While Scott Kirn was on vacation in Bali, he learned that EVA Air had canceled his flight home. Days turned into months as he pursued a refund for that flight from Priceline. Had his refund disappeared into thin air? Kirn had to embark on a long, frustrating journey to get his money back — with help from Elliott Advocacy.
Kirn’s odyssey has two important takeaways. One is that using an online travel agency, such as Priceline, can add extra resolution time to any refund request. Booking your flights directly through airlines can help expedite refunds.
The other, as Kirn discovered the hard way, is to make requests for refunds in writing rather than by phone. Otherwise, you may lose too much time waiting for a response from the travel provider. Requesting refunds in writing also provides you with a paper trail, which is vital to any advocacy effort.
Getting home after EVA canceled his flight
Kirn booked his vacation for March on Priceline, including round-trip flights on EVA Air. But while he was in Bali, the coronavirus pandemic turned into a nightmare that nearly stranded him on the island.
As the pandemic escalated, many airlines around the world canceled their flights. Unfortunately for Kirn, one of EVA Air’s canceled flights was his return trip. He had to purchase a last-minute replacement ticket to get home.
Once Kirn arrived home, he contacted Priceline on March 28 to request a refund for the EVA Air canceled flight. But the refund did not land in his bank account.
What calendar is Priceline using?
Beginning on April 9, Kirn made several calls to Priceline to follow up on his refund request. During the first call, Priceline’s agent told him that it might take a week for EVA to issue the refund. The agent suggested that he could check the refund status the following week. But two weeks later, Kirn had not received his money.
On May 14, Priceline confirmed that it had sent EVA a refund request for Kirn’s return trip on April 9. Its agent advised Kirn that it would take EVA six to eight weeks to respond to the refund request.
On June 9, two months after his first call to Priceline, its agent promised that Priceline would process the refund within one business day. But a week later, he had not received it. Priceline’s agent now told him that it would take five to ten business days for the refund to appear in his bank account.
Kirn called Priceline again on June 24, where an agent told him that Priceline had processed the refund. According to this agent, Kirn should receive it in 24 to 48 hours. The agent promised to contact Priceline’s accounting department and get back to Kirn. But Kirn never heard from him again. Nor did he ever hear from the accounting department.
On July 6, Kirn spoke to a Priceline supervisor. The supervisor told him that EVA would refund the money directly to him. But Kirn was skeptical since he had never provided EVA with his banking information. Although Kirn spent more than 90 minutes on hold, all the supervisor could tell him was that EVA approved his refund. He promised that a manager would contact Kirn, but he never heard from the manager.
So what took EVA and Priceline so long?
The coronavirus pandemic is jamming travel companies’ inboxes with refund requests. And those same companies are operating with reduced staff and resources. But it still should not have taken three months for EVA and Priceline to issue Kirn a refund.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Enforcement Notice, airlines must refund canceled flights immediately:
This notice reminds the traveling public and U.S. and foreign carriers that passengers should be refunded promptly when their scheduled flights are canceled or significantly delayed. Although the COVID-19 public health emergency has had an unprecedented impact on air travel, the airlines’ obligation to refund passengers for canceled or significantly delayed flights remains unchanged. (U.S. Department of Transportation, April 3)
EVA also failed to meet its own deadline for issuing a refund for its canceled flight. Its Conditions of Carriage indicate that
If you are due a refund, we will process and provide the refund back [to] you within twenty (20) days after receiving a complete refund request for cash and check payments or within seven (7) days when the payment is by credit cards.
And where was Priceline while Kirn waited for months for its agents to help him? Why did its agents keep promising and failing to “get back” to Kirn? The agency’s own terms and conditions hold that the airline tickets Priceline sells are “subject to the published conditions of carriage and rules, including but not limited to cancellation policies, of the applicable airline.” Why didn’t Priceline get a refund for EVA Air’s canceled flight for Kirn? That was its responsibility as Kirn’s agent.
He’d had enough of waiting
Kirn contacted Elliott Advocacy in the hope of finally receiving his refund for the EVA canceled flight. On July 6, our executive director, Michelle Couch-Friedman, reached out to Priceline on Kirn’s behalf. Her contact at Priceline approached EVA.
But even then, EVA responded that it could take four to eight weeks to issue Kirn his refund. And according to the Priceline contact, there was nothing he could do to expedite it. Three days later on July 9, however, Kirn notified us that he had finally received his refund.
When your canceled flight refund is up in the air
Kirn is hardly alone in pursuing refunds for canceled flights. Unfortunately, as the coronavirus pandemic has dragged on, travel companies have delayed issuing refunds to passengers. If you’re among them, here’s what you can do to bring that refund down for a safe landing:
- Write to your travel company. Our Contacts section contains executive contacts for many airlines and travel agencies, including EVA Air and Priceline. Send the lowest-ranking executive a brief, polite email detailing your refund request. Include copies of documentation such as emails, receipts and confirmations. This creates a paper trail of your request, which third parties, including our advocates, will need.
- Observe the three P’s of consumer advocacy. Be polite, patient and persistent. Allow each executive a week to respond to your request. Then escalate to the next highest-ranking executive if you haven’t received your refund.
- Stay off the telephone. Calling your travel company allows customer service agents to keep you on hold or transfer you without assisting you. And it doesn’t create usable documentation of your contact with the company.
- Allow the airline sufficient time to process your refund request. That should be one week, but because airlines are trying to refund thousands of cancellations, it can take longer.
- Don’t cancel your flight until your airline does. Although this wasn’t an issue for Kirn, if you cancel too soon, you may not be able to get a refund for that flight.
- If all else fails, file a complaint with the Department of Transportation and our advocates.
The Elliott Advocacy team is here to help you!