Q: I bought two first-class tickets from San Jose, Calif., to Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines through Trip­Advisor. My husband is 87, and when he could not make the flight, Hawaiian Airlines said it would refund his ticket, minus $100. But the money would be refunded through Trip­Advisor, because that’s how I purchased the tickets. It’s been five months, and I have not received my money back.

I have a waiver code from Hawaiian Airlines and an e-mail from Hawaiian saying it refunded the money. I don’t understand why TripAdvisor can’t refund the money. Can you help?

 

A: I’m sorry to hear your husband couldn’t make the trip. I can imagine how disappointed you both must be.

Most first-class airfares have flexible terms, which is to say the tickets can be changed or refunded. It’s unclear if you had one of those fares. Still, it was nice of Hawaiian Airlines to offer a full refund of his ticket, minus a processing fee.

The question is: Who has the money? Is it Hawaiian Airlines or TripAdvisor?

TripAdvisor is your travel agency. Hawaiian is correct; it would refund the money to TripAdvisor, and then TripAdvisor would send the money to you. This creates a layer of bureaucracy and can slow down refunds.

You could have avoided this by buying travel insurance. A good travel insurance policy would have covered his cancellation if he made it for a valid medical reason.

You handled this one by the book. You started a paper trail with Hawaiian Airlines and TripAdvisor, and you were polite and persistent. Nice work!

I studied the correspondence. At one point, a TripAdvisor representative told you it would take one to two months for a refund, which is pretty normal. But then things went off the rails. You received an e-mail from the airline that apologized for the delay and said your refund request was “still under process” and that the delay was caused by the airline. You got bounced around between the two companies a few times. That’s no fun.

I list the executive contacts for Hawaiian Airlines and TripAdvisor on my website, elliott.org. A brief, cordial e-mail to one or both of them might have prompted the companies to process your refund.

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly a company can take your money but how slowly it returns it. In fact, your airline had seven business days to process your refund if you paid by credit card and 20 business days if you paid by cash or check, according to the Transportation Department. Hawaiian Airlines took a little too long.

I checked with the airline. Hawaiian Airlines checked its records and refunded your money. I hope your husband starts to feel better and that you can travel to Hawaii soon.

 

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org, or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org.