It took me nearly two weeks, but yesterday I triumphed over an airline and will be receiving a $150 refund within the next 7 days. This was a unique situation, and the facts were on my side, but I also had to be persistent in order to get my money back.

The Situation
An event I’m planning to attend was scheduled for Nashville. Well, the hotel where the event was taking place was destroyed due to the record flooding. After the hotel canceled the event, the organization planning it quickly found a new location in another city. Unfortunately, that required me to change my plane ticket. I’d used miles to book, so I immediately called to reschedule while they still had awards flights left. Then, the organization negotiated with several airlines to get change fees waived. The problem: I’d already paid one, to the tune of $150.

How I Handled My Airline Refund Request
First, I called reservations, the only phone number you can find for United. The reservations agent said he couldn’t refund the fee and did everything he could to keep me from speaking to a supervisor. He told me I had to email customer relations. You can’t call customer relations. Apparently they don’t have a phone.

Five days after I emailed, exactly as promised, I received a response: since this is for future travel, I had to call reservations.

Huge sigh. I called reservations and spent 45 minutes on the phone trying two things: 1. to get a refund, and 2. to speak to a supervisor. I was now informed that I had to email refunds, not customer relations. Again, they don’t have a phone, so I couldn’t call them.

I sent off another email, and included these things:

  • My confirmation number
  • The previous email chain
  • A summary of my attempts to get help
  • The paragraph from the organization detailing United’s agrement
  • A link to the organization’s list of airlines offering change fee waivers
  • A PDF of the organization’s location change confirmation letter.

I was polite in the letter, and laid out all the facts. I simply requested a refund per their agreement.

Yesterday, I received an email that I would receive a refund.

I do realize this is a special situation – not everyone has to change their tickets because their destination is underwater. In fact, I was rather surprised that the airlines had no policy for handling the Nashville disaster, even though they have for most other disasters. My suspicion is that Nashville’s flood occurred too close to the Iceland disaster, which cost billions, and the airline didn’t feel like losing more money.

Nevertheless, the facts were on my side and I eventually won my case. I was polite the entire time. I also accrued the award miles that I used to buy the ticket through actual flights rather than rewards programs, so I wonder if that helped bolster my case – I spent actual money with the airline to earn this reward.

But this is a lesson – you can get what you need if you’re persistent, polite, and have a good case. It may take a while, but you’ll get there.


2 Responses to “Be Patient but Persistent when Requesting Airline Refunds”

  1. Amy on May 27th, 2010 5:44 am

    I once read an interesting article about the profit in poor customer service. I find it amazing how many hoops some companies will put in front of you, but apparently for some companies, it’s part of their business model.

    I’m actually pretty good at persisting through the hoops like you described, but every once in a while something gets me so frustrated that I realize that it’s not worth my increased stress level to deal with. I know I’m giving into them and I hate it, but at the same time, sometimes I weigh the situation and it’s best for me to let it go. But even if I let it go, I don’t forget the company that put me in that situation and I try not to do business there again (Chase being a good example).

    Glad to hear everything worked out well with both your travel and the airline!

  2. Pat Chiappa on June 15th, 2010 12:18 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story and good for you for sticking with it. Ultimately, I think companies just want to wear you down so you give up, go away and leave them alone.

    I recently posted this “no-customer service” story about a dental problem I had and a partial resolution:

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