When you ask for too much, your rightful claim can be overlooked

Taylor Jennings has a tough time getting his bags from Baton Rouge, La., to Cleveland. Then his flight home to Louisiana is canceled. Rather than wait three days for a new Delta Air Lines flight, he takes matters into his own hands by buying his own ticket from American Airlines and returning home the next day. Naturally, he expects Delta to reimburse him for his American ticket. Unfortunately, this was not the best way to handle the situation. Can our advocates help him get reimbursed nevertheless?

Question: On April 2, I flew from Baton Rouge, La., to Cleveland. There were flight delays and somewhere along the way my baggage was lost. I didn’t receive my luggage until the next day, causing me to have to go to a business dinner in blue jeans. I also had paid Delta $25 to check my luggage.

My return flight from Cleveland to Baton Rouge on April 6 was canceled. Delta couldn’t get me home until April 9. This was a $780 round trip ticket. I booked a one-way flight the next day on American for $514 to get home.

I’ve asked Delta to pay me back for the American ticket, my one-night hotel expense of $270, $25 baggage charge for the lost luggage and $25 baggage charge for the canceled flight. I would also like a refund for my out-of-pocket expenses which were $50 taxi charges to and from the hotel, and $50 in food expenses for dinner and breakfast the next day.

I’ve waited over six weeks and only received $233 for some type of refund. I’ve contacted Delta by email, Twitter and snail mail to try to get reimbursed. Can you help me get back the other $702 the airline owes me? — Taylor Jennings, Baton Rouge, La.

Answer: It must have been a frustrating experience for your bags to not get to your destination, and then for you to not get back from yours.

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Unfortunately, there are no policies or regulations that would compel an airline to pay you for a new flight or for any hotel or food purchases. The requirement that an airline has in this situation is to put you on the next available flight or to refund your ticket. If you request a refund of the ticket, that completes the airline’s responsibility to you, and that is what you did.

The other factor not in your favor is what we call the airlines’ fuzzy math. Half the cost of a roundtrip ticket does not necessarily equate to the cost of a one-way ticket. The $233 refund most likely represented what Delta considered the value of the unused segment between Cleveland and Baton Rouge. I know this is not what you were expecting to hear.

To your credit, in your correspondence with the airline, you were polite and used professional language. The problem may have been the long list of items for which you were seeking reimbursement.

You booked the American flight, hotel and ground transportation on your own. A simple, polite request to Delta’s representatives in Cleveland or on their help line might have helped you get vouchers for most of these items. You could also have escalated your claim by contacting executives at Delta, whose information we list on our website.

You should have received reimbursement immediately for the baggage charges and, perhaps, the flight. Since the airlines review these types of claims on a case-by-case basis, it may have taken an extra push to get the results you wanted, and with the laundry list of requested reimbursements, it may have been easy for Delta to overlook the payments you easily deserved.

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Frustrated with a lack of progress with Delta customer service, you contacted our advocates, who escalated the case on your behalf. Or did you? Your letter to us stated that your name was Taylor. Yet some of the correspondence we received was sent by someone named Cole. Turns out that your mother had been advocating your case for you, in an effort to help out her “very busy 28-year-old son.” Once the confusion was cleared up, we continued to communicate with Delta’s representatives, who indicated that they would deal with you directly.

We heard soon after that Delta had posted a refund of $602 to your American Express card. Congratulations on a positive outcome for a case that could have turned out much worse.

We learned a couple of important lessons here. It is an airline’s obligation to get you from “Point A” to “Point B,” and when they can’t in a reasonable amount of time, you should suggest that they try to book you on another airline at their expense. This is done all the time and would help avoid the outlay of hundreds of dollars with no guarantee of reimbursement. A polite request for food and hotel vouchers could be met with positive results as well.

We also ask that travelers try to advocate for themselves. There’s a chance that by involving more people in a case, important information may be omitted or incorrectly communicated.

We’re glad your case had a happy ending despite its challenges.

Mark Pokedoff

Four-time Emmy-award-winning television sports production specialist and frequent traveler. Longtime freelance writer and travel blog enthusiast. Proud papa of four amazing kids who have been upgraded to first class more than all their friends combined. Read more of Mark's articles here.

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