Thomas Travia bought a ticket from Philadelphia to Omaha on Southwest Airlines but couldn’t use all of it. Nothing unusual about that — plans change all the time, and the airline offers some of the most flexible ticket change policies in the industry.

What sets this case apart is the type of ticket Travia got. Since he bought it at the airport, it was paper. Then he lost the ticket halfway through his trip and later asked Southwest for a refund. The airline told him he needed to wait, and now it’s telling him he waited too long. Maybe that’s because he traveled in 2008.

This is a strange one, my friends.

Travia had purchased the roundtrip ticket at the airport in Philadelphia, and he’d flown to Omaha without incident.

On the return flight, I left the ticket in my hotel room. I was told, because it was a paper ticket they could not reissue it or give me credit as it could be found and used by someone else (even though you can’t change the name!)

I had to wait one year until it expired and then get a refund. I had to buy another ticket to get home.

Since Travia is a patient guy, he decided to wait a year. But in the meantime, he lost the receipt for the new ticket.

Eventually he found all the paperwork, but in the meantime, years had passed. He filed the application anyway.

“They basically told me too bad, too much time had elapsed and they wouldn’t give me any credit. I don’t want a refund but only a flight coupon of equal value – $319.”

Travia knows he should have sent the refund request to Southwest Airlines sooner.

I am a busy executive and this sort of thing gets lost in the daily shuffle. I understand the airline wanting to close out extended liabilities etc. But the fact remains that they have my $319 and they could have easily corrected the problem in 2008 since you can’t use a ticket without your name on it.

I thought Travia might have a chance of retrieving his money for several reasons. First, Southwest issued a paper ticket, which even in 2008 was pretty unusual. Second, it imposed a one-year cooling off period, which meant he had to wait until 2009. And finally, he wasn’t asking for real money — only a credit.

So I asked Southwest Airlines. A representative got back to me with the following answer:

I was able to review this customer’s situation further. Due to the age of the unused ticket, we wouldn’t be able to reissue or refund the unused ticket. After 6 months from the expiration the funds are cleared out of our systems. The Customer needed to call within 6 months from the expiration date (7/15/09).

Interesting. So even though a representative told Travia he needed to wait a year, he would have had to apply for the refund within six months. That’s good to know.

There’s a lesson in here for all of us. Like any other business, airlines don’t want to keep credit on their books indefinitely. Vouchers and ticket credit do expire, and once they’re gone, you can’t get them back.

Even if you’re dealing with Southwest Airlines.