Travel Troubleshooter: Flight credits turn out to be worthless
- Article by: CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT
- February 28, 2014 - 11:40 AM
Q: I’m writing about a recent issue I had with AirTran Airways and Southwest Airlines and am wondering if you can help. Last April, I booked a flight through Expedia from Seattle, where I live, to Baltimore, to see my parents. I had to cancel the flight, scheduled for June of last year, and Expedia sent me an e-mail saying I had $399 in flight credits through AirTran, to use within one year.
Just recently, I tried to book the same flight — Seattle to Baltimore — and called Expedia to use my flight credits. Expedia got AirTran to release the tickets back to them, but then Expedia staff told me they found out that AirTran no longer flies from Seattle to Baltimore, or from Seattle to anywhere. I asked what I was supposed to do about my flight credits. They had no answer. Expedia staff got AirTran on the other line, and AirTran said “no refunds.”
I think they should refund me the $399 for my flight credit. Can you help?
A: Normally, when an airline cancels a flight, you would be entitled to a full refund. But this isn’t a normal situation.
As you probably know, AirTran and Southwest have merged. AirTran is operating as a unit of Southwest, and Southwest most certainly does fly to Baltimore. But at the time this happened, AirTran was operating as a unit of Southwest and some of their internal systems hadn’t been fully integrated from the merger. That meant your vouchers were only good on AirTran.
The agent you spoke with might have tried to figure out a way around the internal corporate barriers instead of simply telling you “no refunds.” When you explained your dilemma to the AirTran agent, he or she should have been able to come up with a solution. After all, AirTran canceled its flights. The fact that you’d postponed your initial trip should have made no difference.
But as a practical matter, it did. When you delay a flight, an airline will issue a ticket credit good for a full year from the date of your first booking. So now your money is converted to AirTran credits that expire, and that you can’t use.
I note that most of your communication took place by phone. Next time, try sending an e-mail with your refund request, if for no other reason than to set up a paper trail.
I contacted Southwest on your behalf. It cut you a check for $399, the full value of your AirTran ticket to Baltimore.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at email@example.com.
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