Tom Brollini had to cancel a recent American Airlines flight because of health problems. He was left with the impression that he had until mid-October to rebook the flight — a common misunderstanding, as I’ve noted in the past.
In fact, Brollini’s ticket credit had expired. Was he out of luck?
If I had to call it, I’d say “yes.” Compassion is in short supply in the airline industry. American would have told him to get lost.
I would have been wrong.
When United Airlines sent Amrita Deshmukh a $75 certificate after a recent flight, she was delighted by the airline’s goodwill gesture. But when the certificate didn’t work, and United refused to help her, it cast serious doubts on the airline’s good will.
Her story — and its surprise ending — offer an important lesson to airline passengers who are traveling at a time when generosity is thought to be in short supply in the airline industry: Behind every “no” from a customer service representative, there may be a “yes” from a supervisor.
Here’s what happened to Deshmukh:
I recently received from United Airlines Customer Relations a Goodwill Electronic Certificate of amount $75. As per its rules I tried to redeem it on the Web site.
I got the error “This promotion code has been used the maximum number of times.” In fact, I had NOT used this voucher. I didn’t share it with my friends or family members, either. So the error message is definitely some kind of mistake in either their site or database.
I called United Airlines customer service, and they only repeated what I already knew: that the certificate has been used before. They were not able to tell me who used the certificate or when the certificate was used.
So I am very disappointed with United Airlines, and I am starting to believe that the certificate that was issued was just a bogus one in the first place.
United’s customer service department should have tried to figure out how to get Deshmukh another certificate, particularly since this was a “goodwill” certificate that was presumably given to her for a service problem.
But isn’t that how it goes? You reach the first level of customer service and no one can help.
I recommended that Deshmukh take it to a higher level at United. She did.
I used one of the contacts on your site, and the problem was solved. They sent me a $100 certificate.
Lesson? Sometimes it’s necessary to appeal your case to a higher authority. The case of the non-working “goodwill” certificate should have been a no-brainer for the folks on the front lines, but remember — you can always appeal.
Like most Southwest Airlines passengers, Kevin Palmer likes nothing more than a bargain. Which is exactly what he thought he’d found when a con artist offered $1,200 worth of flight coupons at a deep discount on Craigslist.
Think you know what comes next? No you don’t.
Palmer picks up the story.
I met him, booked the flight online, verified the credit card with his ID, then called the airline to confirm that the flight was purchased and non-refundable. Southwest confirmed everything.
Turns out the tickets weren’t for Palmer, but his seven-year-old daughter. He continues.
The next day my mother called me from the airport telling me that Southwest said the ticket was no longer paid for and needed to be purchased with cash.
I spoke to customer service and they said that their system kicked out the purchase in the middle of the night due to “credit card inconsistencies.”
I called the man I bought the credits from and after not answering five times, his phone started going right to voice mail. I then had to tell my mother to head home. I could hear my daughter crying in the background.
I was fuming.
Southwest wasn’t completely unsympathetic to his plight. It offered a $20 discount off of a $385 airline ticket. “A ticket,” he adds, “I could not afford.”
A representative told him Southwest’s system performs a second set of checks and balances after tickets are purchased. A “credit card inconsistency” is not detectable immediately after the booking.
There’s something else you need to know about Palmer. He is, as he describes it, “not the type to take things like this lying down.”
I saw the guy’s ad that ripped me off still on Craigslist, so I set up an e-mail account under a female’s name to buy another ticket. A girlfriend of mine then called and confirmed the purchase of the ticket and arranged a meeting at a health food grocery store for him to pick up the cash.
So, I was at least going to be able to get this con artist in front of me.
I called the police to tell them what had happened and get some assistance in catching this guy in the act.
But the police were less than helpful. After being transferred to several departments, he was promised a call back “within five days.” Palmer said he could deliver a criminal to them red-handed, but he was told that wasn’t proper procedure. When he protested, he was told, “If you think being a cop is so easy, go to the Police Academy.”
So he took matters into his own hands.
I showed up at the health food store with my nine iron.
I think when the perp first saw me, he thought I just happened to run into him. I told him I wanted my money back and he responded by wanting to book me another flight.
At this point, I knew after reading your previous blog on this, that even if my daughter was able to get on a plane, I could get charged later.
I kept asking for my money and he did what con artists do — he tried to act like I was trying to con him.
So I attacked him. I had him in a headlock when we were broken up. He called the police, I called the police, and the store manager called the police.
Although the police initially subdued Palmer, the tables quickly turned on the con man.
Once I told the story, I could see them becoming empathetic to my plight. Then we called the airline from my phone and we all listened on speaker phone about what happened with my purchase.
The police then saw that the guy had committed a crime and arrested him.
Then they asked me a very amusing question: “Why didn’t you call us?”
Palmer wonders how Southwest can continue to allow fraudulent purchases to be made through its reservations system. I’ve given the airline ample opportunity to address this issue in previous blog posts. It appears that the carrier is content to leave things as they are while stepping up the warnings of these questionable vouchers.
Seems to me Southwest ought to do something before someone gets hurt.
Question: I’m having a problem with a hotel voucher that has turned out to be useless, and was hoping you could help me. Last summer, I took my daughter and 4-year-old granddaughter to San Antonio to visit SeaWorld. We stayed at the Motel 6 on Market Square, where I had been a guest more than a dozen times in the past.
Unfortunately, my granddaughter found a makeshift crack pipe that a previous guest had fashioned by breaking the energy-efficient CFR light bulb provided in the room. It was hidden in the light fixture so, understandably, the housekeeping staff overlooked it. Fortunately, my grandchild was not cut or injured by this glass shard.
The office staff and the national customer service people were extremely conciliatory about the incident. The local Motel 6 staff in San Antonio mailed a free room certificate as compensation for our discomfort.
A few months later, we planned a short trip to a town near my home in Dallas to visit relatives. Ordinarily we would have made this a day trip but decided to stay in Tyler, Texas, to use our free room voucher. The staff at the Tyler, Texas Motel 6 refused to honor the certificate because the San Antonio hotel did not correctly fill it out. I had no choice but to pay for the room.
After making calls to Motel 6 corporate and checking with the San Antonio office that issued the voucher, we were sent a letter from a supervisor that basically told us to get lost. I am stunned that a company as big as Motel 6 with its “we’ll-leave-the-light-on” philosophy would treat customers like this. Can you help? — Ellie Pope, Lancaster, Texas
Answer: If Motel 6 wanted to compensate you with a free room night, it should have sent vouchers you could use. It appears the ones you received were not valid, and the property in Tyler was well within its rights to refuse them.
But I’m not sure a hotel should be giving you a free night because of something a previous guest left in the room. Should the cleaning staff have found the crack pipe? Absolutely. But they didn’t put it there. If you’re staying at the kind of hotel where there’s drug paraphernalia to be found then an apology and an offer to move you to another room would have probably been sufficient.
Based on your previous experience at that property, I take it this wasn’t the kind of hotel where there’s drug paraphernalia to be found, which accounts for your shock and the management’s reaction, which was to offer room vouchers.
It’s always a good idea to look over the vouchers before accepting them and to ask about the terms. Can they be used at any hotel in the chain, or just at the one issuing it? When do the certificates expire? Also, is everything filled out correctly (vouchers often need to be validated with a signature, for example)?
Your certificates were missing key information, including an expiration date.
You could have also phoned the Motel 6 in Tyler to find out if the vouchers would be accepted. That way, you might have either been able to fix the problem or make other plans before you were faced with an unexpected hotel bill.
I contacted Motel 6 on your behalf. It apologized for the experience in San Antonio and the difficulties with redeeming the voucher. It sent you five validated vouchers, each good for a room night at any Motel 6.
Question: I need your help getting a voucher that US Airways promised us, but has yet to be delivered. While my wife and I were on a Mediterranean cruise last year, my wife fell and was severely injured. As a result, we couldn’t make our return flight from Venice to Philadelphia.
I called US Airways, explained what happened, and requested a refund for the return flight. The agent promised us a $960 voucher.
We were able to use part of the credit on a flight to Miami several months later, but only after explaining everything again to a US Airways representative again. In fact, I had to give him the names of the hospital and doctors who treated my wife.
Our Miami tickets cost $124 per person each way, which should have left us a credit of about $400. It’s been several months, and there’s no sign of the voucher. We are getting ready to book another trip and would like to use the rest of our credit, but we need the voucher. Is there anything you can do?
— Myron Sigal, Marlton, N.J.
Answer: If US Airways said it would give you a voucher, it should have sent it to you quickly. It never ceases to amaze me that an airline — or any travel company, for that matter — can take your money within seconds but then force you to wait months before giving you a refund or a credit.
Here’s the thing, though. As I read US Airways’ terms of transportation — the legal agreement between you and the airline — it’s clear that you were not owed a refund and possibly not even a credit. Section 8 of the contract says that no refunds will be made for nonrefundable tickets, and that special rules apply to international tickets.
As I review your correspondence, I think it’s possible US Airways made an exception for you and your wife because of her medical condition. I think that’s commendable. Making you wait months for the voucher — that’s not so commendable.
You might have avoided this difficulty by starting a paper trail. Some grievances are best handled by phone, but others should be done electronically. Calling US Airways initially was a good idea, because you needed to let the airline know about your circumstances right away. If you had waited until after your flight, US Airways might have offered you nothing.
After that, you should have begun e-mailing the carrier; a written correspondence would have allowed both sides to keep track of what was said, and more importantly, what was not said. You needed some kind of confirmation that the airline was going to offer a voucher for $960 — and later, for$400. Verbal assurances aren’t enough.
Having that documentation would have saved you from having to recount the painful story of your wife’s accident, and it might have (maybe) speeded up the processing of your second voucher. In any case, you shouldn’t have had to wait months for your voucher. When you think you’re being stonewalled by an airline, try escalating your complaint to a supervisor. I list their names on my Web site.
I contacted US Airways on your behalf, and the airline sent you the promised vouchers and an apology.