co2When Tim Milller tried to cash in a travel certificate to buy a Continental Airlines ticket, the system didn’t accept his PIN number. But instead of working with him to fix the problem, the airline charged him for the full amount of the ticket and told him he was out of luck.

Is Miller’s case unresolvable?

Maybe. Maybe not. Yes, he tried to go through normal customer service channels to use his certificate and ran into a brick wall. But there’s a happy ending.

After all, this is Continental.

Here’s Miller’s story:

I had a travel certificate in the amount of $207. I needed to fly from Indianapolis to Providence and strictly chose them so that I could use the certificate (they were neither the cheapest nor the most convenient).

I called to book the ticket and told the representative that I had a travel certificate. The person asked for the promotion code and the PIN. When I gave it to her, she responded with ‘OK, the $207 certificate will be applied and the balance of $61 will be charged to your American Express.’

So far, so good. He had a verbal confirmation that the certificate worked. Right? Not exactly …

To my fault, I didn’t review the confirmation email close enough to verify the charges had been applied correctly (I only looked at the flight dates/times).

A few weeks after the flight, I saw a charge for the full amount ($269) to my Amex. I first called to verify the certificate was still valid (it was). I explained that a travel certificate was to be applied to my flight, and was told to call another number.

I called and spoke to a ‘Customer Care Manager’ who told me that it was my responsibility to verify the receipt. I admitted that I didn’t but told her that the representative had verified the amount on the certificate and told me the amount that was going to be charged to my Amex.

Again, she said that it was my responsibility.

Let me break in here: If someone tells you the transaction goes through, you can be reasonably assured that it has. However, it’s still important to verify it.

I expressed how disappointed I was and that I wanted to speak to her supervisor. She explained that she was a manager and she could not do anything more for me.

So that’s it? Miller’s credit card was charged for the full amount — and he was out of options?

I recommended that he appeal his case to a customer service supervisor. He did.

Here’s what happened next:

I started up the chain with polite appeals.

I gave each person one week to respond, and as soon as I had emailed Mr. Hand, I received a phone call from Ms. Munoz. She said that she had had the IT department looking at my transaction and found that there was ‘significant evidence’ that I had attempted to put in the code and pin of the certificate.

I gave her further information that the code and pin were accepted, but my city/state were coming up as errors ….. and that’s why I called the reservation agent to assist in booking my ticket.

Long story short, I did receive the credit back on my American Express, and had a nice conversation with Ms. Munoz.

Again, many thanks to you for your advice.

Miller did a great job politely appealing his case. And Continental finally came through, like I knew it would. It’s just a matter of knowing who to contact.

Next time, don’t forget to read your confirmation. (You could end up with bigger problems than Miller. Remember Mary’s case from last week?)

Like the Russian proverb, trust but verify.

(Photo: hemoglobina/Flickr Creative Commons)