Am I not entitled to a ticket credit, Virgin Atlantic?


Janice Dittman expected a full refund when she canceled her Virgin Atlantic flight from San Francisco to London. Instead, the carrier credited her for the taxes and offered no apologies for pocketing the rest of her money.

Is something wrong with this picture? Yes, there is — and it has almost nothing to do with Virgin Atlantic.

Dittman made a series of mistakes that doomed her case to failure, including contacting the wrong executive, choosing her words poorly and failing to take the time to understand the system. It turns out these are easy mistakes to make, which makes Dittman’s dismissed case worth writing about.

This spring, she paid $3,805 for a premium class, round-trip ticket. In May, she canceled the ticket for “personal reasons.”

“I believed that should I need to cancel that I was eligible for a credit, often to be used within a year,” she says.

A few weeks later, she received a credit of $276 for fuel, taxes, and airport charges. She assumed the rest would be given to her either as a ticket credit or as a refund. But she received neither.

She wrote to the airline several times, asking for her money. She appealed to the CEO.

“The final response I got was that I am out of luck,” she said.

She wanted my advocacy team to help. We reviewed the correspondence and discovered one problem after another.

Problem number one: her attitude. Let me excerpt from one of her emails:

I won’t say everything I want to say about your poor customer service. I will say, however, that I will never book, nor recommend to anyone I know, to fly with Virgin. I will use my credits, if I ever receive them, and that will be it.


Her frustration is understandable, but it doesn’t help her case. By keeping her correspondence brief and polite, she would have gotten much further. I’ve seen it, and if you’re a regular reader of this site, you’ve seen it, too.

Problem two: She took this straight to the top, contacting the CEO. We list the customer service executives on this site. She might have tried them first.

And finally, which is problem three, she didn’t take the time to fully understand the terms of her ticket. She called and canceled her flight, asking for a refund of the refundable portion — the taxes and fees — instead of a credit.

“If your ticket was nonrefundable,” a Virgin rep explained, “this would mean only a portion of your taxes would be returned. I’m afraid no credit would then apply as in order to use the fare originally paid you would need to amend your booking as opposed to apply for a refund, Ms. Dittman.”

Had Dittman taken some time to familiarize herself with the fare rules, she could have requested a credit instead of a refund. But she didn’t, and now it’s too late.

Our advocacy team couldn’t help her. That doesn’t mean Dittman doesn’t deserve help. In a perfect world, her premium class ticket would be fully refundable (some are). She could have also avoided this by working with a knowledgeable travel agent.

Personally, I wish I could wave a magic wand and make her $3,805 reappear. But I’m doing something that could potentially save readers like you even more money. I’m warning you about an airline refund trap baited with assumptions and ignorance.


Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

  • cscasi

    A shame she lost that amount of money. However, it was her own fault. We are seeing so many people come to Chris for help that have no idea about the tickets they purchase, the rules of non refundable tickets, etc. Yes, there are lots of rules but it is incumbent upon the purchasers to familiarize themselves with the rules. Either that or use a reliable travel agent to handle things for them. Then, of course, there is always remembering about purchasing travel insurance to help cover losses one cannot afford. In this case, since she cancelled for personal reasons, travel insurance might have helped if she had a cancel for any reason clause added to her policy (probably only 75%). Still, she would not have had to suffer the amount of loss she encountered had she not cancelled the ticket and asked for a refund, but, as Chris mentioned, asking for a credit. $200-$250 ticket change fee would have been easier to accept.
    Folks, these have been around for years now. When are flyers going to learn and understand the basic rules?

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    “Problem number one: her attitude.”

    While her attitude was a problem in dealing with the issue…but her first problem was she failed to understand the terms and conditions of her ticket. It wasn’t disclosed in the article but it seems like she purchased a non-refundable ticket.

    She should have used the services of a professional brick & mortar travel agent that should have explained the termsconditions of her tickets to her. A professional brick & mortar travel agent would have recommended travel insurance if the OP could have not risk losing money if she need to cancel her reservation. A professional brick & mortar travel agent would have contacted Virgin Atlantic and requested a credit not a refund. It would probably cost the OP $ 50 to $ 100 to use a professional brick & mortar travel agent which is better than losing ~ $ 3,500.

    I am not an airline apologist nor do I work in the travel field…but I think that you should always look at the situation from all points before passing judgement.

    Virgin Atlantic received a request from a passenger for a refund NOT a credit…they issued a refund. It made an assumption that the passenger was competent when they submitted a request for a refund NOT a credit. Or do you want the airlines to assume that every passenger is ignorant, incompetent, etc; therefore, don’t process their requests? When the passenger told Virgin Atlantic that they wanted a refund instead of a credit…this means that the passenger was no longer interested in flying anymore (or within the typical 12-month rebooking window). Are there people that do not want to fly anymore? Yes.

    There are people that value other things than money. There are people that think that $ 3,800 is pocket change…for them, it is like losing $ 1, $ 5 or $ 10. There are a lot of retirees in the Phoenix area. My wife is a nurse and she has had patients in the past that have been on expensive cruises and tours (i.e. 60 day cruise, 90-day cruise, 123-day cruise, etc) where they spent $ 30,000 or more. They have left these tours in the middle and etc. due to heart issues (i.e. blockage). None of them had travel insurance but none of them cared about the money or services that they didn’t received nor the money that spent traveling back to Phoenix. They cared more about their life and their families than the $ 15,000 that they lost.

    “In a perfect world, her premium class ticket would be fully refundable (some are).”
    Virgin Atlantic does sell refundable premium class tickets but she didn’t purchased one…she went with the cheaper non-refundable premium class tickets.

    “I’m warning you about an airline refund trap baited with assumptions and ignorance.”
    The only one that was ignorance here was the OP who acted as her own travel agent and she failed to act correctly when contacting Virgin Atlantic about the problem. This is no different when someone wants to be their own DIY electrician, plumber, etc. They go to Home Depot, Lowes, etc. to purchase the items for their project but they are unable to install the item(s). They go back to Home Depot, Lowes, etc. with the item damaged, missing parts and pieces and they are expecting a full refund. Was it Home Depot fault that the person was an incompetent electrician, plumber or etc? Was it Home Depot fault that the customer failed to use a professional trade person to do the project? But using the thinkinglogic of some of the writers and readers of this site, it is the fault of Home Depot, Lowes, etc. not the customer.

  • Blamona

    But what part of unrefundable is not clear?

  • Blamona

    People that get attitudes on nonrefundables are entitled. Why would you help? Insurance is offered numerous times (can’t click through to purchase until add or reject) no refundable by definition is nonrefundable. So I say again, why so entitled deserve help?

  • Jeff W.

    I think the sentence you included in the story was the nail in the coffin for her.

    “… I will never book, nor recommend to anyone I know, to fly with Virgin. I will use my credits, if I ever receive them, and that will be it.”

    Virgin has no incentive to help her. Why should they do her a favor and make an exception if she has no intention of flying them ever again? Odds are that if she was to fly them on a credit, she would still be an unhappy customer and would complain about something else.

    She asked for a refund and got a refund based on the ticket rules. If she wanted a full refund (a huge exception) or a credit (a common exception), she should have asked exactly that.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I am with you…no one takes a baseball bat or another object and force the person to purchase a non-refundable ticket. They buy the non-refundable ticket because the fares are lower.

    The ‘catch’ for a non-refundable ticket is that the airline discount the fare since they are non-refundable. For example, I just check the fares from PHX to JFK and here are the fares on AA:

    Main Cabin (non-refundable) – $ 363
    Main Cabin Flexible – $ 1,375
    Main Cabin Fully Flexible – $ 2,225

    In the above example, I will buy the non-refundable fare since the savings are s $ 1,000 to ~ $ 1,850. I will assume the risk either with my wallet or travel insurance if I need to change it. Even paying change fees and the fare difference, it could be still cheaper than a refundable ticket.

    If you can’t stick to your schedule then 1) buy a refundable ticket; 2) buy travel insurance; 3) take the bus; 4) take the train; 5) take your vehicle or 6) don’t go.

    I don’t mind if a person ask for an exception (I ask for exceptions all of the time)…a company can make an exception but if they say ‘No’…put on your big boygirl pants and move on instead of whining, crying, complaining, etc.

  • taxed2themax

    I think had she given some details as to what this issue was — the so-called “personal reasons”, I think she MIGHT have had a leg to stand on or at least have a decent position to ask AA to take a discretionary action in her favor… but.. as it sounds like she didn’t give any more details, AND the tone of her letter, which while in a perfect world wouldn’t be part of the decision making process, but is, left any reader in a less-than-willing position to take such action.
    However, in the end, I have to side with AA in that it seems the terms of her ticket were correctly applied and she failed to provide any details/proof of her situation, which may had moved AA to take purely discretionary action.

  • Michael__K

    What part of non-refundable means non-changeable or non-cancellable for a flight credit?

  • Michael__K

    Precisely which rule are you certain she had no idea about?
    The article doesn’t say that her fare was non-changeable and non-cancelable for a flight credit.
    If she didn’t cancel then she would be considered a No Show and she would have gotten nothing whatsoever.
    When she does cancel she’s normally supposed to have a choice of flight credit or the taxes refund. When was she given the opportunity to make this choice? Or if she wasn’t, then why not?

  • Michael__K

    Hold on. Unless her fare was non-changeable, then this seems to be a Catch-22.
    If she didn’t cancel, then she would be considered a No Show and the “rules” say that the airline “could” cancel her entire reservation and give her absolutely nothing.
    For most fares, if she did cancel before departure she should have had the option of accepting either a flight credit or a refund of the taxes. Was she actually given this opportunity? If not, why not?

  • MarkKelling

    Or use an airline that has more reasonable cancellation policies, like Southwest. (OK, they don’t fly to Europe (yet)).

  • MarkKelling

    It was VA, not AA.

  • Michael__K

    “her first problem was she failed to understand the terms and conditions of her ticket.
    [..]
    Virgin Atlantic received a request from a passenger for a refund NOT a credit.”

    So where is the term or condition which clearly spells out that a tax refund excludes a flight credit on the pre-tax fare?

    And where is the precise language where Virgin Atlantic clearly distinguishes between these options? On their website, they write that a “refund request” is completely consistent with receiving a credit towards a future flight—

    To request a refund, please enter your details below. If your ticket is non-refundable depending on the rules of the ticket you have purchased, you may be able to use the value towards a future flight. If your ticket purchase was from a travel agent, you should contact them to request a refund.
    https://www.virginatlantic.com/refunds/refundsHomeAction.action

  • Michael__K

    A credit would not be an exception. unless her fare was non-changeable (which we have no reason to believe was the case according to the article).

  • Michael__K

    “the terms of her ticket were correctly applied”

    What are you claiming were the terms of her ticket? Can you quote the precise language please?

  • BubbaJoe123

    Don’t know about this one, but many tickets on European carriers are non-cancellable/non-refundable/non-changeable. A ticket on flight 123 on January 1 is good for a seat on flight 123 on January 1. Full stop.

  • BubbaJoe123

    VS, actually. VA is Virgin Australia.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Can you?

  • Michael__K

    No, which is why I’m not making the bold declarative statements that I see others making throughout these comments…

  • Michael__K

    This passage from the article would appear to rule out that this was a non-changeable ticket:

    a Virgin rep explained, “this would mean only a portion of your taxes would be returned. I’m afraid no credit would then apply as in order to use the fare originally paid you would need to amend your booking as opposed to apply for a refund, Ms. Dittman.”

  • Michael__K

    Rules are rules, unless you disapprove of the customer because they didn’t buy insurance that may have proved useless regardless, in which case who cares about the rules regarding flight credits, even for non-refundable tickets…

  • Lindabator

    she asked for a refund, I think that is what Blamona is referring to

  • Lindabator

    but you cannot ask for a refund and still want the full credit of the ticket — one or the other, and the credit is the better option of course

  • Lindabator

    nonrefundable

  • Lindabator

    cancel does not mean refund – it means credit. She then asked for a refund, so that nullifies the credit. Cannot have it both ways

  • Michael__K

    So then why couldn’t she use the value towards a future flight, as Virgin Atlantic says you on their website you may be able to do when you request a refund?….

    To request a refund, please enter your details below. If your ticket is non-refundable depending on the rules of the ticket you have purchased, you may be able to use the value towards a future flight.
    https://www.virginatlantic.com/refunds/refundsHomeAction.action

  • Michael__K

    Non-changeable? You up-voted @BubbaJoe123’s comment suggesting it was non-changeable. How did you determine it was non-changeable?

  • Michael__K

    That’s not what Virgin Atlantic’s website says. It says first you request a refund and then you may be able to use the value toward a future flight…

    To request a refund, please enter your details below. If your ticket is non-refundable depending on the rules of the ticket you have purchased, you may be able to use the value towards a future flight.
    https://www.virginatlantic.com/refunds/refundsHomeAction.action

  • Michael__K

    I know this from word of mouth, but can you quote the relevant rule in writing anywhere? I can’t find it.

  • John McDonald

    New thing with some sale airfares now. Airline advertises

    WE’LL PAY ALL THE TAXES & CHARGES

    So if you end up cancelling there are no refund of taxes & charges whatsoever.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    I get that she made a mistake (and wasn’t as nice as she could be), but it is a large loss. I suspect travel insurance would not have helped here if her reason for cancellation was truly “personal”. I would be interested to hear from travel agents if they really could have obtained a credit for certain (as some have suggested).

  • LonnieC

    Skipping all the reasons the OP was wrong, would it have been so difficult for the airline to simply ask her if she really wanted the refund, and explain the difference between a refund and a credit? I expect it might have taken one minute, and would have given the OP a chance to make an informed decision. Just sayin’

  • cscasi

    Where does it say in the quote above that, “On their website they write that a “refund request” is completely consistent with receiving a credit towards a future flight—?
    What was then shown was, “If your ticket is non refundable depending on the rules of the ticket you purchased you may be able to use the value towards a future flight.”
    I see that they say “depending on the rules of the ticket you purchase you may be able to use the value towards a future flight. The operative words are “depending on the rules” and “may be able”.

  • Michael__K

    So then why would the Virgin Atlantic rep suggest that the rules support it but that she *shouldn’t* have requested a refund, as instructed on the website?

    “in order to use the fare originally paid you would need to amend your booking as opposed to apply for a refund, Ms. Dittman.”

    And where is the written rule that says you can’t get both a tax refund and a credit for the remaining value?

  • Rob Kane

    Virgin Atlantic is one of my most favorite airlines and the ONLY one I would ever take to London! They have the best customer service & I’ve always found them VERY accommodating. Ms. Dittman appears to be an entitled b….. ! Hope she learned (unfortunately the hard way) her lesson and thank you for sharing it with the rest of us so we can learn too. We can call this a “teachable moment.”

  • joycexyz

    Well said! We need adults in the room.

  • joycexyz

    She didn’t ask for a change or a credit–she asked for a refund of the refundable portion (according to the story), which are the taxes and fees. And that’s precisely what she got.

  • joycexyz

    I like VA very much also. And I also agree with your assessment of the situation.

  • Michael__K

    So then I’ll ask yet again — for the fourth time in this thread — why does Virgin Atlantic state on their own website on their “Request a Refund” page that you may be able to use your ticket value towards a future flight when you request a refund?

    To request a refund, please enter your details below. If your ticket is non-refundable depending on the rules of the ticket you have purchased, you may be able to use the value towards a future flight.
    https://www.virginatlantic.com/refunds/refundsHomeAction.action

  • Noah Kimmel

    If you are seeking an exception to a rule, why would you tell the business you will never use them again? You are asking to abuse the business. At least claim ignorance and humility, seek a one-time exception to create loyalty and knowledge for the future. Take responsibility, apologize, seek exception, and learn for next time!

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