Help, my AirTran tickets expired — is my money gone forever?

Talk about adding insult to injury.

Before Donna Adams was scheduled to fly from Orlando to Indianapolis on AirTran back in 2010, she hurt her back and had to cancel her trip. When she discovered her condition was a lot worse than she thought, she had to postpone the new flight she’d booked with her ticket credit.

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“An MRI confirmed that I had herniated a disc in my back,” she says. “After several courses of physical therapy, chiropractic care, therapeutic massage, oral steroids and anti-inflammatory steroid injections I elected to have surgery.”

Adams turned to her online travel agency, Travelocity, for help. She sent the company proof of her medical condition, hoping it could secure a full refund of the $466 she’d spent on her airfare.

“They could not secure a refund,” she says. “The best they could do was extend the flight credit through August 22, 2011.”

Adams couldn’t use the ticket credit by last summer either, although it is unclear if that was because of her medical condition.

Her ticket credit expired.

At that point, Adams asked one of my colleagues for help, but to no avail. The credit appeared to be gone for good.

Then Adams asked me to look into her case. I thought she stood a so-so chance of either getting a full refund or at least a ticket credit, based on her medical condition, and that it’s possible her emails may have gotten lost during the merger with Southwest Airlines.

I checked with Southwest, which now owns AirTran. Here’s its answer:

AirTran twice made exceptions to waive fees for the customer to allow her to use the funds, and also (during the ticket’s validity period) tried to offer a refund.

The customer didn’t respond to an email inquiry requesting information, and the ticket has since expired.

I’m afraid that is the final word from AirTran since they had twice done an extension and then offered a full refund that went unanswered.

I checked with Adams, and she says she never got an email offering a full refund. “I would hav snapped it up immediately,” she told me.

I really hate to move this into the “case dismissed” file. Adams had a serious medical condition, and it seems her airline was willing to work with her. (And by the way, I think both parties are telling the truth — I believe AirTran sent the message and Adams didn’t get it.)

The takeaway? When you’re dealing with an online travel agency and airline by email, always whitelist the domain through your email program. In other words, tell Hotmail or Gmail that any message coming from or is not spam. I’m fairly certain that the offer to refund Adams’ fare got caught in a spam filter.

It’s also possible that the refund offer was made through Travelocity, and that the online agency either didn’t pass the message along to Adams or that its email to her was trapped in her spam filter or in Travelocity’s filter.

Adams could have followed up with AirTran by phone when she didn’t hear back from the airline, which might have prevented her ticket from expiring forever. But we’ll never know.

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