How absurd can airline junk fees get in 2014? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet

Chris Parypa Photography / Shutterstock.com
Chris Parypa Photography / Shutterstock.com
The intoxicating combination of junk fees and loyalty programs seems too powerful for even the most consumer-friendly airline to resist.

At least that’s what passengers like Peter DeForest are discovering when they try to change an award ticket.

He’d saved up enough frequent flier miles on Virgin America, an airline with a stellar reputation for taking care of its customers, to fly himself and a companion from San Francisco to Las Vegas. But shortly before the trip, his companion fell ill. He asked Virgin if he could cancel the trip and get his miles back.

Sure, a representative told him. If he paid the airline a $100 per reservation “redeposit fee.”

Seriously?
Continue reading…

122 Comments


Should airlines charge a change fee even if they can resell the seat?

Christopher Parypa/Shutterstock
Question: We recently booked a one-way ticket from Los Angeles to San Francisco on Virgin America to get us home after our trip from Tahiti. But about a month later, our travel agent informed us that our return flight from Tahiti to Los Angeles had been canceled.

I called Virgin America and was told that it would cost us $180 to change the flight to the next day, when our new flight was scheduled.

There are more than four months between now and then to resell those two seats. If those four seats were not rebooked in the next four months, I would be OK with getting charged or losing my money.
Continue reading…

One Comment


You said it: Virgin America is “thinking outside the box”

I‘ve written about Virgin America several times in the recent past, and have even had a chance to fly with it.

Despite the occasional glitch, I think it would be fair to call me a fan of the airline.

I’m not alone. Here’s a note from reader Jeff Allen. He works for an engineering firm in Boston, and decided to give Virgin America a try for his weekly commutes to LAX.

“I fly a lot,” he says. “These folks at Virgin seem to have figured some stuff out that is really interesting.”
Continue reading…

16 Comments


Can this trip be saved? Flight attendant spills boiling water on my hand

Tea time didn’t go as planned for Star Rivera.

On a recent Virgin America flight, an attendant accidentally spilled hot water on her hand, she says. Accidents like this happen all the time — in fact, I’m surprised they don’t happen more often, with all the turbulence planes encounter — but she needs to know what to do next.

I’ll get to the specifics of her case in a moment. But first, a few words about mishaps that occur when you travel by air. There’s no easy way to know where to turn when something goes wrong, and it all depends on what phase of your trip you’re in. If you’re at a screening area, and you slip and fall, it could be the TSA’s jurisdiction. At the gate? That’s the airport. On the plane? Start with the airline.

Every airline has a special department for claims. In Virgin America’s case, it’s referred to as “guest care.” Details are in its contract of carriage (PDF).
Continue reading…

68 Comments


Virgin America’s Cush: Passengers “should not have to ask” for customer service

Virgin America begins service to Orlando tomorrow. Remarkably, the three-year-old airline has stayed off my radar, when it comes to customer complaints. I asked David Cush, Virgin America’s chief executive, how he’s done it.

First of all, congratulations on adding service to Orlando. I live here, so I’m pretty excited about having a new airline in town. At the same time, I’m curious about your reasons for coming here. Orlando isn’t exactly a lucrative business travel destination. What’s the appeal?

Orlando has an incredibly strong year-round tourism economy and a great deal of convention traffic. The addition of Orlando also helps us address seasonality in our still growing network. As we grow we do have to balance out our network for seasonal traffic patterns – adding a sunny warm weather destination like Orlando helps us balance our winter schedules.
Continue reading…

7 Comments


Tick tock! Your ticket credit’s gone — and you may be a scammer

OK, let’s see if we can get this straight: If you cancel your nonrefundable airline ticket, how long do you have to rebook?

• A year from the day you booked it.
• A year from the day of your cancellation.
• A year from the day you were supposed to fly.

Give up?

Please meet our latest victim of this confusion, Adriana Gores. She booked a flight for her daughter on Virgin America last January to fly from New York to San Francisco for $718. And then the price fell.

I thought I was being responsible by buying my tickets relatively early for a trip in April. Imagine my disgust when two weeks later they announced a fare sale.

I immediately called up Virgin to complain and after being told there was nothing to be done about it I went ahead and canceled the original reservations and rebooked the tickets at the new fare of $578 for two round trip tickets. Even after the change fees, there was still a $60 credit which they put in my Elevate account (opened for the purpose of this trip) along with a $20 bonus for my troubles.

Virgin America’s terms are clear. It doesn’t offer refunds when prices fall, at least according to its Contract of Carriage (PDF).

A few months later I went to book a flight home for my daughter and went to the Virgin America Web site to use my credits. When I logged into my Elevate account neither of the credits were there. I called to find out what had happened and the women I talked to assured me that they would be posted by the next day. When they still weren’t there I didn’t have it in me to deal with it that day and I went ahead and booked her ticket home on a different airline.

About a month ago, my daughter decided she wanted to come home for a longish weekend for personal reasons. I thought what better time to use the credits than for a quick trip like that. The credits were still not there. I called Virgin Guest care and they unceremoniously informed me that the credits expired after one year and I was stone out of luck.

I had a long and fractious conversation with the man at Guest Care who insisted that the women I had talked to several months before knew what she was doing and would not have neglected to tell me the credits would expire. He also said since the expiration date had passed he couldn’t even “get in the system” to verify my story. He was, essentially, accusing me of trying to scam Virgin out of $60 — insinuating that I had used it already and was trying to reuse it — and assured me that he could “see” the credits had been there even though I insisted they never were.

Virgin America’s contract says you have one year from the time of cancellation. But if Gores didn’t see the credit the first time she tried to use it, her best bet might have been to e-mail the airline instead of calling. E-mail works better, because it creates a permanent record and allows you to avoid unpleasant “he said/she said” arguments with customer representatives.

I contacted Virgin on Gores’ behalf, and it returned the credit.

Airlines have gotten clever about their definition of “year” and how they represent it to customers.

Maybe it’s time to adopt a uniform policy that is clearly disclosed, rather than buried in the fine print.

4 Comments