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German Law/Airline ticket = contract?

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QUESTION: Hello, I purchased an airline ticket in August from  Expedia.de, the German subsidiary of Expedia. Expedia issued and confirmed the ticket the same day of purchase for 2 sets of 2 tickets on the same itinerary on different dates: late November and early March. Tickets showed as confirmed on Expedia and the airlines’ websites with seat assignments for months.

We showed up at the airport to check in for our November flight, and were told that we couldn’t fly. Expedia had cancelled and refunded both our sets of tickets 4 days prior without notifying us. This is after they had been purchased and confirmed for over 3 months. We had to stay another day at our destination and had to purchase last-minute replacement tickets home at a cost much greater than what we had paid originally. Later they told us that tickets had been cancelled because there had been an error in the fare. It has to be illegal to issue confirmed tickets, wait for 3 months and then cancel them at the last minute! How would anyone ever be sure they could fly on their ticket?

I want be reimbursed for our November replacement ticket and unplanned travel costs and for our March tickets to be reinstated. The tickets were neither to nor from the EU so none of those protections apply, and I live in the US though I spend a lot of time in the EU for work.  

What are your recommendations? I'd prefer to file in the US if possible but Munich is the jurisdiction listed in the Expedia.de terms and conditions, though it is a US-based organization. How does one one file for small claims court in Munich and what is the euro limit?
Thanks in advance for your time.

ANSWER: We do not have particular small claims courts in Germany. You can bring any case with a value of less than 5.000 € to the local Amtsgericht without any legal representation.

If you go to court you will have to decide on who to sue. Please note that expedia only deals as a travel agent. The rights and obligations of the travel agent is stipulated in the terms and conditions of expedia. Your contract partner in regard to the flight however would be the airline company.

Any contract is concluded by offer and acceptance. The flights shown in an online portal are not yet understood as offers, which can be accepted by the customer with effect of concluding the contract, but they only serve as a so-called invitatio ad referendum. With your reservation you have thus first made ​​such offer to book a specific flight at a specific price.

This offer then requires the acceptance of the counterparty, i.e. the airline company. The automatic confirmation email is not deemed an acceptance, but only in the final confirmation by the person in charge at the airline company. This applies also if an online portal is ivolved as an intermediary agent.

I do not know the reasons why your booking was cancelled. However, maybe the price as indicated  in the online portal was too low, so your offer might have been finally rejected by the airline.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Would a purchased, ticketed, confirmed itinerary (with ticket numbers and stated as confirmed from all sources) constitute a contract in Germany? And, can you have multiple companies as defendants in Amtsgericht? Thanks.

Answer
Getting a ticket means to me that the airline has accepted your offer. Otherwise you would not have it. However, I would think that after that expedia is out of the game because they have fulfilled their obligation. The fact that the ticket was cancelled later on is not their issue, I would think.

Of course, in Germany you can sue multiple companies in one law suit but nevertheless you establish several legal proceedings. So if you loose one you have to bear the costs. Maybe writing a letter to the airline (something I assume you have not dome by now) and raising your claim against them out of court might be a start. Furthermore, in regard to your legal relationship to the airline there might be a legal venue in the US.

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Henning Haarhaus

Expertise

I can answer questions in English, German and French. Practice in inheritance law, tax, labour and contract law for private clients. Services also rendered in the fields of business & commercial law; e.g. business organizations, contracts, debt collections, leasing law. Representing clients all over Germany. NO CONSULTANCY ON FAMILY AND IMMIGRATION LAW.

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Working since 1999 in the forenamed fields. Henning Haarhaus` experience includes services in the legal department of Roedl & partner, the biggest tax consultancy firm of German origin. Appointed Bar Certified Tax Law Practioner in 2007.

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Bar Association of Berlin, KIWANIS

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German licensed lawyer and bar certified tax specialist

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