to do. She continued to apply pressure. I’ll tell you how she fared in a moment.
Several states, including California, Illinois and Florida, have laws regulating travel sales. Perhaps the best known is California’s “seller of travel” laws, which includes a restitution fund for victims of a booking gone awry, according to John Pittman, the vice president of industry and consumer affairs for the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA).
He recommends finding the relevant government regulator and filing a complaint if an agency won’t help make a situation right. “That may help push the needle a little,” he adds.
If the agency is an ASTA member, you can also file an ethics complaint against it or take your case to the local Better Business Bureau, both of which may prod the agency to do the right thing. All that, he adds, ought to be unnecessary. A competent agent should know how to fix a situation such as the one Forbes faced.
In the end, Hotwire did more than just pay to fly the couple to the Bahamas.
After I contacted the online agency on her behalf, a company representative called Forbes. “They couldn’t have been nicer or more responsive to my concerns,” she says. Hotwire refunded the $700 in additional expenses Forbes had incurred and offered her a $400 credit to make up for her lost vacation day.
If only every booking blunderhad such a happy ending.
E-mail Christopher Elliott at firstname.lastname@example.org.