Canadian Travel Agent's legal responsibility
February 22, 2005 7:07 PM   Subscribe

Can a travel agent be held legally responsible for costs incurred due to providing incorrect information? When our plane was delayed (and despite what the airlines told us), we spent an additional (unplanned) $1600 to make a connecting flight on the recommendation of our travel agent.

We subsequently found out that we could have gone the next day for a $240 change fee, but I put my trust in my travel agent...thinking she would be looking out for our best interests vs the airlines. Wrong! The airlines had it right - she had it wrong.
My agent has admiited that, in hindsight, maybe she should have called our connecting airline (which she deals with on an ongoing basis, and with whom she'd arranged our flight) to find out about change of plans, but claims she wasn't aware they allowed changes and felt it wouldn't do any good calling.

My travel agent also asks "why didn't you buy insurance", to which I reply - "wouldn't need it, if you had just given me the right info!"
I am considering taking this matter up in small claims, but would appreciate any insight (legal or otherwise) from anyone out there. Thanks!
posted by Bearman to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total)
I think that small claims court is a reasonable alternative, although that may get your name into a database of people who file such claims, and that may make life more difficult if (say) you apply to rent an apartment. If you intend to go to small claims court, do discuss the matter with the travel agent first, perhaps by writing a polite letter. That gives her a chance to make her best argument to you before going to court. The letter to her is also a chance for you to make an offer - for example, that you would settle for $1,000. You might want to start a little higher than you're willing to settle for, to give her some bargaining room.

Also, it's not clear who would have paid for the hotel room for the additional night's stay (the airline?), the cost of an extra meal or two (dinner, breakfast?), or what the extra day that you saved was worth (vacation time?). Factor those into what you're asking for (both in the letter and small claims, if you get that far), and detail your calculations for the agent (perhaps on an attachment, so you can give a full explanation, rather than in the body of the letter).

Good luck!!
posted by WestCoaster at 9:58 PM on February 22, 2005

This page from a company that offers insurance to travel agents mentions that it covers "errors and omissions coverage for claims against you, your agency or its employees that may involve either actual or perceived errors" which leads me to believe that you may be able to make a claim.

Your short answer, at least for the American equivalent, is here, I think, at :
"If a travel agent fails to make a reservation for you -- or delays in making a reservation for you -- and you lose money because of it, the agent is responsible to you if the failure to make the reservation or the delay was his fault. For example, if the flight you want to take has seats available when you call your agent, but the agent delays in making your reservation, the flight sells out and you have to take a more expensive flight, the agent would be liable to you for the difference. On the other hand, if the flight was already sold out when you called the agent, the agent is not liable because his inability to make a reservation is not his fault."
Good luck!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:05 PM on February 22, 2005

I see after posting that that's not precisely your situation, but it's close-ish...
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:06 PM on February 22, 2005

Insurance: the European answer to incompetence. If the agency genuinely provided false info, and that caused you to spend extra, and the amount is large enough (it seems it is), I'd demand compensation, and eventually, sue. Of course, if the person is fairly nice, they will pay, or, perhaps offer some future discounts (if you have use for such).

Good luck. Be tactful.
posted by ParisParamus at 5:15 AM on February 23, 2005

I agree with WestCoaster's idea of starting off with a polite letter that sets forth your extreme dissatisfaction and intent to seek a recovery of some kind. I would not start out by asking for $1,000 if you incurred $1,600 in expenses, though. Just like in a typical negotiation, start with your highest plausible amount possible, without sounding unreasonable. Travel agents know that you can get their services from a website for nearly nothing, so they will be more than willing to make you a happy paying customer again. Also, you could at some point suggest that she reimburse you with free tickets/hotel stay/rental car. $1600 can get you a decent weekend getaway!
posted by MrZero at 6:52 AM on February 23, 2005

I notice only in your header that you're Canadian. Ontario, perhaps? The Travel Industry Council of Ontario deals with complaints about Travel Agents in Ontario.

There is a fund to deal with problems, but I believe it only covers situations where your booked travel was not received because the company went bankrupt or similar. I think, though, that they assist with a broader definition of complaints in other ways.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:36 AM on February 23, 2005

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