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Here's what you can do when airlines' policies keep your cash, give vouchers

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Posted at 11:29 AM, Jun 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-24 19:36:09-04

CLEVELAND — More and more people are traveling now than in the past few months, but some are left wondering why they can’t get their money back. That includes airline tickets affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s what you can do to help rebound from your past purchases.

“My husband and I were going to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary,” said Dyan LeBlanc from Stow. She wanted to go up in a plane heading to Florida, but when people came down with Coronavirus, she asked for a cash refund from her booking agent CheapOAir.com and Spirit Airlines. “We can’t give you your money back plus, they charged us $35 per ticket for cancellations,” said LeBlanc. “So, that was an additional $70.”

The federal rules are if the airline cancels a flight, it has to give you a cash refund option. “Or if they have substantially delayed it,” said President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Serving Greater Cleveland Sue McConnell. “Now, there’s really no definition for substantial delay. So, you’ll need to check your airline’s policy.”

We contacted every airline that flies in and out of Cleveland and Akron/Canton Airports. If you cancel your trip, policies ranged from Delta saying it “…continue(s) to take steps to improve (its) refund policies and speed up” refunds; to Southwest offering customers who don’t want to fly a two-year time frame to fly again; to a flat out no response from Spirit Airlines to our questions.

We did find customers talking about their refund problems with Spirit on the Better Business Bureau’s website. “We have seen consumers filing complaints after being very frustrated that they can’t get their money back,” McConnell told us.

The U.S. Department of Transportation showed that in a typical month it receives about 1,500 air travel service complaints, but in March and April of this year, there were more than 25,000 with a majority surrounding refunds.

“It would be a different story if we canceled just because. We canceled because of the coronavirus,” LeBlanc said.

So, what can you do? Consumer Reports suggests you call the airline and emphasize that the “government and experts (had) recommended that you not fly.” It said you should “dispute the charges with your credit card company.” The FTC even has a form letter to help you with that.

And McConnell said if you’re having a conversation with the airline, make sure it sends you a confirmation email about what it’s promising. Plus, if you do communications online you can secure proof. “If you’re doing this through a live chat, you can print that live chat, copy and paste that conversation into a document,” suggested McConnell.

Even McConnell has seen the various policies in her own personal travel recently. “One flight got canceled and I was given a refund on that,” said McConnell. “The other flight was not canceled so I ended up with a voucher that I can use for up to two years.”

LeBlanc’s case is still up in the air now, but she hopes her money comes back down into her hands soon. “It’s very frustrating when you have to beg to get your money back for something that wasn’t your fault,” said LeBlanc.

Since our interview with LeBlanc, we contacted CheapOAir.com and the company told us it has to follow Spirit Airlines policies.

CheapOAir.com sent this statement:

“The passenger booked two round trip tickets on Spirit Airlines to travel from Akron/Canton to Ft. Meyers, Florida. The booking was made on March 4th, and the trip was due to commence on March 28th.

On March 27th we received an electronic notification from Spirit Airlines that the passenger had cancelled the flight. Our agent followed up by contacting Spirit Airlines to confirm the cancellation and request a refund or credit on the passenger’s behalf. Spirit Airlines confirmed that the purchase was non-refundable, and that a credit for the flight would be given to the passenger. Our agent then sent a credit confirmation email to the client.

On April 27th the customer filled out our online cancellation form.

We did not receive any phone call notification from the client regarding the cancellation of this flight. However, It is possible the passenger tried to contact us. From early March, well into May, our inbound call center capabilities were seriously impacted by the massive increase in daily call volumes we experienced as a result of coronavirus fears and travelers cancelling flights. Below is an overall note on that situation which you might find useful, or at least informative.

To clarify, we are an online travel agency providing travelers a portal through which they can purchase airline tickets. The cost of the ticket is passed through our company to the airline itself. When cancellations occur, we must abide by the airline’s policy in place at the time of the cancellation transaction regarding the involved flight or flights. In this case, the airline offered a credit for future travel, which we communicated to the passenger.

I am still waiting for an update on the rental car. I do apologize for how long this is taking, but we must wait to hear back from the car rental company. This should happen in the next day or two.

As mentioned, below are some facts regarding our call center status in March. I do not know if this information is applicable to this consumer’s inquiry, as I see no mention of “phone” in the information originally provided. It is likely they did try to call however, so I share the following;

Call Center Overview

The global pandemic significantly affected our ability to receive phone calls. In a matter of days our incoming call volumes went from an average of 30,000 per day to over 250,000. Our systems were taxed and hold times and unintentional dropping of calls became a big problem. Within days we created an online coronavirus information page with instructions for customers that were having trouble reaching us via phone.

Adding to the situation, CheapOair is actually a global operation, with call centers in New York, Las Vegas and our two India offices. This is not an outsource situation. All of our agents are Fareportal employees. Our New York office, which includes a call center, had to vacate our workspace March 13th. Las Vegas followed and shortly thereafter, when the Indian government began enforcing lock downs to combat the virus, thousands of our agents there were unable to get into the office to field phone calls. This escalated the difficulty our customers were having attempting to cancel or reschedule their reservations via phone. We moved as quickly as possible to create an enhanced online coronavirus related cancellation form, and began reaching out to customers via direct emails and our social media portals to get the word out. To address urgency, we started by prioritizing those customers with flights booked within the next two weeks, and continued from there.

I realize I still owe you information, but can assure you this customer’s situation has been escalated and we should have final resolution regarding the overall case within days. We take our customer relationships very seriously, as evidenced by the numerous customer service awards we have won over the years. The surge in customer need caused by the virtual shutdown of travel in March was a challenge for everyone in the travel industry, including CheapOair, but we remain committed to providing our customers the best quality of support.”

Here are the airlines’ responses to our questions about cash refunds:

“Delta continues to provide full refunds to eligible passengers requesting them when we have cancelled a flight or made a significant schedule change. Since the beginning of March, Delta processed more than 3 million refunds, totaling $1.6 billion. We continue to take steps to improve our refund policies and speed up our refund-issuance procedures. Taking care of our customers is at the center of everything we do, and we sincerely appreciate their patience as we navigate this unprecedented time together.”

Crystal I. Drake

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“Sun Country Airlines has one of the most flexible change policies in the industry. Our standard policy (not a COVID-related exception) allows changes and cancellation free of charge (other than fare difference) up to 60 days prior to departure. Additionally, for those with scheduled travel through May 30, all change and cancel fees were waived, regardless of days prior to departure that the change was made. However, all Sun Country Airlines tickets are nonrefundable, as stated in the terms and conditions agreed to at purchase. Customers who choose to cancel their flight reservation will retain the value of the ticket to be used toward future Sun Country Airlines purchases. In compliance with DOT regulations, any customer who’s flight has been canceled by Sun Country and has not been rebooked on a comparable flight is entitled to, and will receive if requested, a refund back to the original form of payment.

Let me know if you have additional questions. “

Best,

Jessica WheelerSenior Director MarketingSun Country Airlines——————

“JetBlue does offer refundable fares, but when a customer cancels a non-refundable ticket, we have relaxed our standard policies and are offering a full credit for future travel. Most new travel bank credits are now good for 2 years to allow people time to travel. We do offer the option of a full refund for customers when JetBlue cancels a flight or in certain cases when there is a change in the flight’s scheduled departure, consistent with Department of Transportation guidelines.”

Derek Dombrowski

Manager, Corporate Communications

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“Due to the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, customers with reservations may change their travel plans without incurring change or cancel fees. We work with each individual on best options for them, including changing to another flight, providing a full-credit voucher, or a refund. Note that customers would be credited for any ancillary purchases (ie seat selection, priority boarding) included in their reservation in either scenario.

When customers book a flight on Allegiant, they can elect to be notified if their flight exceeds 65 percent capacity. We space passengers out on our aircraft but for fuller flights, that’s not always possible. So if a customer isn’t comfortable traveling on that flight, they can either receive a credit voucher or select another flight. Customers are responsible for any fare differences, but no change fees are assessed. We also provide complimentary health and safety kits to all of our passengers. The kits include a disposable face mask, non-latex gloves and sanitizing wipes.

Hope this helps.”

Best,

Sonya Padgett

Allegiant Media Relations

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“Southwest Airlines offers some of the most Customer-friendly policies in our industry, and in light of the current circumstances, we previously made even more changes to our already flexible policies. If a flight is cancelled by Southwest, Customers may select a new flight between the same origin and destination on a new date without paying any difference in fare, may receive travel funds for future use (currently extended to September 7, 2022), or may request a refund to the original form of payment.

Southwest is unique in the airline industry because we do not charge fees to change or cancel flights. If a Customer decides not to travel, as long as they cancel their flight at least 10 minutes before its scheduled departure, the funds used to pay for a nonrefundable ticket (Wanna Get Away® fares) are normally valid for one year from the date of purchase. However, in recognition of the current travel environment, we are extending the expiration date of some travel funds:

  • Customers’ funds that have expired or will expire between March 1, 2020 and September 7, 2020, will now expire September 7, 2022.
  • Any travel funds created because a Customer cancels a flight between March 1 – September 7, 2020, will expire September 7, 2022.

We designed our industry-leading policies to provide flexibility and support to our Customers during these unprecedented times. You can learn more about other actions we’re taking by visiting www.southwest.com/Coronavirus [southwest.com] or by reviewing The Southwest Promise [southwest.com].

We hope this information assists you!”

Best regards –

Brian Parrish

The Southwest Communications Team

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“Thanks for reaching out. We are continually looking at ways to better support our customers, and as part of that effort, we’ve updated our guidelines for handling refunds when our flight schedule changes. We have always provided refunds for refundable tickets, and these updated guidelines will offer additional flexibility to our customers requesting refunds for non-refundable tickets when flight changes occur. If our customers would like to check on their refund eligibility, they can go to united.com/refunds [united.com] or call us directly.”

Thanks,

Leigh Schramm

Media Relations

United Airlines

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“As we work to take care of our team members and continue critical air service amid a drastic downturn in demand, we’re also working around the clock to take care of our customers. We’ve implemented a comprehensive travel waiver program to make sure that customers who want to change their travel plans have options and time to do so, and as always, we continue to offer refunds for flights we cancel for any reason.

Summary of our current travel waiver (detailed here):

· Previous bookings: We are waiving change fees for all customers who have travel booked through Sept. 30, 2020. This enables customers to rebook immediately – or in the future – and retain the full amount of the ticket they paid without incurring any change fees. Customers need to complete travel by Dec. 31, 2021, and have the ability to change their origin and destination as well.

· New bookings: We are also waiving change fees for tickets bought March 1 through June 30, 2020, for future travel. This is available for any of American's non-refundable published fares. This enables customers to rebook without any change fees.

· If American cancels a flight for any reason: As has always been our policy, if American cancels a flight for any reason, a customer can receive a full refund back to their original form of payment.”

Sincerely,

American Airlines
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PREVIOUS RELEASE FROM AIR CANADA

“Air Canada announced that it will suspend scheduled service to the U.S. after April 26 as a result of the agreement between the governments of Canada and the United States to extend border restrictions by an additional 30 days, effective today. Air Canada plans to resume service to the U.S. May 22, subject to any further government restrictions beyond that date.

The airline is waiving change fees for affected customers with bookings during this period to enable them to reschedule their travel with no additional fee. Customers can find more information about Air Canada's rebooking policies and revised schedule at www.aircanada.com

Since March 16, Air Canada has reduced its schedule by more than 90 per cent as a result of COVID-19. Following the initial announcement of U.S.-Canada travel restrictions on March 21, Air Canada maintained limited service to 11 U.S. destinations from its three Canadian hubs, primarily to facilitate the repatriation of Canadians. The last scheduled commercial flight from the U.S. to Canada will be on April 26.

More information about Air Canada's COVID-19 response is available at https://www.aircanada.com/ca/en/aco/home/book/travel-news-and-updates/2020/covid-19.html

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