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Refund of increase in airfare on last minute change, medical emergency
Old 06-21-2015, 09:21 AM   #1
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Refund of increase in airfare on last minute change, medical emergency

My mother had to make a last minute change in her United airline reservation ("non-refundable" tickets) due to a medical emergency involving my brother. After the change, the airfare went from $260 per ticket to $860 per ticket. She had 3 tickets, therefore her airfare went up $600 per ticket, for an additional $1,800 for the trip. Plus $200 change fee per person adds on another $600. Then she had to return early and incurred another $200 change fee per person, adding another $600. Total added expense is now up to $3,000. So the cost per person went from $260 to $1,260. Wow!

So far she has been able to get partial refunds on the change fees on the outbound flight. Not sure about the return flight. United required a letter from the doctor treating my brother, on hospital letterhead, and we were able to get that and forward it to United, to get the partial refund of the outbound change fees. ($150 refund for each $200 change fee). I'm not sure if she has gotten any refunds for the return flight change, or has even tried.

She tells me United says on the phone that they will not refund the difference in airfare. But maybe they will, now that she has the letter from the doctor. I suppose it also depends what agent you get when calling United.

I read the refund policy on United's website and it seemed to imply that the difference in airfare could be refunded, on a case by case basis.

My search of the web shows that the change fees are easier to get refunded than the bump in airfare.

So now I have 2 questions: 1. Can my Mom get her return flight change fees refunded? 2. Can she get the difference in airfare refunded?

Any helpful hints appreciated !

Thanks
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Old 06-21-2015, 09:57 AM   #2
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I'm sorry to hear about your brother's emergency. Unfortunately, your Mom is not entitled to a refund. United was very kind to refund part of the change fee, but they are under no obligation to do this as per their contract of carriage. It is perfectly legal for United to charge whatever it wants for last minute purchases or changes, and when your Mom chose to pay what they asked, she was agreeing to their price and their contract terms.

If your Mom had travel insurance, she should file a claim. Failing that, her best hope is to call United and talk to human beings and ask for help. If that fails, she could try reaching out to an executive and appealing the decision. Chris Elliott has a page for this on his consumer affairs site: United Airlines - Elliott
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Old 06-22-2015, 05:18 AM   #3
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These special fares are endangered species. The largest airline in the nation stopped offering them last year, and the second-tier airlines don't either anymore. While it is always possible to get a customer satisfaction accommodation, if you catch the right CSR with the right story on a day when the stars are aligned just so, increasingly what we will encounter is an offer of an advance purchase fare with a waiver of requirements for booking the fare in advance, and that's only going to be offered when that fare class isn't sold out.

Best of luck for further accommodation from United.
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Old 06-22-2015, 05:43 AM   #4
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Many credit cards cover this free I believe. Have you checked if she used one and if it has travel insurance?


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Old 06-22-2015, 07:49 AM   #5
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Different people have different definitions of what an emergency is. Do you mind saying what it was in this case? It could have a bearing on peoples opinions.
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Old 06-22-2015, 07:56 AM   #6
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It might make a difference here, among some or all of us, but in a commercial environment, especially given the nature of today's consumer, it probably needs to be less granular than that - effectively pushing off the responsibility for saying whether it is or is not a significant need to the medical professional and the airline staying out of that muck.
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Old 06-23-2015, 07:19 AM   #7
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Many credit cards cover this free I believe. Have you checked if she used one and if it has travel insurance?


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Thanks for the replies. Yes, she used a credit card. Thanks for that suggestion! Her CC website says she has free trip interruption/cancellation insurance for up to $2,000. I will suggest she try that tack after the airline refunds.
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Old 06-23-2015, 09:02 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by John Galt III View Post
Thanks for the replies. Yes, she used a credit card. Thanks for that suggestion! Her CC website says she has free trip interruption/cancellation insurance for up to $2,000. I will suggest she try that tack after the airline refunds.
These claims can be a real pain, I filed for a similar one last winter and the knit-
picky details they required, along with not being able to talk to a real person, made it way more difficult then it needed to be. I did get paid in the end.

Depending on how well your Mother deals with stuff like this,you might want to help her and monitor the claim, sometimes I think they just want to stall you to death.
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Old 06-25-2015, 04:41 PM   #9
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Different people have different definitions of what an emergency is.
I get this all the time booking the lake house as a vacation rental. My agreement is clear NO REFUNDS! And I haven't issued one in 10 years. Did write a letter to get one out of jury duty ... lol.

I am surprised she got ANYTHING refunded. If she decided to book the cheapest ticket then cancel and rebook ... time to be an adult.
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Old 06-26-2015, 07:34 PM   #10
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......
I am surprised she got ANYTHING refunded. If she decided to book the cheapest ticket then cancel and rebook ... time to be an adult.
Don't see what being an adult has to do with it. She wanted the most economical fare, of course. When she had to revise her travel dates, she had to pay the higher fare and change fees, and she did do. Since United has a policy of allowing change fees to be reimbursed under certain circumstances, she pursued it. Sounds pretty normal to me.
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Old 06-26-2015, 08:22 PM   #11
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Don't see what being an adult has to do with it. She wanted the most economical fare, of course. When she had to revise her travel dates, she had to pay the higher fare and change fees, and she did do. Since United has a policy of allowing change fees to be reimbursed under certain circumstances, she pursued it. Sounds pretty normal to me.
You still haven't said what the medical emergency was. Since you asked for opinions, here is mine. Assuming shes not a doctor and cant do anything medically to help your brother that's not already being done, and assuming he wasn't about to die and this would be her last chance to see him, I dont think she deserves a refund. Personally, I wouldn't change my flight and come home early unless one of those 2 criteria were met. What good am I going to be sitting in the hospital waiting room as a relative has some non life threatening procedure?
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Old 06-26-2015, 09:12 PM   #12
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I am surprised she got ANYTHING refunded. If she decided to book the cheapest ticket then cancel and rebook ... time to be an adult.
+1

I like southwest because it's pretty painless to rebook tickets even last minute. You just pay the difference in fare, which isn't normally as much as the other major airlines.

At the other airlines, you're buying a lottery ticket and hoping you can use it according to your schedule.

I'd also echo the suggestion to check out the credit card used to purchase the tickets since they sometimes cover you like travel insurance for changes due to medical emergencies.
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Old 06-26-2015, 09:42 PM   #13
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Airlines are not charities. They have a right to enforce the contract of carriage. That said, they may, at their discretion, choose to refund a charge on compassionate grounds. As in any other business, airlines that manage customer care well can get good PR out of it. But they have no legal obligation to do so.

Aer Lingus has really come through for Irish people affected by the Berkeley tragedy
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Old 06-27-2015, 06:15 AM   #14
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I wasn't asking for opinions, just suggestions about refunds. Yes, it was a life-threatening situation. My brother's medical condition suddenly worsened and his wife called my parents to suggest they come down immediately to see him in the hospital since he could have died in a matter of days. Thankfully, he has improved and is OK for now. My brother has been ill for many years but not this seriously before. My parents obtained the required documentation from the doctor, and United has partially refunded their change fees, as their policy states, ($150 refunded out of each $200 change fee). No one is ripping off the airlines.
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Old 06-27-2015, 08:04 AM   #15
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Glad you better is doing better.
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