Travel travails and credit card warning

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A reader and her husband were traveling on Alaska Airlines. While transferring planes in Seattle, they discovered their next flight was canceled, forcing them (and everyone else on the plane) to seek an alternate flight.

Her husband stood in the long customer service line while his wife called an Alaska Airlines customer service number through an app to see if it would be a faster way to solve their dilemma. Her call was connected before her husband reached the head of the line. This is their story.

The wife believed she was speaking with an Alaska Airlines employee. He did not inform her otherwise. He told her that all subsequent flights to her destination that day were canceled, so she would need to book a new flight on another airline (which turned out to be a subsidiary of the airline they were flying) to get her there that same day. And so, she did.

Meanwhile, the husband reached the front of the line and was told by an actual Alaska Airlines rep that all flights were not canceled. He rescheduled them on the next flight. The airline rep checked their account and confirmed that the airline made no additional charges to their account.

Fast forward three weeks. A charge for over $500 appeared on their credit card statement for the flight the wife booked. Our reader did some investigating and it turns out she wasnít speaking with an Alaska Airlines employee like she thought, but rather, an independent travel agent. Howíd that happen? She was told by the airline that when the airline is inundated with phone calls, they allow calls to be rolled over to third-party online providers.

However, when I called the airline directly, the rep said they donít allow calls to roll over. However, she said they are aware that some customers have called the 800 number listed on their website and in some instances a third party company has hijacked their number. Either way, the customer doesnít appear to have been speaking with an Alaska Airlines agent on the phone.

In this case, there was no need to pay for a new ticket to get the existing flight rescheduled. The couple disputed the charge but it was upheld as valid because the wife gave the travel agent her credit card number, thereby authorizing the charge. She is now working with Alaska Airlines to get relief from the original ticket purchase since it was a calamity of errors that caused this over-ticketing situation.

Moral to the story: Always make sure you know who youíre talking to before you provide your credit card information. From what our reader found out, it appears there is no requirement for the travel agent to identify himself as an independent agent. Nobody seems accountable for the outright lie the traveler was told about all flights being canceled the rest of the day, necessitating an unnecessary double booking of the flight.

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UNLIKE YOU, DEBT DOESNíT DIE: When you die, does your credit card debt instantly vanish upon your death? Credit issuers donít just walk away. They will go after the funds of the deceased personís estate or any joint cardholders.

If you open a joint account with a spouse or business partner, all cardholders are liable for the debt no matter which person actually made the charge.

You should also know that in some cases, while an authorized user might not be liable for the debt, their credit rating can be affected by late payments. Why should this matter? Because if youíre caring for an elderly parent or someone else in poor health and are an authorized signer on their account, and for some reason they arenít able to pay or they start making late payments, this could impact your credit score. This is because the credit card company will supply the credit bureaus with this information.

If you fall into this category, you might consider being removed from the account just to be on the safe side. You donít want your credit score impacted by events you might not control.

Another area of concern is divorce. Make sure that once the assets and debts are split, any joint credit cards are updated to reflect the new ownership or closed to make sure other authorized users arenít added to the account without your knowledge. If this happens and you fail to get your name off a credit card or your ex-spouse passes away or stops making payments, you might find yourself liable for debts that arenít yours.

And remember that when someone passes away, creditors get paid before beneficiaries. The bottom line is, if there is any way to collect, the credit card company will chase down all avenues of collection, so be prepared.

If you have any questions about how this topic affects you, an estate attorney is a good place to start.

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REMEMBER: Iím on your side.

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If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please send me an email at terridickersonadvocate@gmail.com or call me at (208) 274-4458. As The CDA Press Consumer Gal, Iím here to help. Please include your name and a phone number or email. Iím available to speak about consumerism to schools, and local and civic groups. Iím a copywriter and consumer advocate living in Coeur díAlene.

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