A runaround instead of a refund from United

By | August 25th, 2016

If the price of your flight falls after you book it, you should be able to get a partial refund. At least that’s what Sarah Boardman thought.

Boardman booked a round-trip flight to Italy through Expedia, departing on Swiss and returning on Lufthansa, for $1,275. Five days later, she received an email from Expedia indicating that the price of her trip was now $812.

So Boardman called Expedia to request that she be charged the lower price and refunded the difference. But Expedia’s agent refused to make the change and referred her to United Airlines, the airline on which she was ticketed. This was Boardman’s first notification that her flights were codeshared on United — “not a choice I would knowingly make,” says Boardman.

Boardman’s case offers insights into the crazy world of airline pricing and customer service. It shows that when airlines don’t believe they have to accommodate requests from passengers, then they won’t, regardless of what their agents claim. And airline codeshare practices, where one airline operates another airline’s flight, add another level of confusion and opacity to their customer service.

Boardman spoke to several United agents, none of whom was willing to change the price of her tickets — and at least one of whom cut off their phone conversation. She finally reached a supervisor who offered to change the price of her flights to $918 and issue her a coupon for $350 for another flight on United within a year. The supervisor promised Boardman that the coupon would be sent to her within five days.

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When no coupon arrived, Boardman followed up with further contacts with United agents who recognized that she was due a coupon from United. One said that he was sending Boardman the coupon immediately; instead, he sent Boardman a copy of the itinerary for the trip. Another told Boardman that the coupon would be emailed within 14 days, but he had no way to expedite it.

Boardman might have utilized our company contacts for United, but she has turned to our advocacy team for help.

Boardman asked that the lower price of $812 be applied to her reservation and the balance refunded to her credit card; if that wasn’t possible, she wanted the coupon without further delay.

Expedia should have notified Boardman in the original process of booking her reservation that her flights were codeshared on United, and it should have helped her change the price of her flights when she requested its assistance. But referring her to United for the coupon is consistent with Expedia’s terms of use:

You agree to abide by the terms and conditions of purchase imposed by any supplier with whom you elect to deal, including, but not limited to, payment of all amounts when due and compliance with the supplier’s rules and restrictions regarding availability and use of fares, products, or services. Airfare is only guaranteed once the purchase has been completed and the tickets have been issued. Airlines and other travel suppliers may change their prices without notice. We reserve the right to cancel your booking if full payment is not received in a timely fashion.

As for United, its contract of carriage is silent on whether or not travelers could get the prices of their flights lowered, but it provides that:

For Tickets eligible for refunds … UA will upon the Passenger’s surrender of the unused portion of a UA issued ticket or voided Ticket, refund to the Passenger as follows:

If no portion of the Ticket has been used, in accordance with these rules, the refund will be an amount equal to the total fare and charges paid….UA will issue refunds for eligible tickets within seven (7) business days for credit card purchases and twenty (20) business days for purchases made with cash, check, or other forms of payment.

Boardman finally received the coupon from United. But she should have received it within the five days promised by the agent to whom she spoke, and certainly within the seven days promised in United’s contract of carriage.

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Our advocates are wondering if the coupon is enough compensation, given the delays and runarounds Boardman endured to get that promise from United. Boardman doesn’t plan to fly United again and thinks that the coupon will eventually go to waste.

And Expedia should have helped her get the coupon. If a travel agency notifies its customers that the prices of their trips have fallen, then it should stand by its customers and not blow off their requests for assistance in getting refunds of the overpaid prices. It should also let its customers know when their flights are being codeshared, so that they can decide for themselves whether or not they want to fly on the airline that is actually operating the flight — and respect their decisions not to fly that airline if they make that choice. Expedia’s lack of notice to Boardman that her flight was codeshared complicated an already difficult situation.

Should we take Sarah Boardman’s case?

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