Korean Air fare switcheroo irks fliers

— -- Consumers who bought airline tickets at discount prices in September are up in arms over Korean Air's decision more than two months later to cancel their reservations unless they pay more.

Ticket holders say the airline's decision has ruined or put a damper on honeymoons and vacations, including some scheduled for the holidays.

"It leaves a bad taste in my mouth," says Raj Basi, a Pittsburgh lawyer who was looking forward to visiting a friend in Palau in March.

More than 300 people bought low-priced Korean Air tickets from online travel agents on Labor Day weekend for flights from various cities to the South Pacific island nation of Palau. In November, they learned that Korean Air had mistakenly offered them cheap fares reserved for travel agents.

Korean Air informed the Department of Transportation Sept. 22 about its mistake, and they negotiated compensation for the ticket holders.

Ticket holders were offered a full refund or an opportunity to buy a more expensive ticket at a price equal to the lowest fare on the route or a similar route; reimbursement for expenses such as cancellation fees for a hotel or tour package; and a $200 voucher for a future Korean Air flight.

Ticket holders — who booked flights departing in mid-November through March 2012 — say the compensation isn't sufficient, and they're angry at Korean Air, the Department of Transportation, Expedia and other online agencies that sold them the tickets.

Replacement tickets cost up to four times more than they originally paid, they say. But they're more angered that it took Korean Air more than two months to notify them — after travel plans were set in stone and some ticket holders were about to depart on their trips.

Korean Air felt it was "doing the right thing" by working with government officials, and its intention "was always to be fair," says airline spokeswoman Penny Pfaelzer.

Such a dispute might not occur after Jan. 24 when a Department of Transportation rule prohibiting post-purchase price increases takes effect.

"If a situation similar to this takes place after that date, and consumers aren't told about and do not consent to the increase in advance, the carrier would have to honor the original fare," says department spokesman Bill Mosley.

Basi bought two tickets Sept. 5 on Expedia for $1,120.60; now, he says, Korean Air is asking $4,120.20 for the tickets.

Frank Shamenek, a Brooklyn Law School graduate, says Korean Air's decision "borders on extortion," and he and his fiancée, Melissa Resnick, are undecided about whether to pay more for their flights, scheduled to depart Dec. 14 and return Jan. 12. They each paid $785 to Expedia for a round-trip ticket and, he says, would have to pay Korean Air a total of $476.22 more.

The Palau trip was planned as a honeymoon for Daniel Rabolt of Manorville, N.Y., and his fiancée, Laila Palameta, two air traffic controllers who needed approval for time off months in advance. They paid $677.10 each to Expedia; Korean Air is now requesting $1,223.11 each, Rabolt says.

The couple are looking at other honeymoon options, but "it's increasingly difficult with just over a month left before the wedding," Rabolt says. "We haven't decided whether or not to pay the extortion fee yet."

Expedia's Sarah Keeling says the company supports customers when things go wrong and works with its partners "to make things right" by completing travel arrangements or obtaining an appropriate refund.

Pfaelzer says the offers of compensation "might not be acceptable to everyone," but "it is Korean Air's hope that they will be acceptable to most."