Here’s a question that’s been on my mind — and maybe yours, too — since the revelation that airlines collected a
record $27 billion in fees last year, a staggering 19.6 percent increase from 2011: Do they ever offer to refund those extra charges?
They’re required to under certain conditions. For example, if you paid $25 for your first checked bag, and the airline lost your luggage, the government now mandates that the airline refund the fee.
How generous of the airlines.
But what about other circumstances? Like, say, the one affecting Emanuel Feldman’s flight from Tel Aviv to Atlanta last December?
“After paying for this reservation, I realized I needed to stop in Baltimore for several hours,” he remembers. So he changed his reservation to allow a brief stopover in Baltimore, paying US Airways an extra $200 for the privilege.
But it wasn’t meant to be. His flight from Philadelphia to Baltimore was canceled, and US Airways rebooked him on a nonstop flight to his final destination.
Feldman wondered if he could get his $200 back. After all, he never stopped in Baltimore. Shouldn’t US Airways refund the fee?
“I wrote to the US Airways office in Phoenix in January and was told they are working on it,” he told me. “Having heard nothing by February, I wrote them again. No reply. I wrote again in April and again in May, this time to the CEO. Still no reply.”
The refund is due
To me, this case looked like a slam dunk. Feldman paid for something he didn’t get. It didn’t matter what the fare rules on his ticket said, and it didn’t matter what fine print the airline inserted in its contract.
I asked him to send me the written correspondence with the airline. He did, and it showed the letters from Feldman were unfailingly polite, but were met with form responses by US Airways. The airline promised him a refund as early as December, but six months later — nothing!
Based on what I saw, I thought a prompt refund was due. Even though I had a few questions about his reservations — did he cancel the ticket and rebook, or simply pay a change fee and any fare differential? — I couldn’t envision a scenario under which US Airways could keep Feldman’s money.
This case also raised two larger questions: First, under what circumstances should fees be refundable to air travelers? And second, are airlines making it too difficult to get these deserved refunds?
A long, long wait
I contacted US Airways shortly after reviewing Feldman’s letters. Seeing its promise of a refund was enough. Even if for some reason he didn’t deserve to get his money back, US Airways had promised him in writing that it would return the $200. And it hadn’t.
When it comes to refunds, the government isn’t exactly our friend. Although it requires an airline to process a refund within seven business days, it allows for up to two credit card billing cycles to receive the money. That could take up to three months.