Q: I booked a flight on British Airways from Cairo to Houston in June using Expedia. I canceled it within 24 hours and requested a refund. I was told it may take up to six weeks to process.
We are way beyond the six weeks, and nothing has appeared in my account yet. I contacted Expedia, and it claims the ticket was refunded three months ago. But my bank denies that. Can you help me get my $750 back?
— Ahmed Abdulrahim, Cairo
A: British Airways shouldn’t have made you wait nearly four months for a refund. But let’s take a closer look at why that wasn’t allowed. Even though you’re in Cairo, you made your purchase through an American online travel agency for a flight to the United States.
The Department of Transportation has two relevant rules. First, the 24-hour rule, which says that under most circumstances, if you book a ticket and cancel within 24 hours, you’re entitled to a full refund. You can find details on that rule in the department’s Fly Rights brochure, which is available on the dot.gov website: www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/fly-rights.
The second DOT rule says that when a refund is due, the airline must forward a credit to your card company ”within seven business days” after receiving a complete refund application.
”However,” it notes, ”the credit may take a month or two to appear on your statement.”
You were well past that two-month mark. It was time for action.
I publish the names, numbers and email addresses for the executives at Expedia and British Airways on my consumer-advocacy site: elliott.org/company-contacts/expedia and elliott.org/company-contacts/british-airways. You could have reached out to one of them and cleared this up.
Instead, you contacted me. And I agree with you — you’ve been more than patient. This foot-dragging with refunds is endemic to airlines and online travel agencies, and it’s infuriating.
I got in touch with Expedia, which asked British Airways about your refund. The airline claimed a refund had been processed in July, which still would have meant it didn’t follow the DOT requirement of a seven-day refund. I have a better idea: If the government gives us 24 hours to cancel a ticket, it should give airlines the same amount of time to refund the money. No exceptions. If they fail, they should face stiff fines, perhaps doubling the refund. That should fix the problem of sluggish refunds permanently. But one step at a time. You’re received your refund.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at email@example.com.