How do I settle this debt?
November 7, 2012 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Parents bought a $1.8k plane ticket for my friend and now she's agreeing to wire back $900 into my account. She had agreed to pay back the full price initially. How do I get the rest of the money back?

Over the summer, we went on a vacation together, tickets bought by my mother (whom I assumed would get the cheapest prices from her agent...but this wasn't true). My friend had agreed to pay the money back -- I'd seen the check, everything was ready, but she didn't give it to me on the basis that the money wouldn't be in the account for a couple of weeks. While on vacation, we had a massive falling out -- the ticket price my mom had gotten for her was too expensive and she couldn't afford it, and she was angry at me for not trying to foot some of the bill given that my mom had paid for my ticket entirely. I ended up leaving the country a little over 1/3 of my projected stay time because it got too bad and went back home. We are no longer friends, nor do I plan on trying to make that friendship happen again (although all my friends say it should and will).

When my friend finally got back to the States, she bought another ticket going back to aforementioned vacationcountry (she's planning on working and living there for most of the coming year), and her argument was that her roundtrip ticket was only $800 and she was furious that my mom's ticket price was so expensive. Furthermore, paying for housing and gifts for the owners of the house we were staying at were also being tacked on (I had agreed to this). Here's the deal, though: ticket prices to that country over the summer are IMMENSELY more expensive than fall or winter prices and that's just how that is -- I went on to all major online ticket outlets and found the cheapest price, bought 8 months before summer, was $1450. Furthermore, I only lived at the house for 1/3 of the projected time, and rent/housing should be a minimal add on. I did all the math for how much she owes me and it comes up to a generous minimum of $ she's cinching me $300.

Now here's where it gets even more complicated: she's always had trouble with money, but she's always repaid her debts. She's not one to fleece someone. The thing that pissed her off the most about the entire situation was how selfish she thought I was vs. how generous she was, despite my parents having supported me entirely in college. She pretty much told me I was obligated to cover for her ticket price because I was so privileged and "didn't understand what it was like to be poor" -- false, I grew up on food stamps as well, except my parents raised me as their own whereas her parents neglected her as a child. There's all this complex emotional drama that goes into this that I'm not willing to mess with, and also there's absolutely no way I can go to her family about this stuff because they're going through hard times.

Oh, also my mom is trying to sue her but she says that she's unafraid, debt collectors won't go after her for $900. She's currently in another country and won't be back for several months.
posted by lyinlion to Human Relations (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Tell her to wire the money as a payment toward her debt. This means she has acknowledged the debt. Then you can go to small claims court and show that she acknowledged the debt by making a payment toward it.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:56 AM on November 7, 2012 [8 favorites]

This is unfortunately the cost of a life lesson and a friendship.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 11:56 AM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I also would have thought that you should never buy stuff for other people without getting approval first, if they're going to need to reimburse you. That does seem rather insane.

A gift is one thing, but there may have very well been cheaper flights.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 11:58 AM on November 7, 2012 [32 favorites]

Your friend is in the wrong. I'm assuming that your mother bought the ticket with her credit card because your friend didn't have one. She agreed to the price when your mother bought it, therefore, she must pay the entire amount. Your arguments are correct, ticket prices fluctuate, depending on the time of year, fuel costs etc. You can point this out, but at the end of the day, she agreed to the price, she needs to pay the whole thing.

As for you and the housing, that's on you. You agreed to pay your share, YOU decided to bail on that, it's not like she had an ability to find a replacement to pay your share once you left.

As for your last paragraph, it means nothing. That's static. It has no bearing on the issue.

Your mom should sue her in small claims court. THEN call People's Court and see if they'll let you settle it there. If she wins, she'll collect the entire amount she's owed.

What you want to avoid is your friend wiring $900 and then saying it's a settlement. It's not, it's only half.

If your mother is exchanging emails with your friend, look out for that word, it's death to any arguments subsequent to the deposit being made.

Again, I reiterate, you're going to have to eat the lodging.

The next time, if your friend can't pony up her share, don't pay.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:59 AM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Debt collectors will absolutely go after her for $900. I would step out and let your mum do what she feels she needs to to make herself whole about the ticket. She would easily get a judgment in small claims court.

As for the housing, you and she should each pay what you agreed upon initially, even though you left or whatever.

You and your mum should separate the transactions if possible, just to keep the paper trail easy to follow if your mum does decide to pursue it in court.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:00 PM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your friend knew the ticket was 1.8k, flew on a 1.8k ticket, agreed to pay 1.8k, and now regrets it?

Sucks to be them. Small claims.
posted by zippy at 12:06 PM on November 7, 2012 [7 favorites]

Am I right that you didn't clear an $1800 purchase with the person you expect to later reimburse you for that purchase? Because that levels out the fault in my opinion.

This is petty, there are faults on both sides, and suing someone over $300 is ridiculous.
posted by pseudonick at 12:08 PM on November 7, 2012 [21 favorites]

From what you've written:

It's not your money
She is not your friend
Your mom is already taking steps to deal with this

I don't fully understand why you are still the go-between?

Is there a romantic element complicating this?

This is the kind of thing you go to small claims court over or you just remember to never do again.
posted by French Fry at 12:08 PM on November 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: @Dasein : I had told my mother to try to get the cheapest flight available several times (my friend was there when I was on the phone with her and can vouch for it) and somehow she still got a nonstop flight there, which was surprising to both me and my friend. I think what was the issue was that the dates that my friend could fly over were particularly tricky, and also probably that her travel agent was purposely leaving out several other options. My friend knew the price of the ticket but I think she blanked it out of her memory out of sheer shock...The ticket was cancellable with a $100 cancellation fee.

I think several parties are wrong here -- my mom for blatantly disregarding my request for the cheapest flight with the most layovers, me for even offering to get my friend a ticket through my mom, and my friend for accepting the ticket and not saying anything about it until after the flight.
posted by lyinlion at 12:22 PM on November 7, 2012

That the ticket was not the cheapest available doesn't matter, does it? Unless your mom was somehow scamming your friend, or booked a first class ticket when neither of you had discussed this, and the friend had no opportunity to decline the surprise change...

But if the friend knew the price and conditions of the ticket in advance and still agreed to pay and used it, and only complained later, that is called "buyer's remorse."

I mean, there would have to be a really interesting backstory other than "friend later found a cheaper ticket of another week / month / season" for the price of the ticket to matter at all.

If your friend agreed to pay for the thing they used, and the thing itself was available for them to reflect on ... then this is not consistent with "friend is the sort who pays their debts."
posted by zippy at 12:26 PM on November 7, 2012

On non-preview, do you know that tickets on the day of your travel would have been 900 less?
posted by zippy at 12:28 PM on November 7, 2012

You agreed to tack on housing and gifts - did your friend know you were planning to do this? (P.S. You left early, your share of the rent/gifts does not get reduced because you decided to leave early.)

Your friend asked for and you agreed to get her the cheapest ticket, and then your mom didn't do that plus she tacked on extra money. Your friend may legitimately not have budgeted 1.8 (or 1.3 ?) for this vacation, and she may be angry at what she perceives as your family's disregard for the cost burden to her (not that that's an excuse, at all).

Let your mom and friend work it out, or else cover the debt and tell your mom she paid up. It doesn't sound like you being in the middle is going to help. Note: this disregards any fallout in your social circle - if you have a bunch of mutual friends, watch out for the "lynlion's mom is totally screwing with me!" gossip and nastiness.
posted by mrs. taters at 12:33 PM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you're lucky to be getting $900 back out of this escapade. Main thing you did wrong was loaning a significant sum of money to a friend. Lesson learned!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:39 PM on November 7, 2012 [8 favorites]

Why is only the OP sympathetic to her friend? Yes, legally, the friend may owe the full amount, but don't any of you remember what it's like to suddenly have to choose between disappointing someone and admit you're poor, and going along with things and kind of trying not to notice how impossibly expensive things are?

I don't know what really happened, but I expect, as the OP says, there's blame to go around -- or put another way, everyone was trying to do the right thing, but it got too complicated.

Here's a suggestion: apologize to your friend and realize that your Mom can probably float the $900 with much less pain than it would cost your friend to pay the full amount right now. $900 for your Mom is kind of bad, but $900 more for your friend may be impossible, or homelessness-making. Or not - we don't know.

By "float", I don't mean forgive. Maybe ask for a super-generous, slow, repayment plan. Maybe like $25 every two weeks. Yes, it could take 3 years to pay back at that rate -- if your friend gets tired of it, she may choose to pay back faster. Or not. Or maybe your Mom will choose to forgive part, or you might.

You're a person; if you can avoid acting like a corporation, please do so, and the world will be a better place.
posted by amtho at 12:47 PM on November 7, 2012 [15 favorites]

Are you definitely sure that your friend agreed to all of this in all transparency and still committed to it? That there were no surprises for her after it was too late?

Because if you're sure of that, then this is all your friend's responsibility.

If you're not sure of that, then there were faults on both sides.

I'm going to give advice assuming that you've reasonably concluded that this was your friend's responsibility. Now it's my belief that friends ought not to sue each other except in the most extreme circumstances where it would be, or almost be, immoral not to. This argument doesn't remotely qualify for this.

With that in mind, what I would say is "You agreed to this trip on these terms and at this price, and you had plenty of time to back out if it was too expensive for you. I am not responsible for your expenses here and it's very offensive of you to bring my personal financial circumstances in it, much less to argue that I owe you part of the ticket price as some kind of karmic debt. I take all this as a personal insult, but I am not going to sue you over it because I think friends ought not to sue each other. And I really regret losing your friendship over a few hundred dollars, because in my opinion our friendship is worth much much more than a few hundred dollars. I do still think you are totally in the wrong here and my feelings are extremely hurt."
posted by tel3path at 12:49 PM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, legally, the friend may owe the full amount, but don't any of you remember what it's like to suddenly have to choose between disappointing someone and admit you're poor, and going along with things and kind of trying not to notice how impossibly expensive things are?

Sure. But if it were the friend who cannot pay here saying "my bestie's mom bought me a ticket, expecting I would repay it, and it was totally too expensive, but I went along with it ..." would we be advising them "hey, mom should totally cover the part that you maybe could have theoretically saved had you bought it yourself?" or would we be telling them "yeah, that sucks, maybe you can work something out, but don't expect your friendship to survive it" or "pay what you think would be fair and move on?"

I know situations get complex with friends and family and money (especially when there's an economic or life experience difference) but I think I'd be telling the asker "the time to back out of this deal was before the trip, yes? Chalk it up to sucky situations and learn to establish better boundaries."

Especially since the friend was later able to book a second ticket with the money they saved by not paying the first. I don't think lack of funds was the issue here.
posted by zippy at 1:01 PM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have been really broke in my life, amtho, and so I didn't agree to reimburse people for stuff unless I was sure I could afford it.

I also didn't labor under the delusion that airfare didn't fluctuate radically in price.

If this had happened to me, I would have been clear with my friend's mother about what I could and couldn't reimburse her. I wouldn't say "Oh, well, I found a different airfare at a different time so I'm only going to pay back that sum."

The friend is assuming that the OP's mum should be out of pocket for doing her (the friend) a favor. If the friend had wanted cost control of the original ticket, she needed to be on top of that with the OP's mum, or make other arrangements to buy the ticket.

Or not use the ticket she couldn't afford to pay for, so that the OP's mum could have gotten a refund. Saying "I'll pay you back" and then reneging is shitty. And I am saying this as someone who went hungry fairly often in my student days because I couldn't afford food.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:48 PM on November 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

I went on an international trip with a friend once when we were 18 and in university. I had family in that country, and we scheduled a crazy complicated (and rewarding) trip. We agreed that lodging with friends and family was free, but we'd pay for our own things that cost money (train, plane, museum entrance, souvenirs, eating out, etc).

Then, at one location, we shared a room at a hotel that was booked together with a relative's much larger tour group. My relative paid for my part of the hotel for free (since we are quite close) but was actually expecting to be paid back for my friend's half of the share (~$700). There was some confusion there as to whether there was "free lodging" or not.

I explained it to my friend when she didn't pay me back enough, and she didn't have the money to do so at the time. (She didn't think it was unfair that I didn't have to pay for it though, and she DID offer to try to repay it slowly.) My aunt was able to eat the cost and did so.

I still have a great relationship with both this friend and my relative.

What I was trying to say is: Generally, unless your mom gave your friend the EXACT amount your friend would have to pay back BEFORE the money was spent AND she agreed to it, there's actually a lot of gray area in there. In most cases like this, it's considered cool for the more senior person (i.e. your mother) to compromise somehow, either by just dealing with the lost money or working out a payment plan (maybe your friend can help clean your mom's house or something?).
posted by ethidda at 1:49 PM on November 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

I forgot to say, though, your friend is unreasonable in thinking that airfare at one time at all correlates with airfare at another time (or place or the same trip with more or less or no stopovers). It could very well have been that the non-stop was the cheapest flight at the time.

Just look at airfare around the holidays... CRAZY! It can easily be 2 or 3 times the "regular" price. Mid-weeks are incredibly cheap. It can go up or down with the gas price. Or regulations. Or whatever. Flight A to B can be MORE expensive than flight A to C, with a stopover at B. There are all sorts of websites that help you "hack" the airfare system.
posted by ethidda at 1:52 PM on November 7, 2012

I re-read your question and you did say that you had purchased the ticket without getting her OK on the price. If I were your ex-friend, no matter the drama between us, would probably also be angry about having to pay a price I didn't agree on.

The wrong part is that she accepted the ticket for that price without making a fuss about it right then and there.

It sounds like unfortunately you can either draw this out in small claims court (sounds like a case for Judge Judy for sure) or you can eat the costs and move on with your life... at least with the latter, you'd never have to talk to her again.
posted by camylanded at 1:54 PM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, your mum's error was not confirming that the price would be OK with your friend.

But if she had said "There is no way I can afford this ticket, I'm sorry, I'll need to make other arrangements" then your mum could have done something to correct her error.

But amtho's "payment plan"idea is aces!
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:59 PM on November 7, 2012

Wait, your mom didn't clear the price with your friend ... And your friend didn't know the price until after the trip started, or it was too late to cancel?
posted by zippy at 2:17 PM on November 7, 2012

Response by poster: @Zippy : The price was cleared, but I think she, in shock, accepted it thinking that there was no lower price. She knew the price two months before the trip started, and it was definitely not too late to cancel.
posted by lyinlion at 2:19 PM on November 7, 2012

Were there lower prices at that time, lyinlion? Or is she just assuming the prices were the same as they were at some completely different date?

Because one way your mum (or you) might offer to compromise is to eat the "extra" costs between the ticket she bought and the lower-price tickets that would have been available for that date. The travel agent can find that with a quick SABR search, most likely.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:31 PM on November 7, 2012

Response by poster: There were lower prices at the time albeit not for that date itself. I'm not sure of the exact pricing right now but I believe she found one with 4 layovers that was about $1300 during that time?
posted by lyinlion at 2:37 PM on November 7, 2012

She had two months to cancel but didn't. She owes that money. End of discussion.

It doesn't matter why she accepted. She accepted. It doesn't matter that there were cheaper tickets out there. She chose to use the $1,800 one.
posted by Neekee at 2:42 PM on November 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Would your mum be OK with getting $1300 as a compromise? Because that pretty much splits the difference between what your friend thinks she "should" pay (which is a bullshit figure) and the extra costs your mum entailed by not being budget-conscious in buying the tickets despite your friend's expressed concerns about that.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:22 PM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

How did she retrospectively find a flight for the time of your travel for $1300? Because I don't know how to to that.

Flight prices change from week to week and even minute to minute depending on plane capacity. A single hop route I regularly fly can go from $300 to $700 depending on time of day, time until departure, and random airline price wars happening and being cancelled.
posted by zippy at 4:37 PM on November 7, 2012

(what I'm saying is, it's possible that your direct flight was actually the cheapest for the day you travelled)
posted by zippy at 4:38 PM on November 7, 2012

1.) you told her the price of the ticket, and she accepted that price when she got on the plane and flew to x country. if she had time to cancel and didn't, it's on her. the moment you both stepped on the plane and sat in the seats, her bets were off.
2.) your financial status and what your parents do for you is none of her goddamned business. her issues are HER issues, and she should not expect anything of you related to it, unless you specifically said you were buying her ticket for her. which you didn't.

she owes you/your mother the full price of the ticket. if it's your mother that's going to be handling it, give your mother your blessing to sue her and then bow out gracefully, unless she's willing to meet you and hand you over the cash (do NOT accept a check at this point) for you to give to your mother. if you're not even talking to her at this point, i'd consider it done. it sucks to lose a friend, but que sera sera.
posted by koroshiya at 4:50 PM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

You, your mother, and your friend are in a negotiation here. You might be 100% in the right on everything here, but that doesn't really matter in the end.

One principle of negotiating is to think about your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). If you are unable to persuade your friend to pay more than $900, what else might happen? What would be the best alternative storyline?
  • Your mother could sue your friend, paying legal fees, leaving her with [AWARDED MONEY MINUS LEGAL FEES] and further damaging this friendship and your extended social circle. It's likely that the judge would award much less than $1800, given that you also incurred expenses. You are on the hook for the room you rented no matter where you decided to sleep in the end, so we're not talking about substantially more than $900 in that case. And it will be a pain in the ass.
  • Your mother could accept the current offer of $900, smooth some ruffled feathers, and put this all behind you. I suspect that this might actually be your BATNA.
A negotiating principle to remember in this case is that you shouldn't pursue a result that is below your BATNA. Which is to say, don't pursue a course that will get you less than $900 and cost you more social capital.

It is entirely possible that if you push your friend and start fighting about room costs etc., she'll bolt and you won't even get the $900. It's tempting to think that you should dig your heels in, but that might not be in your financial or social best interests in the end.

If you actually have enough goodwill left between you and your friend to negotiate positively and come to an understanding, then go for it. If not, you're risking a guaranteed $900.
posted by heatherann at 5:59 PM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, but a contract requires a few things: offer, acceptance, consideration, capacity, legality, and manifestation of assent.

Offer: to purchase the lowest price ticket for her

Acceptance: she says to do this.

Consideration: you provide a ticket in expectation of payment

Capacity: presumably she is not a minor, not crazy, and not drunk or high.

Legality: it's legal to buy somebody else a ticket.

Manifestation of assent: it doesn't appear there was a true meeting of the minds, seeing as she believes she should pay only the rate of a discount flight, and you want her to pay for a premium fare.


Honestly, I don't think you have a case. If you offered to get her the lowest price and you didn't even come close, then you failed to perform. This put her in an awkward position of both social and financial pressures.

Everyone screwed up. Be glad she's giving you the $900 and consider it an expensive mistake.

edit: and Heatherann nailed it. This is almost certainly your BATNA. I really doubt a judge would award anything more than whatever the lowest price ticket for the day was, and there was probably a seat somewhere that went for less than $900.
posted by grudgebgon at 4:55 AM on November 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

How do you know that there were two months in which she could have canceled? Tickets are generally non-refundable, and if you buy refundable tickets, yeah, you pay a very substantial premium -- which is a far cry from the lowest available fare.

Here's the thing to consider about suing. If your mom sells the debt to a debt collector, she will get far less than the additional $900, or $300, or whatever you're talking about. Your mom will get, like, a tenth of the value of the debt. Even if she finds an attorney willing to take this case on a contingency basis, she'll give up maybe 40% of the recovery to the attorney, and the goal would likely be a settlement (for less than $1,800, natch).

If I were you, I would take the $900, call it a day, and wash my hands of the ex-friend and the situation.

(This is not legal advice. I am not your attorney.)
posted by J. Wilson at 7:01 AM on November 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

« Older Area man seeks more music. Much more.   |   A Conservative Classic Lost to Time Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.