Gol Airlines cheated me out of about $620.
May 4, 2011 1:30 PM   Subscribe

Gol Linhas Aéreas, a Brazilian airline, cheated me out of about $620. Full story inside. Please help me get my money back.

I've explained my story ad nauseum to the Gol customer service people, and it appears that they're simply not listening, and/or don't care if they lose me as a customer. I believe that I'm in the right, but I'm also not above shaming them or coercing them into doing the right thing to make up for their behavior. See full story just below; in my second-to-last paragraph, I list my options and entreat you, the MeFi population, to provide me with others.

Full story: On February 25th, I made a reservation for a round-trip ticket, from São Paulo to Brasília, using the Gol website. The Gol site does not accept credit cards that were issued outside of Brazil, so my reservation went through but my payment did not.

I immediately contacted Gol's customer service by chat session to sort out my payment. I saved a copy of the chat session. I was hoping to pay for the tickets immediately. The Gol customer service person told me that she would extend my reservation through the day of my flight, and that I could pay for the tickets at the airport, before boarding. These were her exact words.

My wife and I arrived at the airport in São Paulo on March 23rd (after an overnight flight), and went straight to the Gol counter to pay and get our tickets. The ticketing person told me that my reservation had closed and that I would have to buy new tickets. She would not answer any questions about why it had closed, she avoided eye contact, and she passed me off to another person. The new person also could not or would not tell me what was happening or why. He gave me a price which was higher than the original reservation. We didn't want to miss our connection, so I decided to buy the tickets and sort it out when we got to Brasília.

In Brasília I learned from the customer service people there that my reservation had closed at 9:28am, minutes before my arrival at the ticket counter, because their policy is to close the reservation one hour before departure. I was never informed of this, either in the terms or conditions, or by the representative in the chat session. As I said, I was informed that I could pay before boarding. In actual fact, I was standing in a long line in front of the Gol counter at 9:28am, which I have repeatedly pointed out since then. But the official Gol policy has been their only justification for this circumstance, ever since then.

I also learned that the replacement ticket I bought in São Paulo was a one-way ticket, not the roundtrip ticket I originally reserved. No one had informed me of this either. (I eventually bought another one-way ticket back to São Paulo, perhaps wrongly expecting that Gol was going to do the right thing and reimburse me.)

After being bounced between customer service people at the airport, I spent two hours on the phone with Gol's English-language customer service (horrible), two more hours later that day (after they said they were going to call me back with a solution and didn't), and numerous hours by phone, email, and chat session since returning home. Gol refuses to take responsibility for misinforming me, even though I have complete documentation showing them to be at fault, and they do too. On the contrary, Gol only ever blames me for what happened, saying that I showed up at the airport too late (not true -- I was waiting in line).

All I want is to pay for my original reservation. I want to be reimbursed for the two last-minute one-way tickets I was sold in place of the original reservation, about $620 (in Brazilian reias it was R$977,40).

I have lodged two official complaints with Gol customer service. Their response is expected within 5 business days of the formal complaint. This means that if I don't have my money by Thursday at 3pm eastern, it's not coming, and I've essentially exhausted my official options (which have felt like a dead end all along). So, in the likely event that Gol doesn't have good news for me tomorrow, I want to shame them publicly in any possible way, such as:

- I've tried making a stink on their facebook page, and have gotten some symphathy from people, so maybe I could continue and escalate that, but I'm also treading a fine line -- at some point I could just be blocked, and I also don't want to sound shrill and stupid and gringo (my Portuguese, though competent, is nowhere near perfect).
- I could start a "Gol Sucks" type of facebook page, and invite all of their fans and anyone who complains on their page to come join mine. This sounds tedious and I don't see it going anywhere.
- I've also thought about writing a clever and catchy song about Gol's many failings and posting it up on youtube. I'd be a good lyricist, but I'm a lousy singer, and I don't know any Brazilian (or lusophone) musicians who would be willing to sing/record such a song. But something catchy that made them look really stupid might be something they would want to avoid, right?
- It would be nice to contact someone higher up in Gol's customer service or corporate hierarchy. The people I've dealt with so far have been playing a long, cruel joke on me, and the policy seems to be "always blame the customer, no matter what." Maybe someone higher up has authority to sort this out?
- Is there a Brazilian Better Business Bureau I could complain to?
- I know a lawyer in Rio... is it time to start threatening to talk to my lawyer friend about this?
- Provide Gol with a link to this thread?
- I'm not on twitter -- anybody know any influential Brazilians on twitter who have a score to settle with Gol airlines?
- Help?

Thanks for reading all this. Though it seems that Gol can afford to lose us as customers (and by the way we will be going back to Brazil, and we will need plane tickets there), my wife and I really can not afford to lose this money. Any help is welcome and very, very much appreciated. I'll be back in the thread later to answer any questions, etc. Thanks.
posted by sleevener to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total)
I'm a little confused here: was the R$977.40 the entire cost of the new tickets, or was it the difference between the first reservation and the emergency tickets? Because it sounds like you never paid for the original tickets, and while I agree that you have a strong moral case that they should reimburse you for the difference between the two costs, I'd have more trouble making the case that they should effectively give you a free flight.

That said, if you paid (for either flight) via credit card, you might tell them that you'll initiate a charge-back with the CC company. That possibility might get something moving on their end.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:39 PM on May 4, 2011

I would contact your credit card company.
posted by pantarei70 at 1:46 PM on May 4, 2011

There's an organization called Procon (pro-consumer) that deals with that kind of complaint, but you'd have to have someone to do the legwork in Portuguese for you. It's at state level, the link I provided is the SP one.

I'd just wait, really. Services in Brazil are not the same level as in the US. People working the help desks are often not very well informed and have zero autonomy, so there's hope that things can still be sorted out up the ladder. Yeah, the credit card company might help.

As for causing shame, I have no suggestions.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 2:11 PM on May 4, 2011

JohnnyAssay, thanks for asking. The R$977.40 is the difference between the original reservation and the emergency tickets. I don't want a free flight, I just want to pay what I originally agreed to, and I want Gol to take responsibility for their misinformation.

I paid for both emergency tickets by credit card. I've never had to initiate a charge-back, is it complicated? I guess I might be finding out....

TheGoodBlood, thanks for the link. I can probably deal with Procon in Portuguese; after all I've been dealing with Gol in both English and Portuguese. I went to Brazil to (among other things) meet poets and talk about translation, so like I said, I'm competent but not perfect. You're right about poor customer service in Brazil; any idea how I can move my case up the ladder a little bit?
posted by sleevener at 2:35 PM on May 4, 2011

This is not what charge-backs are for. Charge-backs are for fees that never should have appeared on your card, or for goods or services that you were charged for but were never satisfactorily delivered.

While I agree that the airline really botched this up and should work with you to reimburse you for the difference, threatening a charge-back is not the way to go. You were in a hurry and didn't want to miss your flights (and I don't blame you), but you accepted and used those higher-priced tickets of your own free will. You could have stayed and wrestled it out with the airline, but instead you wanted to be done with it quickly and took the more expensive tickets.

I have been on both ends of charge-backs, both as a merchant and as a consumer. There definitely are times and places for charge-backs; this is not one of them. Also, IANYL but if you do decide to go down this road, read your credit card terms & conditions very, very carefully. You purchased, accepted, and used these higher-priced tickets, and the airline can prove that. Starting a charge-back in this case could constitute credit card fraud.

I think you got a raw deal from the airline, no doubt. But a charge-back is basically threatening to not pay for higher-priced tickets which you willingly paid for and used, as a way to bully them into seeing things your way, and I can't agree with that.
posted by xedrik at 3:00 PM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

No, this is absolutely what charge-backs are for. You don't have to reverse the entire amount of a charge in a chargeback; you can ask your credit card company to only reverse the amount which you believe you should not have needed to pay. The airline promised to sell you a seat on a flight for a certain price, then they refused to honor that promise so you used your credit card to pay for a higher priced flight - in violation of their promise - under duress. I once successfully charged back excess fees in a similar situation involving a rental truck.

If my experience is any indication, it will be very helpful (virtually necessary) for you to have the purchase documents pertaining to your original ticket available to send a copy of to your credit card company.

Finally, for what it's worth, my credit card was issued in the US by a US bank and, hence, was handled under US rules and laws for such things. If your credit card was issued outside of the US, your experience may vary.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 5:03 PM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Sorry to do this, but I don't really feel you have a case. Or perhaps I don't see what your case is. The problem seems to boil down to you making two key assumptions and failing to check or confirm the details:
  1. A customer service person told you your reservation would be kept until the day of the flight. It was kept to the day, but expired an hour before take-off. You assumed that reservation was valid right up until the plane took off.
  2. You bought a one-way ticket and believed or assumed it was a return ticket.
This analysis of the situation surely explains why the customer service people "aren't listening". They don't see what the airline or its representatives did wrong.

I know this doesn't answer your actual question which is effectively "how can I shame a company into giving me a refund?" but because you went into so much detail about what happened, I'm getting the feeling there's some cognitive dissonance or need to emotionally justify your actions to us.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 7:13 PM on May 4, 2011

If you do decide for your third option, this might provide some inspirational help (SLYT).
posted by aqsakal at 12:38 AM on May 5, 2011

AmbroseChapel, to answer your questions, my assumptions in both cases were based on actual misinformation I received from the company:

1. I was informed in writing (and I still have a copy) that I could pay for the reservation at the airport, before boarding. The key information that the reservation was going to expire an hour before departure was not provided to me, either verbally or in writing, until after my reservation had closed.

2. At the ticket counter, I was told that my reservation had closed and that I would have to purchase a replacement. I did believe that I was purchasing round-trip tickets to replace a reservation for round-trip tickets. During the entire transaction, nobody answered any of my questions about why it was happening or what was going on. Maybe that was because they were trying to get me to the gate on time, but it cost me (and netted them) a lot of money. Is my complaint really so unreasonable?
posted by sleevener at 6:52 AM on May 5, 2011

Hi Sleevener, for all effects your money is now gone. You can cause them some hassle in the courts and try to get the money back, but it will take you years. Talk to your lawyer friend, and he can file a suit in the small claims court (Juizado de Pequenas Causas) in Rio. There's a chance the veredict could go your way, but it may take years for you to see the money.

As for shaming them, unless you enjoy trolling companies on the internet, I wouldn't waste my time. Brazilian companies do not have a culture of customer service and Gol is a low cost airline with very poor customer service, even for Brazilian standards. Not to mention their business is absolutely booming and they won't give a shit about your complaints.
posted by falameufilho at 5:19 PM on May 5, 2011

I'm never flying Gol again. I'll post here again if I get anywhere with Procon. Thanks for the help everybody.
posted by sleevener at 5:33 PM on May 5, 2011

> my assumptions in both cases were based on actual misinformation I received from the company

I don't want this to go on and on, but I respectfully disagree. I'd really like some third party to weigh in so this isn't an argument between the two of us.

You weren't given "misinformation". You did make assumptions not justified by the information you were given. Surely you've heard the phrase "caveat emptor"? Legally, you haven't got a case. You're a mentally competent adult and you speak the language of the country you were in. Someone sold you a ticket, presumably clearly marked "one way" or the equivalent. And your case is that because the word "replacement" was used, you were tricked in some way? It really doesn't stand up.

You're very angry about this. You have a lot of emotion invested in it. And your feelings are telling you that the airline is at fault, because otherwise ... otherwise what? Think about that for a while.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:43 PM on May 5, 2011

so this isn't an argument between the two of us.

I hereby declare it a non-argument. You're right that I'm angry, and although I feel it's justified, I'm tired of feeling angry. In any case, thanks for your input.
posted by sleevener at 6:01 PM on May 5, 2011

Sleevener - Respectfully whilst I understand your anger having reviewed what you have said I would have to side with AmbroseChapel on this. Firstly you state that Gol 'cheated' you - in what way have they cheated you? This would seem to imply that there is some intent on Gols part to take more money from you than is appropiate.

You also suggest misinformation when I think what you mean is - you were not provided with the requisitie information not to invalidate your reservation - that is to say that you claim ignorance of the rule that the reservation would expire one hour before the flight. Whilst I do not know every last detail - does this in retrospect seem unreasonable of the airline? To me it makes sense that if you do not pay for a reservation within an hour of a planes departure then quite naturally the airline would presume you are a 'no-show' and open that up to those on standby.

The question really is should Gol have stated implicitly to you that you were required to have paid for your reservation one hour before departure. You suggest you were misinformed but this implies they told you information at odds to this and this does not appear to be the case.

I think in your heart of hearts you know that it is not unreasonable of an airline to close reservations one hour prior to departure. In fact you seem to allude to this point by mentioning the fact that you were 'standing in a long line' and were not late.

As others have said you can waste a lot of effort in trying to squeeze a refund out of Gol but I think unfortunately the odds are slim to non-existent that you will be sucessful. I think this is one of those lessons in life type situations.
posted by numberstation at 5:43 AM on May 6, 2011

Although I can understand the policy to cancel unpaid reservations an hour before the flight (so I think the original ticket [that wasn't paid for anyway] is unfortunately not recoverable), why would they give you one way tickets to replace round trip? Unless you told or asked them for one way, they should have given you the same type of tickets unless somehow you ordered one way originally (which, according to the reports of extremely poor customer service, might be possible).

I think that you would be entitled to the difference between the cost of the (2) one way tickets and round trip ticket that they mixed up. I don't, however, see you getting it back due to the aforementioned customer service and the fact that they have so much turn over that they don't care.

I've seen people get satisfaction from starting public blogs for stolen cameras/phones, ebay cheaters, etc but I don't think you'll have the public backing for this to work. It's really a small issue (I know it's big to you, but it's really just poor customer service from what is barely above a third world country) that wasn't an egregious violation of dignity/humanity that begs for revenge.
posted by dozo at 6:12 AM on May 6, 2011

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