If a policy is unwritten, does it really exist?

When Jon Dobson tries to get a bereavement rate on a Virgin Atlantic ticket, the airline forces him to purchase a high-priced ticket at the last minute but promises a refund for the difference between his airfare and a bereavement fare if he sends its agents the death certificate. But when he does so, the airline’s only response is deathly silence.

Question: I needed to fly to England, where my mother was dying. Virgin Atlantic charged me $8,329 for a last-minute ticket. Its agent told me that if I provided the airline with her death certificate, my ticket number and identifying information, then Virgin Atlantic would refund me the difference between my airfare and its lowest advanced booking rate per the airline’s bereavement policy. I paid for the ticket with my American Express card.

After my mother passed away, I contacted Virgin Atlantic, which confirmed that I was due a refund of $3,971. I sent the requested documents to Virgin Atlantic and was told that I should receive the refund within eight to 10 days. But I never received the refund.

I contacted Virgin Atlantic over the next three months by telephone and email, sending the documents two more times as requested by the airline’s agents. During the last call, the agent confirmed the amount of the refund, noted that my request was in Virgin Atlantic’s computer system and called the refunds department, which claimed that it didn’t have the death certificate. The agent assisting me forwarded the death certificate to the refunds department, which confirmed that it was immediately processing the refund.

But I still don’t have the refund. I’ve contacted American Express, but because four months have passed since I made the refund request, American Express doesn’t know if it can help me.

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Can you help me get Virgin Atlantic to issue the refund back to my American Express card? — Jon Dobson, San Clemente, Calif.

Answer: I’m so sorry for your loss — and that Virgin Atlantic is making things even more difficult for you during this time by not issuing you the refund its agents promised you over the telephone or responding to your email

You might have escalated your complaint to higher-level executives of Virgin Atlantic using our company contact information, but after four months of attempting to contact the airline resulted in silence and no refund, you contacted our advocates for assistance.

One question we have about your case is whether or not Virgin Atlantic actually has a bereavement fare policy. You heard from several agents over the telephone that Virgin Atlantic has such a policy — but we can’t find any applicable language in its conditions of carriage or anywhere else on its website that refer to bereavement or compassion fares. You sent us a link to a website that you claim supports the existence of a bereavement fare policy on Virgin Atlantic, but it’s a blogger’s website that has no affiliation with the airline.

We reached out to Virgin Atlantic on your behalf. The agent who replied to our inquiry says that the airline offers bereavement fares on an individual case-by-case basis, but that any request for such a fare needs to be made before the flight, not after, as in your case. But on the same day we contacted Virgin Atlantic, you received your refund.

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Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org.

  • MarkKelling

    It is true they do not have bereavement fares. They have a bereavement policy.

    The policy offers a refund of the difference between a full fare and an advance purchase fare after you provide the documentation. Sounds extremely generous on their part.

  • AAGK

    He couldn’t discuss it with Virgin before the flight bc his mom was still alive. There was no bereavement yet.

  • MarkKelling

    And that may be the reason for the delay. The outbound portion of the flight was before the date on the death certificate.

  • AAGK

    Also, if the mom died 5 years later, then that refund will require more hustle than usual, especially when it’s based on a courtesy. I’m glad Virgin used its discretion compassionately here rather than just price gouge the last minute pax in crisis.

  • greg watson

    Unless the mother died within a day or two after this flight, why would anyone pay $8300 dollars to fly
    to England. Last minute, yes, if necessary, but for me it would have been my last dollar ( figuratively
    speaking ) for 2 or 3 years of air travel………………….just saying.

  • Kairho

    A lot of people DO have that amount of money readily available. Especially retirees who have done well in life.

  • Maria K. Telegdy

    Problem is so many employees (ever employers) can’t deal with situations where the rules should be CLEAR as glacier water. Every situation is unique, and there should be someone to help who understands the written policies, and apply it as required by the situation.

  • joycexyz

    Exactly. Visiting a dying person isn’t urgent enough. Lesson: Don’t go until your loved one has actually died. Otherwise, expect to pay the highest possible fare. Gotcha!

  • joycexyz

    People don’t have expiration dates. The OP was told his mother was dying–could have been minutes, hours, days, or even longer. He wanted to see her, preferably while she was still alive. It has nothing to do with cash on hand. Do you weigh saying goodbye to a loved one with the cost of getting there? I hope not!

  • Lindabator

    but you cannot expect them to extend a “bereavement” fare when technically, no one had passed yet

  • Lindabator

    NOT clearcut here – said it was for a “bereavement” – but his mother had not passed yet — do the airlines then break out a crystal ball and predict whether she will or not? This is why they take it on a case by case situation – and it is not a res agent who can make that decision, but a higher up

  • AAGK

    Or anticipate the death much more accurately and book ahead at the 6 month when rates are usually much better. :)

  • greg watson

    we are all dying…………my mother was given 3 weeks to live, & I visited her every day for 3 Months. No need to be dramatic ! ……………just saying.

  • Annie M

    While I am sorry for the writer on the passing of his mother, I think that it was was extremely generous of Virgin to refund him. Technically, there was no bereavement at the time he flew.

    That is an awful high fare, even last minute. Was this a first or business class ticket?

  • jsn55

    Virgin-Atlantic is my favorite airline ever. But I do remember having to cancel some tix years ago and I waited FOREVER

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