COVID airline refund policies still causing trouble, traveler says

The coronavirus pandemic threw the travel world into a tailspin.

Cruise ships were grounded, hotels stayed empty and the airlines were swamped with cancellations.

Those cancelations came under great scrutiny as customers tried to get refunds, or at least credits, for unused travel.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) received more than 102,000 complaints about airlines in 2020, an all-time record and an increase of more than 5,000% from 2019. More than 89% of the complaints concerned refunds, the agency said.As the world got back to traveling in 2021, consumer complaints about refund policies and how credits were treated dropped by half, but the agency still logged nearly 50,000 complaints received in 2021, 59% concerned refunds, DOT said.

Guy and Donna DelVecchio, and Donna’s mother Julie Mulvihill, who lives with them in Livingston, are among them.

The family takes a trip every January to Aruba, but they didn’t go in 2021 because of the pandemic.

As time passed, they were hopeful that vaccines would make a difference and they could go on their annual trip in January 2022.They booked the trip with American Airlines in March 2021, but by December, omicron case numbers were skyrocketing.

“My mother-in-law is 80 years old and had major COVID concerns,” Guy DelVecchio said. “The CDC had the same concern by issuing a trip advisory advising no travel to Aruba.”

In December, a month before the trip and just as the omicron variant was taking hold, they decided to cancel. American issued credits that they believed were good for a year.

When March 2022 rolled around, the family, once again hopeful, wanted to rebook the trip for January 2023.

“American Airlines told us the $388 trip credit expired one year from the date of the original ticket purchase,” DelVecchio said. “If I knew the credit expiration was March 2022, I would have booked our January 2023 Aruba vacation in February 2022.”

DelVecchio wrote an email to American, asking it to reconsider so they could use the credit for the January 2023 trip.

In its response, American offered to extend the credit, with the travel having to be completed by Dec. 31, 2022, the month before their planned trip.So that wouldn’t work.

DelVecchio emailed again, expressing his disappointment, reminding American they were all members of its Advantage program and he was a holder of an American Airlines branded credit card. He requested the credit be extended by one extra month.

American said no.

“Julie is on fixed income. We provide the hotel room and meals for Julie,” DelVecchio said. “Dec. 31, 2022 does not help my mother-in-law’s finances.”

And they asked Bamboozled for help.After reviewing the emails between DelVecchio and American’s customer service representatives and going over the family’s timeline, we asked American to reconsider the one-month extension.The answer came back three hours later.

American spokesman Andrew Tull said the airline continues to evaluate its travel waiver and travel credit policies as it welcomes travelers back to the air.

“We recently offered customers additional flexibility to use their flight credits for travel through the end of the year,” he said, noting that’s what would have allowed Mulvihill the travel extension through Dec. 31, 2022.

After reviewing the case, American made an exception.

“As a courtesy, American is issuing a trip credit to Ms. Mulvihill in the value of the original ticket/expiring flight credit,” Tull said. “The trip credit will be valid for use one year from the date of issue.”

Once it’s issued, she should see it in her email, he said.

Tull added that while flight credits, which is what Mulvihill had, are typically valid for one year from the date the ticket was issued, vouchers have some different timelines. Depending on the dates the vouchers were issued, some have received automatic extensions while others require the traveler to call customer service to request an extension.

When the family heard the news, they were more than satisfied with the result, they said.

“American Airlines did the right thing, finally, with your huge help,” DelVecchio said. “Julie is on fixed income and every bit helps her and her finances.”

Now they’re all set to book their January 2023 vacation.


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