Did KLM lie about her ticket refund?

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By Christopher Elliott

If you’re an airline apologist, you’ll probably answer Angelina Bellamy’s question reflexively, if not dismissively.

I almost did (and I’m no airline apologist). But this one’s interesting, and not as easy to fix as it looks.

Bellamy purchased four Economy Extra Flexible tickets on KLM from San Francisco to Stockholm recently. She decided to cancel her return ticket and ask for a refund.

Normally, when you cancel the return on a discounted fare, you don’t get a refund. In some cases, you should be grateful the airline doesn’t try to charge you for the more expensive one-way fare for violating its ticket contract — but that’s another story.

When Bellamy called KLM to inquire about the terms of her ticket, a representative told her that she could cancel the return for a full refund on the unused portion.

“That was the point for me purchasing the much more expensive tickets,” she said. “Otherwise I would have purchased the cheap tickets, canceled the return ticket and lost the money, which would have been much much less than I am now losing because I bought the expensive tickets.”

But KLM refused to refund a penny of her fare. The reason? Although her fare was “flexible,” it repriced her ticket as a one-way fare, ensuring it would keep all of her money. (I’ll let the airline explain in a minute.)

Bellamy understands the rules. She’s upset about the way in which the rules were communicated. (Related: Is this enough compensation? A partial refund for my dogless flight.)

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I was told several times by their staff that I would receive a refund.

KLM’s website, while being misleading about actually receiving the full refund, certainly does not state their policy about one-way ticket charges. If their customer service staff is misleading the consumer, they should honor those promises.

I have three different tape recordings of their customer service staff reassuring me I would get my money back upon cancellation.

I am furious about this deceptive tactic. Is there something that you might be able to do to help in this situation?

Let’s let KLM explain itself. Here are the relevant portions of her final rejection letter from the airline:

[Your] refund is calculated based on the journey you have flown (one way from Stockholm to San Francisco) and this is deducted from the refundable value of the unused portion of your ticket.

According to Article X (3) of our General Conditions of Carriage (b) the difference between the fare paid and the fare applicable to the scheduled route for which the Ticket was used, if a portion of the Ticket was used, less applicable administrative or cancellation charges.

Since you only flew one-way from Sweden to San Francisco, our Refunds Department calculates the one-way journey and deducts this from the value of the tickets paid.

In certain cases, as here, the one-way fare may be greater than the return fare purchased and there is no refund due; however, any unused airport taxes will be refunded.

Although I do not doubt the veracity of your comments and I am not in a position to confirm or deny that you were informed the refund due would be SEK32650, however can confirm that the amount refunded is correct.

In other words, it doesn’t matter what our representatives told you on the phone, or what our website suggests. It’s the fare rules and the conditions of carriage that matter here. (Here’s our guide to resolving your consumer problems.)

I agree with KLM on one level, and I disagree on another. Rules are rules. But if your own employees misrepresent the rules, then we have a problem. (Related: Is this enough compensation? A $150 voucher for denied boarding in Bremen.)

And that’s not to say I agree with these rules. Recalculating the fare from a flexible economy class ticket to what appears to be a walk-up fare is unsporting.

Should my advocacy team and I go to bat for Bellamy? I suspect I’ll strike out, but when has that stopped me from trying?

Should I mediate Angelina Bellamy's case with KLM?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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