Gift card trouble — specifically, Austrian Airlines gift card trouble — seems to be a little problem these days. Brian Marita is the second passenger to contact us recently about the airline’s nonworking plastic.
After bumping passengers and delaying flights, Austrian Airlines is issuing EU 261 compensation in the form of gift cards. And the airline is proving to be just as unresponsive as retailers Amazon and Target when those gift cards don’t work as intended.
Marita booked a round-trip air ticket from Cleveland to Vienna on United Airlines, with the return from Graz on an Austrian Airlines flight code-shared on Lufthansa (all members of the Star Alliance).
He flew to Austria without a hitch, but his return trip home was a disaster. Austrian Airlines oversold the flight and rebooked Marita for a flight departing five hours later, causing him to miss connections and lose one day of travel.
According to Austrian Airlines’ contract of carriage, passengers are entitled to compensation in accordance with EU 261, which requires that airlines subject to its terms must issue compensation of 600 euros per passenger for canceled, delayed, or overbooked flights over 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles).
The agent at the gate was very helpful rebooking all these flights and provided me the assurance of 600 euro compensation after receiving approval on the phone with someone. It took some time at the airport; however, eventually she provided me an Austrian Airlines Maestro prepaid credit card and told me it could take up to 24 hours to be activated.
Upon arriving home I checked the card balance and it had never been activated with any balance. I called the airlines and the representative on the phone tried to assist me. She indicated the notes on my e-ticket indicated [I was due] the 600 euro compensation; however, they only can deal with ticketing issues over the phone and any refunds or compensation issues had to be done online. I did submit my issue using their website. They did confirm receipt and issued a reference number. Since that time I have not been able to get any further information.
Trying to reach Austrian Airlines
He made multiple inquiries with Austrian Airlines and United about the status of the Austrian Airlines gift cards and his compensation. The only responses he received were links back to the Austrian Airlines website and a case number from United. Although United’s customer service agents promised to ask its Star Alliance team members to “look into” Marita’s case, they told Marita that he would have to “work with” Austrian Airlines to resolve his situation.
Marita might have escalated his complaint to Austrian Airlines using our executive contacts, but he turned to our advocates for assistance. Our advocate Michelle Couch-Friedman reached out to Austrian Airlines on Marita’s behalf but received no response.
This is not the only case our advocates have handled lately in which Austrian Airlines has been unresponsive to its passengers as well as to us. Mary Kopacz recently requested our assistance in receiving EU 261 compensation from Austrian Airlines. Peter N. Thier, a spokesman for Austrian Airlines, mentioned in the comments on our story about Kopacz’s case that Austrian Airlines had canceled her flight to Frankfurt, causing her to miss a connection. Thier’s comment was the first response either Kopacz or our advocates received after she filed her initial request for EU 261 compensation.
The good news
Both Thier and Friedman noted that Kopacz had filed a claim with the Agency for Passenger Rights (APF), the governing body that administers EU 261 in Austria. Friedman indicated that she received word that Austrian Airlines would pay the compensation to Kopacz, but she should not have had to file the claim in order to receive it. As Friedman noted, “This is not the typical path that a passenger should need to follow in order to claim the EU 261 compensation. It’s unclear why these additional steps were necessary for your passenger.”
Instead of an empty gift card, Austrian Airlines should have issued Marita a cash payment of 600 euros. And as with Kopacz, it’s not clear why Marita, or any other passenger who is due EU 261 compensation from Austrian Airlines, needs to take additional actions to receive that compensation. Couch-Friedman similarly recommended that Marita file a claim with the APF to resolve his Austrian Airlines gift card trouble.
Marita notified us that he took Friedman’s advice and filed a claim with the APF, which told him that it could not assist him. But his story has a happy ending.
Austrian Airlines emailed Marita the following day, promising to “look into the matter” and asking for Marita’s gift card number. Two days later, the airline informed Marita that his card was empty because of “technical issues.” Austrian Airlines loaded the card with 600 euros, which Marita transferred to his account.