Dear Tripped Up,
In August 2020, we booked a trip to Iceland for $3,891 via Jetline Vacations, a deal we found through the email offers we signed up to receive through Travelzoo. Soon after, Iceland closed to foreign visitors, so we contacted Jetline to ask for our money back. We didn’t hear from them for weeks, eventually filing a dispute with our credit card issuer. That seemed to jolt them, because then Jetline got back to us: They would give us a two-year credit. We ended up booking a trip to Portugal for April 2022, but were concerned when Jetline didn’t send us confirmation details. We complained, waited weeks for a response and eventually were told we owed $800 dollars because of a fare increase. We refused to pay until we checked the documents, but when we did get them, it turned out the flight we were on had already been canceled. We informed Jetline, tried to book a third trip and encountered similar problems. We want our money back! Can you help? Meghan and Jay, Clifton, Va.
Dear Meghan and Jay,
The entire travel industry was shaken by the pandemic, so it is understandable that Jetline, a London-based travel agency with a strong online presence, would ignore your requests until your credit card issuer intervened and then refuse a refund, instead booking you another package, later raising the price and ignoring you for months at a time. Just kidding! This sounds awful.
I reached out to Jetline, which also goes by the more British name Jetline Holidays. Eventually I spoke to its head of operations, Richard Levy. He has refunded your money and asked me to offer you $200 credit toward another trip. (Update: You have declined in the strongest possible terms.)
“The most important thing is to make sure the client is satisfied, and I’m so sorry,” he said in a phone call soon after he read your account, which I had forwarded to the company. “You know when your blood starts to boil? I’m thinking, ‘Why didn’t someone just nip this in the bud ages ago and keep a happy client?’” He told me that his customer service team had made some mistakes and needed some retraining.
To be fair, he called me back later with some convincing evidence that your story contains inaccuracies. For instance, he emailed me internal records that show Jetline did promptly send you reservation information, including the documentation for your flights and hotels, after you booked the Portugal trip. You later confirmed this.
Your story of a runaround from Jetline’s customer service does ring true, however. My own blood had been boiling for five days as I tried to get answers from them, before finally reaching Mr. Levy. First, the website lists no customer service email, so I called their London number, telling a customer service agent named “Trevor” — a pseudonym, he confirmed — that I was a reporter. He told me he couldn’t take calls from “lawyers” and directed me to send an email to an address he provided over the phone. I did, cc’ing several of the staff members you had interacted with in the documentation you sent me, including a manager named Rose.
Rose responded, writing that Jetline had “diligently made efforts to rebook the customer’s trips” and continuing: “Unfortunately, it appears the customer has expressed reluctance in paying the price difference, despite our policy requiring customers to cover any additional costs incurred. We understand their concerns, and we are committed to finding a mutually beneficial solution.” Her claim that the reservations manager had reached out “multiple times” to you conflicted with your account, so I wrote with several additional questions, cc’ing Steven Roberts, the company’s managing director.
When that and a follow-up email went unanswered, I found another number for Jetline, posted online by a dissatisfied customer who had eventually gotten a refund. That led me to two more customer service agents, a lot of time on hold and eventually a third number that got me to someone who eventually passed me to Mr. Levy.
In that first conversation, Mr. Levy told me he had just been shown my original email. It had taken five days to get to him, and even that required some help — from Travelzoo.
Travelzoo is a middleman, vetting travel deals and then posting them on its website as well as sending them to their members in promotional emails. (Companies pay for their offers to be included.)
I had written to Travelzoo since you mentioned you heard about the package tour there, and Rhea Saran, the company’s global head of brand and content, got back to me quickly. She noted (as you had told me) that you had complained to Travelzoo in February. At the time, she added, Travelzoo had contacted Jetline and were told the matter was being resolved. But this time, she said a Travelzoo colleague got in touch with Mr. Roberts directly, and that’s when the complaint got some traction. We compared notes, and it turns out that Travelzoo’s contact with Jetline was less than an hour before I spoke to Mr. Levy. “Having learned now that a resolution had still not been reached,” Ms. Saran wrote, “we’re glad we were able to jump back in to help push it to a positive solution.”
Problem solved. But the question, as it so often is in these columns, is whether your experience was a one-off problem, or is Jetline to be avoided, despite its attractively priced packages to Europe and beyond?
Ms. Saran said Travelzoo stands behind Jetline. “We have not received a significant number of complaints from members about them when compared to other travel companies,” she wrote. “On the flip side, we have also received feedback from many members who were satisfied with trips booked through them.”
But as you yourself noted, a lot of complaints about Jetline appear in online reviews, both old and new, as well as in some poor press coverage of them during the pandemic. It’s hard to know how much stock to put in these — despite my snark, things were chaotic in 2020 and 2021 — and Jetline fares much better on Trustpilot, one of the sites Travelzoo monitors to evaluate the packages it promotes.
Which brings us back to a constant theme in this column: the nettlesome issue of middlemen. Unless they offer some clear advantage, advice is to book travel services directly through airlines, hotels and car rental companies. This practice can take a bit of extra time, yes, but saves considerable hassle when something goes wrong or plans change. My inbox is littered with countless versions of “I called Company A, and they said it was Company B’s problem, but when I called Company B, they sent me back to Company A.” (And that’s when the companies are legit. Don’t get me started on what happens when people book a flight through companies with names like UnbelievablyImpossiblyLowFares.com.)
But exceptions exist, and one of them is that online travel agents both large (say, Expedia) and small (Jetline) can put together packages that are not only convenient to book, but often cheaper than what you would pay if you booked everything separately. And local travel advisers can offer even more customization and valuable advice.
There are other times where you need to (or at least benefit from) using a middleman, say, when you use points to book a flight from your credit card’s rewards site. But be aware: Every time you introduce another company into the reservation process, it could make everything more difficult when something goes wrong. And in travel, things go wrong a lot.
If you need advice about a best-laid travel plan that went awry, send an email to [email protected].
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