$399 air voucher suddenly becomes worthless during merger

2014-03-02T00:00:00Z 2014-07-03T11:29:24Z $399 air voucher suddenly becomes worthless during mergerBy Christopher Elliott The Travel Troubleshooter Arizona Daily Star

Q. I’m writing about a recent issue I had with AirTran Airways and Southwest Airlines and am wondering if you can help. Last April, I booked a flight through Expedia from Seattle, where I live, to Baltimore, to see my parents. I had to cancel the flight, scheduled for June of last year, and Expedia sent me an email saying I had $399 in flight credits through AirTran, to use within one year.

Just recently, I tried to book the same flight — Seattle to Baltimore — and called Expedia to use my flight credits. Expedia got AirTran to release the tickets back to them, but then Expedia staff told me they found out that AirTran no longer flies from Seattle to Baltimore, or from Seattle to anywhere. I asked what I was supposed to do about my flight credits. They had no answer. I asked if I could get a refund from AirTran, since they no longer fly out of Seattle. Expedia staff got AirTran on the other line and AirTran said “no refunds.”

I think since they no longer fly here, this is a case where they should refund me the $399 for my flight credit. Do you think so? Can you help with this? — Nancy Palmer, Seattle

A. Normally, when an airline cancels a flight, you would be entitled to a full refund. But this isn’t a normal situation.

As you probably know, AirTran and Southwest have merged. AirTran is operating as a unit of Southwest, and Southwest most certainly does fly to Baltimore. But at the time this happened, AirTran was operating as a unit of Southwest and some of their internal systems hadn’t been fully integrated from the merger. That meant your voucher was good only on AirTran.

The agent you spoke with might have tried to figure out a way around the internal corporate barriers instead of simply telling you “no refunds.”

I mean, what good is your ticket if you can’t use it? When you explained your dilemma to the AirTran agent, he or she should have been able to come up with a solution that worked for you. After all, AirTran canceled its flights. The fact that you’d postponed your initial trip should have made no difference.

But as a practical matter, it did. When you postpone a flight, an airline will issue a ticket credit good for a full year from the date of your first booking. So now your money is converted to AirTran credits that expire, and that you can’t use.

I think if you’d taken a few more minutes to explain to the agent that he or she wasn’t seeing the big picture, it might have changed your choices. Also, I note that most of your communication took place by phone. Next time, try sending an email with your refund request, if for no other reason than to set up a paper trail.

I contacted Southwest on your behalf. It cut you a check for $399, the full value of your AirTran ticket to Baltimore.

Christopher Elliott is the author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money and Hassle)” (National Geographic). e-mail him at chris@elliott.org

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