Help, my AirTran tickets expired — is my money gone forever?

Talk about adding insult to injury.

Before Donna Adams was scheduled to fly from Orlando to Indianapolis on AirTran back in 2010, she hurt her back and had to cancel her trip. When she discovered her condition was a lot worse than she thought, she had to postpone the new flight she’d booked with her ticket credit.

“An MRI confirmed that I had herniated a disc in my back,” she says. “After several courses of physical therapy, chiropractic care, therapeutic massage, oral steroids and anti-inflammatory steroid injections I elected to have surgery.”

Adams turned to her online travel agency, Travelocity, for help. She sent the company proof of her medical condition, hoping it could secure a full refund of the $466 she’d spent on her airfare.

“They could not secure a refund,” she says. “The best they could do was extend the flight credit through August 22, 2011.”

Adams couldn’t use the ticket credit by last summer either, although it is unclear if that was because of her medical condition.

Her ticket credit expired.

At that point, Adams asked one of my colleagues for help, but to no avail. The credit appeared to be gone for good.

Then Adams asked me to look into her case. I thought she stood a so-so chance of either getting a full refund or at least a ticket credit, based on her medical condition, and that it’s possible her emails may have gotten lost during the merger with Southwest Airlines.

I checked with Southwest, which now owns AirTran. Here’s its answer:

AirTran twice made exceptions to waive fees for the customer to allow her to use the funds, and also (during the ticket’s validity period) tried to offer a refund.

The customer didn’t respond to an email inquiry requesting information, and the ticket has since expired.

I’m afraid that is the final word from AirTran since they had twice done an extension and then offered a full refund that went unanswered.

I checked with Adams, and she says she never got an email offering a full refund. “I would hav snapped it up immediately,” she told me.

I really hate to move this into the “case dismissed” file. Adams had a serious medical condition, and it seems her airline was willing to work with her. (And by the way, I think both parties are telling the truth — I believe AirTran sent the message and Adams didn’t get it.)

The takeaway? When you’re dealing with an online travel agency and airline by email, always whitelist the domain through your email program. In other words, tell Hotmail or Gmail that any message coming from or is not spam. I’m fairly certain that the offer to refund Adams’ fare got caught in a spam filter.

It’s also possible that the refund offer was made through Travelocity, and that the online agency either didn’t pass the message along to Adams or that its email to her was trapped in her spam filter or in Travelocity’s filter.

Adams could have followed up with AirTran by phone when she didn’t hear back from the airline, which might have prevented her ticket from expiring forever. But we’ll never know.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • sdir

    I’m confused, Chris says she didn’t hear back from the airline, yet they agreed to extend her credit through August 2011.  Did she contact them again before her credit expired?  Though I sympathize with her situation, it sounds like she didn’t take further action until after the expiration and then it was too late.  I’m disappointed the airline freely admits a full refund was on the table, yet now is unwilling to offer even a partial refund.  Just the gamble you take when booking nonrefundable airfare I suppose.

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    As I’m writing this, it’s 87% against the OP. It’s obvious “the people” feel the OP needs to have taken some responsibility here. Once she figured out she wasn’t going to be able to use the credit, it was up to her to negotiate. However, it looks like the airlines went over and above by extending her timeframe. Offering her a refund, despite her not getting the email, was stellar. It’s unfortunate she got ill, but that’s what travel insurance is for. If you choose not to purchase it, your options are limited, ie. be sure to use up the credit.

  • backprop

    “Adams couldn’t use the ticket credit by last summer either, although it
    is unclear if that was because of her medical condition.”

    Premature reporting here.  This woman got about five strikes and used them all.

  • absherlock

    Your question is flawed because it implies that AirTran did something to her. 
    AirTran didn’t allow her ticket to expire, SHE allowed her tickets to expire.  

  • Raven_Altosk

    Buy cheap tickets, you get lots of restrictions.

    AirTran tried to work with her, but you can’t extend goodwill forever. Much as I’m not a fan of AirTran, I feel they are entitled to keep her money.

  • sirwired

    The tickets can’t stay on the books until the end of time; they show up in accounting statements as a “liability”, same as a loan.  She got a LOT of chances, and couldn’t or didn’t take advantage of any of them.

    “Non-refundable” doesn’t mean “non-refundable unless I have a really good reason, in which case I deserve my money back nearly a year and a half later.”

  • Kevin Mathews

    Like the rest of the posters so far, it seems that she had over a year to use the credit and didn’t and only contacted the airline AFTER the expiration.
    If she had started neogotiations with the airline for another extension prior to the expiration, then maybe she’d get a little more support, but it obviously wasn’t that important.
    Chalk this one up to Lessons Learned and move on.

  • Nancy Dickinson

    I had to roll my eyes at the AirTran statement: But we sent her an e-mail!  

    If someone could take the time to e-mail her, why didn’t they pick up the phone or write her an actual letter?

    I don’t doubt the airline sent her an e-mail and I don’t doubt the OP didn’t get it.  However, I think the more likely scenario is – in a world where we are inundated with spam and thirty e-mails a day from a site we visited for 10 seconds in 2002 – is the e-mail hit her inbox but was deleted or in her spam folder because, at first blush, it looked like spam.

    I find it a bit dubious they “offered a full refund that went unanswered”.  Really?  The customer ignored your telling her you were going to give her ALL her money back?  And you thought this was okay?  When they “never heard from her” they moved on when they should have done more.  I worked for a large travel company when I was in my early 30’s.  The program I was in charge of had tens of thousands of members.  Not only did I handle each complaint personally, I also had a calendar on my computer to note when to do followup if I hadn’t heard from them by a certain date.

    Both sides were complacent, too complacent, but AirTran knew the reason for the initial missed flight.  Pain medications can do a number on your head and it seems they took advantage of her diminished capacity. (And I know this sounds extreme, some of the verbiage, but it’s very early here and my brain is still booting up from waking up)

    While I don’t think they should, at this late date, return her money, I sure don’t think they did enough to make sure she was communicated with.

  • HeyItsK

    Why didn’t AirTran just issue the refund if they were amenable to that?  To say that they would have given a refund, but that offer has “expired” is disingenuous.  Makes me wonder if that email really exists…

  • Kotch11

    I’m fully in agreement with most of these comments.  We have to take responsibility for ourselves and can’t rely on someone else to do it for us.  AirTran went over and above for her.

  • Steve_in_WI

    The only questionable part of this is AirTran stating that they offered a full refund but never heard back from the customer. While I agree that it’s possible that she ignored the email, there’s no way to prove that they actually sent the email. (Also, I don’t see why AirTran responded to her request for a refund with an email saying “sure, we’ll give you a refund – let us know if you want it” unless they were hoping that this would happen and she wouldn’t get the refund in the end. I mean, she already requested the refund – if you’re going to give it to her, why belabor the process?)

    All that said, I don’t agree that she deserves a refund in the first place, especially since they extended the expiration date of the flight credit (and apparently waived change fees). It’s too bad that she couldn’t fly because of health problems, but that’s the risk you take buying a nonrefundable ticket. I think AirTran offered some wiggle room here even if they never offered to refund the ticket.

  • Michael__K

    They were under no obligation to offer her a full refund.  But if they claim they did, then they need to honor that offer.  If they were able to reach her to let her know about the ticket extension then they should have been able to reach her to let her know about the refund.  And besides why was her “approval” even necessary (unless her credit/debit card was no longer valid)?

  • fordmann

    I don’t really understand how the travel industry gets away with keeping your money and not providing travel.  I get the “non-refundable” policy, but a credit is different.  If you buy a gift card and never use it, most states have laws that they can’t expire or at least after 5 years the money not used is escheated to the state, which you can claim later.  Why aren’t there similar laws for travel? Just asking.

  • MikeInCtown

    As someone who has a bad back going 15+ years now, and knowing my mom, who has had back surgery, it does not take a year to recover. The credit was good and she could have flown anywhere to use the funds. While I would have liked to have seen her get the credit issued, she allowed the credit to expire and needs to take blame.. BTW, could have sold them to someone for cheap or given the credit away and let them pay a change fee for the name and given a nice gift for a vacation.

  • IGoEverywhere

    Rules are rules and they were broken 2 times by the airline. Insurance was available for I would guess $15.00 or less. Emergencies happen to alot of us and we all hate to lose money. Donna has no complaint what so ever. It was her emergency, and it could have easily been taken care of. Leave it alone!

  • IGoEverywhere

    As much as you would think that Donna was the client of AirTran, Travelocity is the client. Donna is Travelocitie’s client. Therefore an automatic refund would go to Travelocity. Did it?

  • y_p_w

    It’s a different kind of credit.  A gift card or gift receipt is from a purchase and not a refund.  Some stores issue large cash refunds in the form of a business check with a 90 to 180 day expiration.  An expiration for a refund credit isn’t unusual. 

    I remember one time I went to a restaurant, put in my order, and due to some SNAFU they were out of what I ordered and didn’t come back to me for 45 minutes to ask me if I wanted something else.

    I wasn’t ranting about anything, but without any prompting the manager said it was on the house and gave a $5 gift certificate with an expiration date.  The certificate wasn’t a standard one that could be purchased, but one that they issued if the manager was addressing a problem.  I never used it, but I really wasn’t all that upset once it was on the house.

    I’ve let airline credits expire before.  I had to cancel for personal reasons and couldn’t figure out how to use the credit I had left.  There was also something like an $80 round-trip change fee to use the credit, which was enough that I wasn’t looking for an excuse to fly somewhere.  I’d love to have that back now that I want to go somewhere, but I knew it was going to expire if I didn’t use it.

  • y_p_w

    The alternative is almost always to spend 3 to 5 times as much on a full-refundable fare.  I believe it’s practically a no brainer for the airlines when customers ask for their money back.

  • y_p_w

    I think the deal was that she worked through Travelocity, which extended the credit to her.  Since she knew about it, perhaps the Travelocity email address was OK with her Spam filter.  However, it sounds like perhaps AirTran separately reached out to offer her a refund, but perhaps she wasn’t expecting it and didn’t recognize the email address or message, or was sent to a junk email repository because she didn’t OK the email address.

  • Cybrsk8r

    As much as I dis-like some of the things airlines do, I’m forced to side with them here.  It sounds like they tried to do the right thing, but either the message got tagged as spam, or she didn’t get it for some other reason.

  • RITom

    Why do we treat unused airline credits different then Gift Certificates or merchandise Credits?  Should they not follow the same rules?

  • flutiefan

    she got 2 extensions, and is now asking for MORE? i’m sorry about her medical condition, i really am (i can sympathize more than most people know). but why is that a reason for an airline — or any business for that matter — to waive the rules over & over?

  • Ann Lamoy

    When it was getting close to the second expiration date of 8/22/2011 and Ms. Adams knew she wasn’t going to be able to use her credit, why didn’t she attempt to contact Travelocity or Air Trans/SW at that time to see if she could get a further extension or a refund. Why wait until after it expired?

    At this point, I have to side with the airline. She had at least a year to take advantage of this credit and if she still couldn’t fly by the 8/22/11 date it was up to her to take the responsibility to contact the airline to take care of it. We all have busy lives with a lot going on but too many people just expect big business to give in when they don’t take responsibility for their own actions. I think Air Tran was very generous in waiving any change fees for the credit and giving her the credit for a year. If she needed more time, it is up to HER to take care of it. if she forgot, then she is out the money. It sucks, a lot. i know I couldn’t afford to forget about $466 but if it was my error then I would have to deal with it.

  • Debbie Lott

    I disagree.  I had 2 ruptured discs (one extruding fluid) and 2 bulging discs.  Thanks to my fantastic (sarcasm) health insurance, I had to go through a minimim of 8 weeks of physical therapy before they would approve an MRI.  Then I had oral steroids and then finallly steroid injections.  Luckily that fixed it and I didn’t need surgery.