Question:

I recently booked a round-trip airline ticket from Key West, Fla., to Washington through my Visa rewards program. The reservation was handled by Carlson Leisure Travel Services, which said my tickets would be mailed to me.

The tickets never arrived.

I went to the airport without the tickets, but with a confirmation number, hoping to get on the flight. But my airline wouldn't honor the reservation, and I had to pay for an expensive walk-up fare.

I filed a request with Carlson to be reimbursed for $1,137 - the cost of the new ticket. Carlson said it is waiting to hear from the airline regarding a lost-ticket request. I think their debt is to me and that their request with the airline is irrelevant. It's been three months, and I haven't heard anything.

I just want my money back. Can you help me?

   - D.Q., Key West

Answer: You should have received your tickets by registered mail. No, scratch that, you should have been offered an electronic ticket. Instead, you were sent a type of ticket that is close to obsolete - and somehow, it got lost.

When you were forced to buy a new ticket, and you brought this to Carlson's attention, the agency should have reimbursed you promptly for your extra expenses instead of asking you to wait for its lost-ticket request to be researched.

But all this could have been avoided if you had taken an extra step or two. First, when the tickets failed to show up, you should have contacted Carlson right away. Waiting until your flight left in the hopes that the airline would let you on the plane was a mistake. At the very least, you could have called your carrier to find out if your reservation would be honored.

If you had contacted Carlson sooner, it might have been able to track the tickets and, if it couldn't find them, book a new and less expensive ticket than the pricey walk-up fare that you ended up buying directly from the airline.

Bottom line: If you have any doubts about your ticket, phone your carrier well in advance of your departure. Assume nothing.

I contacted Carlson on your behalf to find out what happened. The company said it had to issue paper tickets because one of the carriers on your itinerary, Gulfstream International Airlines, doesn't accept electronic tickets.

Carlson sent your documents by overnight service - not by mail, as you had requested - and although the overnight delivery company said it tried to deliver the parcel to you on four separate occasions, it didn't have the documentation needed to substantiate its claim.

Carlson refunded the $1,137 and placed 2,500 goodwill miles into your account.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. E-mail him at celliott@ngs.org, or troubleshoot your trip through his Web site, www.csr.elliott.org.