Asked for $700 refund, got $40. Is this right?

By | January 14th, 2017

Laurie Holden and her husband flew to Ireland on a ticket booked through Orbitz, but the flight there was on Finnair, and her domestic return connection was on American. Sounds like a codeshare mouthful, right?

But there’s more. The American segment of the Holdens’ return from Philadelphia to Baltimore was canceled without notification, leaving them no choice but to rent a car and make the drive home to Maryland. That wasn’t their preference, but there were no other flights home that day, and the drive was expected to take less than two hours.

The Holdens were out $160 for the cost of a rental car plus gasoline, not to mention the value of the unused segment on Finnair (American). But when it came time for them to be compensated for their inconvenience and unexpected travel expenses, there was disagreement about who would handle the settlement — Orbitz, Finnair or American.

Laurie Holden sent a preliminary inquiry was to Orbitz, whose representative told her to complete a complaint form and send it to Finnair.

Holden received an email response from Finnair, which directed her to the flight’s operator, American.

In Finnair’s words, “Regardless of which airline has marketed and/or sold a flight ticket, the actual operating airline is always in charge of rerouting passenger to final flight destination and for compensations in case of a flight delay or cancellation.”

Is your head spinning yet?

This sleight-of-hand happens when airlines codeshare. In other words, major airlines partner with other airlines by selling seats on each other’s flights but scheduling them as a distinct flight number on the original airline. In this case, Finnair partnered with American to get the Holdens home from Ireland but used a Finnair flight number on an American flight.

Related story:   "Our anniversary trip was ruined and British Airways kept our $3,269"

But their headache didn’t end with their contact American Airlines inquiry. Holden claims that American would not accept an email complaint and that she had to call the airline. Unfortunately, Holden became frustrated navigating American’s “phone tree” and gave up.

She could have used our executive contacts at American Airlines. But I digress.

Some of our astute readers might have wondered why this situation did not fall under EU 261, which requires European travel providers to provide “assistance and monetary compensation to airline passengers in situations of overbooking, cancellation or delay of a flight.” In this case, EU 261 would not apply because, though Laurie’s tickets were from Finnair, the canceled flight was between two U.S. locations. You can read a full explanation of EU 261 on our website.

Holden did not give up. She contacted our advocacy team, which was able to secure a refund from Orbitz for $40 per ticket, or a total of $80, for the lost airline segment. She was not reimbursed for the rental car and fuel, nor for what she thought would be the full value of the unused segment.

That’s not quite the refund she was expecting, but then, that’s airline math for you.

Did Orbitz offer the Holdens enough compensation?

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  • John Baker

    Got to love airline mail. No way they sell you that ticket for $40

  • AJPeabody

    Airline math. Trip excluding last leg cost as of date of travel, subtract from cost of entire trip as paid on date of purchase gives a difference of $40, have a nice day.

  • Alan Gore

    Airlines are champs at having it both ways.

  • Blamona

    While they should refund the Philly-BWI segment, asking for rental car return would be double dipping, right? Unless the airline agreed to it (in writing). Travelers cant decide themselves without asking. Did they try to solve this at the airport or took matters in their own hands?

  • jim6555

    But what about paying for the rental car? American/Finnair had the responsibility of getting the Holdens to Baltimore. Philadelphia is 100 miles from their destination.

  • cscasi

    They could have waited and gotten on a flight the next day. Perhaps American would have given them a food voucher and hotel room if they had asked. It appears they just decided they wanted to get home as soon as possible (and that is a normal feeling). Since we do not know what date this was; perhaps one or both had to go to work the following day. Who knows.
    But, because they tool it upon themselves to rent the vehicle to drive home, I believe it is on them and their airline has no obligation to pay them for their expenditure for that.

  • Extramail

    With all the passing of the buck, pun intended, I understand why, if they did, take matters into their own hands. The drive home can take less time and effort than trying to find a flight home. My husband has done just that and he has a 4 hour drive home.

  • Extramail

    And, no, he doesn’t ask the airline to refund both the rental car fee and that leg of the flight cost if the flight had been cancelled. He accepts the cancelled leg refund as a part of his rental car fee and that his time is worth the rest of the expense.

  • finance_tony

    I think the OP accepted that, but the post says:

    The Holdens were out $160 for the cost of a rental car plus gasoline,
    not to mention the value of the unused segment on Finnair (American)

    They were out one or the other; not both.

  • Rebecca

    While I agree that a $40 refund for the Philadelphia-Baltimore segment is likely too small, I can’t make a determination about HOW small without knowing the full fare amount. If they took 2 transatlantic flights, and possibly another connecting flight on their outbound trip, I have absolutely zero insight into whether $700 is reasonable. I’m guessing that’s probably high. But this is all guessing and speculating. There simply isn’t nearly enough information to determine what a reasonable refund would be.

  • jim6555

    A hotel room and food vouchers would probably cost about the same as the rental car and fuel.

  • Bill___A

    Although $40 seems like too small a refund, it appears as though she took matters into her own hands and decided to rent a car Taking any sort of action that costs money, without prior approval, and then attempting to get reimbursed almost always ends in failure. Talk to the airline and know your options before doing anything.

  • DepartureLevel

    I’m actually cutting and pasting my comment from an almost identical article today –

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    Just American cheaping out, again. While I agree with the posters below who point out that the OP should’nt get both the rental car paid for and a refund of the flight segment, there is no reasonable way that $40 is either. You can’t fly from Philly to BWI for $40. The lowest price I found is $135 on a Wednesday on JetBlue. So either refund them the actual lowest fare that really exists, or the actual car rental cost, but not some made up amount to cheat them.

  • Maxwell Smart

    Should have got car hire +petrol. No more no less.

  • Doctor Now

    The reason they don’t pay the rate between Philly to BWI is because pricing is market based. They compare the fare basis for the flights Philly to Ireland to BWI vs the Philly to Ireland back to Philly. The difference may only be $40.00. In some cases, it could actually cost more, so there would be no refund. The airlines rarely will pay for alternate transportation, it is either a refund of the unused portion or wait for the next available flight.

  • RightNow9435

    small claims court time

  • sirwired

    A couple points:
    – I don’t see any codesharing “slight-of-hand” here. I cannot imagine she was, in any way, surprised that Finnair does not offer service between PHL and BWI. If this ticket was booked as an interline booking (the only way Baltimore to Ireland is happening without codesharing) the result (needing to go after American for compensation) would have been the same.

    – $40 ea. for the puddle-jumper leg for a transatlantic trip actually seems about right; the full details would be in the detailed receipt.

  • jsn55

    Airlines will usually pay hotel and meals, not alternate transport … lots of people don’t know that and airline agents are notorious for not explaining things completely when there are issues.

  • Carchar

    Why was the flight canceled? If it was due to weather, nothing was owed to them.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    Sure. But when the shoe is on the other foot, the airlines don’t give more money back.

  • wilcoxon

    I strongly disagree. We had a similar situation in Chicago (ironically flying in from Ireland). We were exhausted but had to get home that day and the airline was unwilling/unable to get us on a flight until the next day. However, they did reimburse us for the cost of the rental car (but not fuel or unused ticket segment). I don’t think she deserved $700 but she certainly deserved to at least get the rental car cost back.

  • joycexyz

    The airline’s obligation is to get you to your destination–by air or by their choice of an alternative. The OP chose to rent a car on her own–a logical choice given the short distance involved, but not one the airline is obligated to pay for.

  • joycexyz


  • Lindabator

    Philly to Baltimore? As an addon segment? Most likely to be exactly that amount – the international ticket would have carried the bulk of the cost – it happens a lot on tickets like these, and you cannot just price out what a one way would be, because you never paid that

  • Lindabator

    if they chose not to be take to the next available flight, they are ONLY entitled to a refund – which they got

  • Lindabator

    she would have need to negotiate that BEFORE she made the choice, as it is NOT the norm

  • Lindabator

    that $40 for an addon segment to the international rate is pretty much in line. the bulk of the rate is in the international fare and TAXES

  • Lindabator

    but that flight is an additional segment to the international ticket and is GREATLY reduced in cost (why I tell clients changes usually cost more than a new ticket) – and you are looking at a oneway fare as comparison, when she never PAID that. so she is entitled to a refund or the next available flight – and not a rental car, or what she “feels” is a good number for a refund.

  • Lindabator

    nothing to claim – the fares are registered with the government, and you are NOT entitled for more than you paid – end of story

  • Lindabator

    sounds like a cancellation, which is why she mentions the flight the next day wasn’t something they wanted, so they were only entitled to a refund of that ticket segment, which $40 is probably correct

  • Lindabator

    they would still need to get them on the next flight or refund that portion, which is what they did here. Weather cancellations just mean the airlines are not responsible for hotel and meals

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    If she’d been able to get a flight, that’s what it would have cost her. So when the math works in the customer’s favor, the airline should pay the price for their error, in my view. I know you see the world differently.

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