Q: I bought tickets from Seattle to Santiago, Chile, on Alaska Airlines for my family through GotoGate, an online travel agency. The company contacted me the same day, saying it couldn't book the tickets I requested, so I canceled the reservation.
A GotoGate representative told me to call the airline directly to cancel. I called Alaska Airlines and a representative confirmed that the reservation had been canceled. I sent an e-mail to GotoGate saying that my reservation was canceled, and the company confirmed that it would issue a refund. GotoGate said the refund would take two to eight weeks.
At the fifth week, I sent an e-mail to check the status of the refund. A GotoGate representative told me that there was no refund being processed and that the reservation was still active. I needed to call Alaska Airlines again, a representative said. I called Alaska again to confirm the cancellation.
Alaska sent me an e-mail verifying that a full refund was made to GotoGate. I forwarded the information to GotoGate, but I haven't received a response. Can you help?
A: If the airline says your flight is canceled, it's canceled. Your refund should happen within a week. But I've noted many times before in this column, when an online agency gets involved, it can lead to delays.
It looks like you followed all the right steps to resolve your issue. You contacted Alaska Airlines and GotoGate in writing, asking about the refund. A quick look at your paper trail shows some confusion about who had the money — was it the airline or your online agency? — which may have led to the crossed wires on the cancellation.
Under federal regulations, an airline, travel agent or online travel agency must process your ticket refund within seven business days if you paid by credit card, and 20 business days if you paid by cash or check. However, as regular readers of this feature know, "processed" doesn't mean the same thing as "received." It can take an additional one to two months (two "billing cycles") before you see the money in your account.
And if you think you're frustrated by all of this, imagine how I feel. Even though the law requires a prompt refund, the airlines and travel agencies have figured out a way around it. I have to tell readers that every day.
The fix? Don't give up. Keep steady (but polite) pressure on all parties until they disgorge your money. I supplied you with a contact at GotoGate. Separately, I also got in touch with the agency. It reviewed your claim and found that it was still missing some paperwork from Alaska Airlines. It contacted the airline on your behalf, got the information it needed and processed your refund.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org, or e-mail him at email@example.com.