The reservation that wasn’t

Question: I bought six airline tickets on AirTran Airways through When I got my credit card statement about a month later, I found charges for the Expedia booking fees and the flight protection insurance, but not for the tickets.

It turns out the tickets hadn’t been booked. I spent almost four hours on the phone with the online agency trying to find out why there were no tickets. I had to stay on hold because there are no outbound lines at the call center.

AirTran claims my credit card was declined and that an AirTran representative tried to call me. I never received a call or a message, and there is no record of an AirTran call on my caller ID log. I contacted my bank to see if there were any declines on my credit card. There were none.

The airline offered to rebook my tickets at a cost of more than $500 per ticket. That’s more than $200 more than I originally paid — or should have paid.

Expedia won’t help me either. Is there anything you can do?

— Beth Zukowski, Glenwood Springs, Colo.

Answer: Expedia should have booked your tickets, of course. And when it didn’t, the online agency should have immediately fixed the problem — not kept you on hold for hours on end.

One reason you buy tickets through a Web site like Expedia instead of directly through an airline is that the online agency will be there to help you when something goes wrong. The company’s highly publicized “Expedia Promise” guarantees, among other things, that you can “count on us to provide support throughout your trip” adding that, “Whether you have questions about your itinerary, have a change in travel plans, or need help resolving a problem with the trip you booked, we’re here to help 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our job is to satisfy you!”

OK, then.

The implication is that Expedia is as good as — if not better than — the travel agent around the corner. But what kind of travel agent charges you a booking fee and purchases insurance for you, but neglects to buy a ticket? What kind of agent puts you on hold for four hours because there are no outbound phone lines?

When Expedia didn’t book your tickets, it should have notified you immediately, offering you the option of using a different credit card or canceling the entire transaction. I find it odd, and a little suspicious, that the booking fee and insurance charges showed up on your card but the tickets didn’t. To me, that suggests something might have gone wrong either at Expedia or at AirTran, not with your card.

Your case brings up a question that’s often raised by readers of this column: What’s the value of a reservation? Is it worth the paper it’s printed on?

For you, the answers were: not much — and no.

Based on Expedia’s “promise,” I think you should have reasonably expected the online agency to fix your booking problem. Your mistake was to stay on the phone with the agency for hours at a time and then to allow it to pass you off to AirTran. Instead, you should have politely but firmly asked for a supervisor when it became apparent that the phone agent you were dealing with didn’t have a clue about how to solve your problem.

Better yet, instead of letting Expedia string you along on the phone, you might have considered sending a short, polite e-mail to the online agency explaining your situation and telling it what you think it needed to do in order to resolve your complaint. (I list the e-mail addresses of key Expedia executives on my Web site.)

I contacted Expedia on your behalf, and it agreed to honor the original ticket price.