We want a refund for our canceled Hawaii flight

Ann and Francis Mason’s bucket-list trip to Hawaii is cut short when Francis’ father unexpectedly passes away. Can they get a refund for their unused airline tickets?

Question: I’ve dreamed of visiting Hawaii since age 4, so when my husband and I retired, that’s where we wanted to go for our first major trip. We booked our vacation through our travel agent and also bought insurance, since my husband’s mother recently had been put into hospice.

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On our way to Hawaii, we found out that his healthy 94-year-old father had gotten shingles and died suddenly. We were shocked, but felt relieved that we had bought travel insurance.

Our travel agent was able to book us flights back, leaving at almost midnight and returning to Philadelphia at 7 p.m. the next day. After the funeral, our agent contacted us to start the ordeal of getting us back the money from the trip that didn’t happen.

The travel insurance company made it sound like we would get back all our money, minus what we used and the premium. What it doesn’t tell you is that you have to contact all the airlines yourself. We had several airlines to deal with!

Island Air in Hawaii has our highest regards. Its agents acted professionally, and they got us our money back — minus those fees — quickly. Hawaiian Air said to contact US Airways. We called US Airways twice and emailed. We have received no response.

This has been a trying situation, adding insult to injury. Can you please help us to get our airfare back from US Airways? — Ann Mason, Pennsauken, N.J.

Answer: My condolences to both you and your husband on the loss of your father-in-law. You tried to protect your vacation investment by using a qualified travel agent and buying trip insurance. And when tragedy struck, you did your best to go through all the right steps to receive a refund or credit for your unused airfare.

I should fill in a few details: This was a package tour, so you don’t know how much each component actually costs. You cut your visit to Hawaii short to return to the mainland, buying new airline tickets. Your travel insurance reimbursed those, but left you with return tickets that would go unused.

Under your fare rules, you could receive a credit for those tickets, minus a $200 change fee and fare differential. Most airlines waive the change fees if you can show them a death certificate.

But a full refund is not the norm. I would not feel comfortable lobbying US Airways into refunding those tickets.

But I do feel comfortable encouraging the airline to respond to you. When you called the airline, it placed you on hold for an hour before you gave up. And you tried calling again, with the same result. Then you wrote the airline, but it never responded.
When that happens, you can escalate your complaint to someone higher up the food chain. I publish the names and addresses of the managers on my site.

I do want to be clear on this issue: US Airways isn’t required to do anything more than answer your email and offer the ticket credit as per your fare rules. You then take that information to your travel insurance company, which may or may not cut you a check, depending on your coverage. Or you can ask me to get involved.

I will add my disappointment that your travel agent and insurance company were not more helpful with your claim. Your agent could have assisted you in requesting a refund — after all, you paid a commission and a booking fee for that travel professional’s services. (You know that saying, “Without a travel agency, you’re on your own”? You shouldn’t ever have felt alone.)

I contacted US Airways on your behalf to see if it could answer your request for a ticket credit or a refund. In response, the airline credited you $3,200, which appears to be the full value of your flights booked with them. That’s an unexpectedly generous resolution.

Should US Airways have offered Ann and Francis Mason a ticket credit?

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82 thoughts on “We want a refund for our canceled Hawaii flight

  1. I’m confused as to why the travel agent didn’t step in and help. She purchased travel insurance through the agent, and it appears the agent did nothing more to help after securing a return flight. The comments are often filled with advice to use a real, live travel agent and purchase insurance, especially for once in a lifetime trips like this one. Ms. Mason did this and was still stuck in a loop of people passing the buck. My condolences to her family, and hopefully she uses a different travel agent in the future.

    1. Well in the future they’re better off not using a travel agent at all, clearly its a scammy job who do nothing but charge a booking fee for something one can do on the internet easily.

      1. The industry apologism and lack of compassion shown by the travel agents who post regularly on this blog have convinced me never to use one!

        1. I’ve traveled a fair amount in my life and have never used one. Maybe I’m just lucky but I’ve always had great success doing my own booking.

          1. A good agent is there for you when things go wrong, which did not happen here. But I have done things for my clients they could never have gotten on their own, because of the relationships I’ve built over my 20+ years with the airlines, car rental companies, hotels, tour operators and cruise lines.

        2. Once again – I have worked in this industry well over 20 years, and do NOT appreciate being lumped in with such poor excuses for an agent as was shown here. To paint EVERYONE in a profession with a blanket statement is ridiculous – one bad experience does not mean all the agents out there follow the same sort of business model. I’ve had poor service from a multitude of vendors, from grocery stores, to car sales people. But I don’t mistakenly assume ALL in their field are the same.

          1. I agree. This wouldn’t have been a problem if booked through our agency. We’ve gotten insurance companies to pay denials by getting involved and making a case for reimbursement.

          2. I don’t for a moment lump you in with the agent mentioned here! But most of the travel agents who post to this site keep complaining that Chris does too much for “stupid” people who didn’t read the fine print, didn’t follow the rules, didn’t use a travel agent, are allegedly lying and so on. If this is a representative sample of the profession, why would any of us use a travel agent? If anything went wrong, we’d just be told that it was all our fault.

          3. Thank you – and I agree – some bad apples DO make it bad for us – but sooner or later, they get weeded out. I always tell folks talk to your family and friends, they can tell you what they think of the agent they’ve used – and when its a good one, we get tons of referrals. (I tend to use that as a barometer of my clients’ satisfaction)

        3. Don’t judge all travel agents this way! If you can find a good one, as we had for years, she will be one of the most valued people in your life. They are not as easy to find as they used to be, but check with your local business community (Rotary, etc) to see who they use.

          On today’s case: LW did all the right things, though he should have asked for a credit rather than a refund. So are we at the point yet where we should recommend that all travelers get insurance insurance, which covers you in case your first insurance carrier craps out on the deal?

          1. Thank you! Not all of us operate this way — and this agent REALLY dropped the ball, so Chris should have shamed her, and not the tour operator, who was NOT required to refund a thing here.

          2. But the question is, did she ask the agent for help? That isn’t mentioned. Some people don’t think to go back to the agent for something like this.

          3. Good question, and was it a real agent? The OP also refers to the employees at Island Air as agents. I know many people who have used Expedia and thought he person they spoke to was their travel agent. Not to mention, some companies have “Agents” that book for their customers, but they are sales people, not travel agents.

          4. The OP also refers to the employees at Island Air as agents.

            How is one supposed to refer to the airline employees who answer the phone?

            She referred to her travel agent repeatedly as a “our travel agent.” Who Chris also refers to as “a qualified travel agent.” Who also contacted her after the funeral. She refers to the people she spoke to from Island Air as “its agents.”

            I don’t think there is any confusion here unless someone is bending over backwards to fish for reasons to cast aspersions on the customer.

          5. This is your bi-monthly reminder that I no longer talk to you, despite your almost daily attempts to attack everything I say. Please go troll someone else.

          6. I think this is a valid question. Talking travel with friends, I know that most refer to customer service agents working for ticket broker agencies (for lack of a better term) as travel agents. Still…from the article it sounds like she paid a commission for their work, which makes me assume that she did use an actual travel agent.

          7. good point – but the agent should have been more proactive – I always start the claim and send in the necessary forms, then forward the claim number and let the client know what has been done, and if they need a doctor’s note, etc. That way, they ALSO know I am on top of this.

          8. She obviously asked her travel agent for help when the agent booked flights back to PHL and contacted her after the funeral about the insurance claim.

            Are you suggesting the agent did not know that she was due a credit on her unused airfares? And that the agent did not know that documentation of this was needed for the insurance claim that the agent was calling her about?

      2. I take offense with that comment. Just as in any profession, there are some bad apples out there – but do not paint ALL of us with that paintbrush, as my clients not only repeatedly use me, but refer their friends and family regularly, because they know I would NEVER have handled a situation like this, but would have taken care of everything on their behalf before they had even completed their flight back. This is hardly a SCAMMY job, as we work tirelessly for our clients, and can do FAR more for them than they can do for themselves online.

      3. The agent should have stepped in, but did the couple contact the agent for help? If so, shame on the agent, butI’d be posting are review on Yelp about the agency if the agent refused to help. Thats their JOB.

        1. Yep – that’s how I would have done it. ALWAYS file the claim and send in needed materials, so the client isn’t left hanging.

      4. That is like saying you’ll never go grocery shopping ever again at any store because one time you had a rude cashier. Obviously, you can’t judge an entire profession on one persons actions.

    2. For reasons I don’t fully understand, if there’s a trip booked by Useless Small Agent with BigCorp, Chris always chases after BigCorp (even if they didn’t do anything wrong) instead of taking Useless Small Agent to task for not doing their job. (But larger agencies get shamed along with the rest of them…)

      Basically, if you are a small travel agency, you need not fear being named here if you fail to do your job. In many cases, they need not fear even being contacted by Chris asking why. (At least, not that he posts about.)

      1. It’s simple really.

        BigCorp = lots of money, so regardless of the why, they should be the ones to pay.

        America really works the same way if you think about it. Starting that conversation here would just open a giant can of worms, so I’ll just leave it at that.

      2. I’ve pursued lots of small agents, and continue to do so. The response is almost always: It’s the customer’s fault. (Sound familiar?) I don’t want to get into a discussion about that. It would not end well.

        1. Then it’s appropriate to name them and shame them. You do with larger companies. In many cases experienced travelers are far, far better doing it themselves than relying on a TA that does a piss-poor job. Frankly, there are a fair number of crappy travel agents out there – maybe you should write about that sometime.

          Travel insurance that requires me to contact the airlines for refunds? What kind of insurance is that?

          1. IF the travel agent had handled this properly, the client would NEVER have had to have done so. As soon as this happens to a client of mine, I initiate the refund, fill out all their forms on the client’s behalf, and send in all the documentation needed (a final invoice and a copy of the tour operator’s terms & conditions would have been sufficient here). I had a client who had to come back from Europe due to a father’s illness, and was shocked that by the time his flight landed, he’d already gotten an email from the insurance company verifying receipt of all the documentation, and their claim number information for their reference. The only thing they needed to have sent in was a physician’s note, which I took care of when I got the contact info from them.

          2. It’s probably more useful for Chris to name and shame the big companies since most of us will never encounter a specific small-town brick and mortar agency.

          3. How about the people who live in Philadelphia? Shouldn’t they know? By disclosing the name(s) in the article, it will be “available” for a Google search. I don’t know about you but when I do business with a local companyindividual, I do a Google search on them before I sign, buy, etc.

        2. If this person had booked with Expedia, you would not have hesitated to mention that, and repeat your general (deserved) disdain for their lack of useful customer service. If the person had booked through AAA or other large chain agency, you would have mentioned that.

          Despite the fact they didn’t do what travel agents are supposed to do, for some reason this agency remains anonymous. Yet you don’t hesitate to name the airline, even though their only offense was to not promptly reply to the traveler denying them a refund they weren’t due.

          Even though airlines or cruise lines or rental agencies routinely respond to your prodding with either “No Comment” or “It’s the travelers fault”, you frequently ask for comment and publish said response. So where is the response from the lackluster agency?

          1. I agree with you. The agent and agency needs to be disclosed so that they may learn from this situation and do not repeat this in the future.

            Over the years, I have read many comments like “I won’t do business with XYZ after reading this article.” Without disclosing the name of the agent and travel agency, Chris is enabling them to continue to do business in their same old fashion.

        3. First, you should have contacted the travel agent in this case to see if the LW did contact herhim. If ‘Yes”, why the travel agent didn’t help them.

          Second, you should have named the travel agentagency so that the public can know about the level of service (or lack of service) that they can expect from this agentagency. The only way to improve the level of service is to point it out.

        4. That is because, of the one sided presentation for the purpose of the articles. Since a ‘travel agency’ is part of this in today’s article, why isn’t it mentioned if it is an OTA or a brick and mortar agency? What was the insurance company? These are questions I have and I know other TA’s immediately have. What the LW is experiencing isn’t what my clients who have filed have experienced. Why call the TA for the rebook when that is what the insurance company should be doing and is usually in the details of the coverage a traveler would receive when they take out the policy. Missing details don’t help us.

      3. As a long time agent, praise was NOT due that agent, and this one was woefully pathetic in handling this situation. And I fully agree – would NEVER have gone after USAir Vacations here, as this was not their fault. But just as you should take the time to choose a lawyer or physician, you should shop around for an agent. I rarely get a new client that was not a referral — my clients are mostly repeats, or friends or family of past guests, and that is due to my handling my clients as if it was my booking – and that is something that is due to an agent’s passion for the position, versus it just being their job.

        1. It would be nice to know the agency involved. I can see something like this from a huge corporation but not from your regular small town agency. I’ve had someone who booked through one of the large OTAs come to me for help when their flights were cancelled and all they got from the OTA was an email – no offer of help to rebook, etc.

          1. I agree…it seems like Chris has a double standard…it is okay to disclose and shame a large corporation but it is okay to not to disclose and shame a small agencyagent.

            As stated in the article and the comments, the travel agent is your advocate. If not, what is the purpose for the commission(s) and/or booking fee that the travel agent charged?

          2. what is the purpose for the commission(s) and/or booking fee that the travel agent charged

            Fee for a service? Don’t OTA’s earn commissions too? What is the purpose of it?

            One can flip your alleged double standard around. For the many posters here who complain when Chris “shames” a company into doing something it hasn’t guaranteed in writing, why would they *want* him to “shame” the company into doing something it hasn’t guaranteed in writing when the company happens to be a small travel agency?

      4. For reasons I don’t fully understand, many posters here complain that Chris “shames” companies into granting concessions that were not guaranteed to the customer in writing.

        I agree that I would expect more from a travel agent in this circumstance, but for those among us who normally stick to the “did you get it in writing?” standard, then why doesn’t that apply equally to the customer/travel agent relationship? Does any travel agent provide written guarantees that they will secure unused ticket credits and prepare insurance claim documentation?

        1. When interviewing travel agents (as well as other professionals), I will ask what services that they provide to their clients. I ask because I want to see if they are an order taker or a professional.

          1. And you are the type of client I LIKE!!! I don’t understand why some folks get huffy when I ask probing questions, and are in such a hurry that they do not want to take the time for me to get to know them. I explain to them that the better I know them, their likes and dislikes, the better I can fit their needs and wants into their dream vacation.

        2. The idea that they’ll provide more services beyond what a DIY will do is the whole reason to use a travel agent instead of just going direct to the travel provider and clicking “book”.

          Certainly many of the large online travel bookers don’t claim to provide much in the way of service, but most retail agents (many of which charge booking fees or collect heavy commissions) purport to provide something better.

          Certainly knowing that such-and-such agency is no better than DIY would be useful information.

    3. Absolutely! As an agent who has handled this myself several times, we send in the final invoice and terms & conditions, then request the full refund amount from the insurance policy – and the client NEVER has to jump through these kinds of hoops. Terrible!

      1. Yes, there is documentation from us on what was purchased, when it was purchased, how it was purchased. Something about ‘the agent’ isn’t clicking.

  2. Multi airlines with “international” flights (Hawaii is international, what a joke), package hotel, airfare, etc. Exactly the reason that some people should use a travel agent.

    Chris, why not lobby the travel agent first to get off their butt and help with the claim? Then if that does not work lobby the airline? The used a travel agent and bought insurance and still are getting the run around. This is a perfect example of when you should do everything you can to help, because they did everything they can to protect themselves.

    Go get ’em!

  3. I’m not sure why they thought they were due a cash refund for the flight under the travel insurance. Travel insurance covers refunds for UNUSED trip arrangements. As in, things you did not get to do. Missed a tour? Valid claim. Prepaid hotel you didn’t get to stay in? Valid claim.

    In this case, it looks like they were going PHL->HNL->Bucolic Tropical Island->HNL->PHL. It sounds like they got a refund for HNL->Island->HNL (and if they hadn’t, the insurance company would have paid, since they never made it to Island.)

    But they DID go from PHL->HNL, and it sounds as if the insurance company got them from HNL->PHL. That means, from the view of the insurance company, you used those trip arrangements. If you did so part-way on a flight paid for by the insurance company, you don’t get to “double dip” and collect a refund on the flight too. (If you DID collect a refund, you’d have to turn right around and mail that check to the insurance company. Frankly, I’m surprised that insurance companies let you keep ticket credits.)

    1. I was puzzled about this as well. Something is a bit off in the details. They did get home. Maybe they purchased new tickets because they could not change the original ones, but that sounds a bit odd to me. And, out of curiosity, what insurance company sent them on this wild goose chase? What exactly did they pay for? Was the air included in the package? If so the insurance company would have covered it as long as the claim was legitimate. All this information would have been provided by the tour company and the agent (if he/she was more than an order-taker). Color me confused.

      1. The insurance company’s agency gives you the choice of whatever method will get you home the fastest. If that means buying a new ticket on another airline, that’s what they’ll do. Certainly they’d prefer to re-use your existing ticket, but they do not require it. However, whatever happens, you aren’t getting a refund for the ticket home; if you did, you’d have to turn it over to the insurance company anyway.

        (Where travelers really get into trouble is if they inexplicably buy a brand-new ticket with Frequent Flyer miles, which are not generally reimbursable.)

        1. But my confusion lies with the fact that the insurance company wanted breakdowns which actually can be provided by the tour company. I had a similar experience a while back with a death in our family and had to come home from a trip. My agent (a professional) got us flights home and got the insurance claim started. None of the wild goose chase this client describes–the insurance claim was for the unused portion of our trip including air. Plus much of our more expensive return was covered by the trip interruption portion of the plan. The only thing not reimbursed was the insurance premium. Hence my confusion with all of this. Not a professional agent and some really weird insurance.

          1. Absolutely – that was how this is handled. I find this a bit confusing as well, and wonder about whether or not this was really an “agent” or just an OTA or club salesperson, and whether the insurance was purchased by the agent or by the client separately. VERY confusing story.

    2. This could all have been avoided if the agent had stepped up and done her job — Chris, you would be entirely correct in shaming her in this case, because she did NOT do her job!

  4. The travel agent failed here BIG TIME! USAirways was not required to refund her — I would have forwarded the invoice and terms & conditions to the insurance company on her behalf (have a few times!), and would have requested the entire amount refunded by the insurance policy. Have never had a problem like this in the past. Sounds like this agent never sent in THEIR required documentation, which would have prevented her client ever having to have jumped through these hoops to begin with.

    1. I’m wondering if her “Agent” was merely a sales person form US Air Vacations or a sales person form some consolidator.

    2. of course they were “US Airways isn’t required to do anything more than answer your email and offer the ticket credit as per your fare rules.”
      What I do not understand is why the insurance company required her to do all the leg work. Also, if the airline only gave a credit, I wonder how that works with the terms of her insurance policy. (under the terms, is she due cash, and if so, how does the insurance company then handle that.)

      1. This is a very convoluted story, because they would get submit the tour operator’s receipt and terms and conditions, surrender any and all remaining tickets, and be refunded for the balance of the tour not taken. Very strange.

          1. I think we aren’t getting the whole story, so she may very well not have insured it all. Very strange story.

  5. I also am not sure why the agent didn’t help. Did Ann contact the agent for help? That is part of their job, to help you get thevdocuments you need to file the claim! If Ann asked the agent for help and the agent didn’t – shame on the agent! But some people don’t ask their agent for help.

  6. Impressed that US Airways of all airlines responded by refunding the full purchase price. Can’t help but think it was due to your involvement Chris, but still a pleasant surprise this morning. Echoing earlier comments, if the travel agent contacted the lady to start the claim process, was there any followup? Sounds like negligence on the part of the travel agent.

  7. The wording of the survey does not make sense. Of course the airline should have offered her a ticket credit, because that is in their written policy as stated in the story. how 23% completely ignore the actual policy of the airline and say tough luck is beyond me. (did they even read the story, or just skip to the end and guess?)

    1. If you read the story, they were issued a credit for all flights booked with the airline, not just the flight they didn’t use.

  8. Several things stand out on this. If a package was purchased, then there should have been a toll free number for the LW to call to assist with their interrupted trip where they handle reaccommodating you on another flight. I wonder what insurance company they had their coverage with? Also, no insurance company gives back their premium.
    US was very generous!

  9. It appears that most of the “my airline won’t respond to me” difficulties that we read about here occur with customers of US Airways. Perhaps boycotting US and it’s parent AA whenever possible will force them to become more consumer friendly.

  10. Condolances to the Masons – your father will be missed. This is a wild question. It is one of you best posings in awhile Chris. Where did they initiate their travel? Chris said that this was a “Package”. From our Pittsburgh, Washington area, the round trip package airfares are less than a one way ticket. The Masons would have used the value of their ticket on the way to Hawaii and have no value left for the return to have refunded. There are 95 – 121 separate fare bases and reasons for fares in these markets, so not knowing the cost of the ticket and the fare basis code, there is no way in the world that anybody could comment on what is due as a refund. That does not include the 100’s of private tour fares out there.
    Insurance – what company? I have never had Travel Guard ask for individual air ticket prices when it was part of a “package”. We just fill in that Pleasant, Apple, Globus, etc did the package, advise the cost of the original tour, supply a copy of the invoice and let the insurance agent figure it out with the company. The Masons have other problems to deal with, not the break down of a package.
    NOW, if they have been refunded their new expences, the prorate of their loss on the trip, and are back to even finacially, what are they even screwing around with USAir? If they got something back from USAir, then they would legally need to refund the insurance company. They have insurance coverage to bring them back to even, not extra profit.

    1. Since it is hush hush, it might have been Allianz a sponsor of this site. We all know the horror stories about its old name.
      Interesting how there is a lack of information in the story but many blame the travel agent.

  11. I’m confused. If you purchase a vacation package through a travel agent and insure it, why would you have to do anything more than report the fact that a terrible family emergency requires you to turn around and fly back home? They you’d wait for the check from the insurance company. Why would the client have to contact “everyone”? This makes no sense to me.

    1. That is what Lindabator and I are questioning, too. It doesn’t appear that the air was insured if fees were withheld from Island Air. Missing information in this article.

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