Airline cancels route – but what about my credits?

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By Christopher Elliott

Nancy Palmer cancels her flight from Seattle to Baltimore. Then her airline stops flying from Seattle to Baltimore. So what happens with the ticket credit she was offered? Is her ticket really nonrefundable?

Question

I’m writing about a recent issue I had with AirTran Airways and Southwest Airlines and am wondering if you can help. Last April, I booked a flight through Expedia from Seattle, where I live, to Baltimore, to see my parents. I had to cancel the flight, scheduled for June of last year, and Expedia sent me an email saying I had $399 in flight credits through AirTran, to use within one year.

Just recently, I tried to book the same flight — Seattle to Baltimore — and called Expedia to use my flight credits. Expedia got AirTran to release the tickets back to them, but then Expedia staff told me they found out that AirTran no longer flies from Seattle to Baltimore, or from Seattle to anywhere.

I asked what I was supposed to do about my flight credits. They had no answer. I asked if I could get a refund from AirTran, since they no longer fly out of Seattle. Expedia staff got AirTran on the other line, and AirTran said “no refunds.”

I think, since they no longer fly here, this is a case where they should refund me the $399 for my flight credit. Do you think so? Can you help with this? — Nancy Palmer, Seattle

Answer

Normally, when an airline cancels a flight, you would be entitled to a full refund. But this isn’t a normal situation.

As you probably know, AirTran and Southwest have merged. AirTran is operating as a unit of Southwest, and Southwest most certainly does fly to Baltimore. But at the time this happened, AirTran was operating as a unit of Southwest and some of their internal systems hadn’t been fully integrated from the merger. That meant your vouchers were only good on AirTran.

The agent you spoke with might have tried to figure out a way around the internal corporate barriers instead of simply telling you “no refunds.” (Here’s our guide on how to get a refund on a non-refundable ticket.)

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The AirTran credits that went unused

I mean, what good is your ticket if you can’t use it? When you explained your dilemma to the AirTran agent, he or she should have been able to come up with a solution that worked for you. After all, AirTran canceled its flights. The fact that you’d postponed your initial trip should have made no difference.

But as a practical matter, it did. When you delay a flight, an airline will issue a ticket credit good for a full year from the date of your first booking. So now your money is converted to AirTran credits that expire, and that you can’t use.

I think if you’d taken a few more minutes to explain to the agent that he or she wasn’t seeing the big picture, it might have changed your choices. Also, I note that most of your communication took place by phone. Next time, try sending an email with your refund request, if for no other reason than to set up a paper trail. I’ve talked about how important a paper trail is in winning a dispute before.

My advocacy team and I contacted Southwest on your behalf. It cut you a check for $399, the full value of your AirTran ticket to Baltimore.

Should airlines refund ticket vouchers when they stop flying on a desired route?

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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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