Positive Outcome When Seeking Airline Reimbursement

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Back in February my husband and I spent some time on the beach in Jamaica only to have chaos set-in as we concluded our trip and started to make the journey back home to our kiddo.  We had booked our award tickets for 22,000 ANA miles each round trip on a mix of Star Alliance partners United and Copa.  Our outbound flights operated by United had been totally without incident, but when we tried to check-in at the airport in Montego Bay for our Copa segment all heck broke loose.  After many hours, many phone calls, attempts at re-routing, and more, our tickets were not honored.  Copa and United could see our reservations in their system, but they were not fully ticketed…or something like that.  Calls to ANA could not fix the issue in time even though we were at the airport almost 3 hours before departure.


Taking a Risk When Booking New Tickets Home

At a certain point we pulled the cord and booked new one-way tickets home using American Airlines miles as it became apparent that was the only shot we had at getting home that day.  If you travel enough, you will hit situations where it is on you to find the solution to get home if you don’t want to drift or languish at the mercy of the airlines.  Our flights home on American were later in the day, separate seats, and very much in the back of coach instead of the first class seats that cleared on United, but we got home.  We would not have gotten home that day if we had relied on ANA.

AA seats home weren't fancy, but they got us there

AA seats home weren’t fancy, but they got us there

When we booked those tickets home we knew we were taking a gamble and that our new expenses may or may not ever be recovered even though it was not at all our fault that our original tickets were not working.  Our flights weren’t cancelled or delayed, we simply weren’t allowed on them.  Since we weren’t sure how ANA would respond to covering our expenses, we used 35,000 American Airline miles instead of spending upwards of $1,000 on two same day tickets home to the US.  I’d rather be out miles than cold hard cash.  The only hitch to that plan was that claiming reimbursement for a different type of miles was probably going to be trickier than simply submitting a receipt for a new flight.

After we eventually got home safe and sound thanks to our newly executed “AA back up plan”, I started the process of reaching out to ANA to explain what happened and try to receive some sort of compensation.  I am not a squeaky wheel who yelps for miles after every broken in-flight entertainment system or delay, but this was a situation that was totally unacceptable and warranted a complaint since we were essentially stranded in another country for reasons that were out of our hands.

Seeking Reimbursement from the Airline

Reaching out to ANA initially was simple enough online and their initial response to me was prompt and instructed me to submit receipts for expenses while they looked into the situation.   After a couple of weeks I inquired again as to the status and was told it could take another two weeks for them to resolve the issue and reach a decision.  The next communication I got from them stated that: “We are informed by ANA Mileage Club Center that Copa’s response concerning our requests for investigations regarding the award travel on February 25, 2015, remains the same, that ticket number was not attach in the reservation, precluding your travel.  We have now launched a different investigation and requesting our IT Department to look into the cause, and this will take time.

At the same time they stated they would deposit 35,000 ANA miles (the number of American Airlines miles I told them were used) into my friend’s account at reimbursement.  We had used a friend’s American miles as he has elite status that waived the close-in ticketing fees.  In the end he didn’t want to be paid back with ANA miles, so we declined the offer for them to deposit the miles in his ANA account and instead asked that they put them in my account plus reimburse the $120+ in taxes/fees we had to pay.

Several more weeks went by with no update from ANA despite some prodding on my part.  These were the same weeks leading up to their big award chart change, so I don’t know if they were all busy with that project or just purposefully delaying until that devaluation was over.  Either way, a few days after the new award chart was implemented I again heard from ANA and my mailing address was requested so they could mail a check for the cost of taxes on our new tickets home.  I assumed this meant they were also depositing the miles in my account.

Finally, almost two months from when the whole ordeal started a check arrived from ANA reimbursing us for the taxes we had to pay for new tickets, and 35,000 ANA miles were deposited in my account to make-up for the 35,000 American Airlines miles that were spent to get us home.

After 2 months, success!

After 2 months, success!

I’m mostly okay with a 1:1 exchange for American Airlines miles for ANA miles, assuming that we don’t run into issues like this one again when I go to use those miles at some point.  I do think they could have resolved the issue a bit faster and with a bit less pestering/prodding by me, but in the end I’m happy with the resolution, and glad we made the call that day to find our own way home (with the help of a friend).

Lots of fun in the Montego Bay airport

Lots of fun in the Montego Bay airport

What to do When Airlines Try to Strand You

The biggest takeaways from this are to of course make sure each segment of your trip is fully ticketed by communicating with that operating carrier.  My reservation looked perfect on United.com and we were able to select seats online without incident.  I was lulled into assuming that meant the Copa segment was fine, too, but apparently that was not the case.  The other takeaway was, as I mentioned, to always have a Plan B you are prepared to execute if you need to get home in a timely fashion, and then follow-up like crazy with the airline if you believe that some sort of compensation or reimbursement is in order after the fact.

If you have some successful airline reimbursement stories, I’d love to hear them!

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  1. IME, Asian carriers aren’t great with compensation, so you were lucky with them giving you 35K miles and refunding back the taxes/fees on the AA award tickets.

    • Jim, I’m certainly happy with the resolution, but I’m not sure how they would have possibly justified not refunding or compensating to some degree since the tickets we booked through them didn’t work. You never know for sure of course, but even a stingy airline in regards with compensation would have a tough time doing nothing in this situation.

  2. My parents had an issue with AAVacations . Their reservation was booked and paid, but airplane tickets never actually issued – it just stayed in pending mode. Fortunately they noticed before the trip, when they had to call AA to get seats assigned, and the tickets were finally issued.

  3. Question for Mommy Points, did you check with United and Copa prior to leaving to see your ticket numbers? I always want to see them on my reservations or get them from the carrier before leaving. Example, I booked a flight for a relative on BA web site for a AA flight, 4,500 mile deal. I got a PNR but was not the AA PNR number. After calling AAdvantage about free luggage allowance I found out the AA PNR and the AA ticket number. This is critical information when checking in if there is a problem. Hope this helps someone out there and would like to hear Mommy Points option on my advice.

    • My reservation displayed properly on United.com so I was complacent that it was thus fine. The safest thing is contact each airline individually as that might have uncovered the problem with Copa. Sadly even ticket numbers didn’t help though as I did have those the day of travel and they did nothing by themselves.

  4. While you were made whole, which IMHO is the LEAST they should do, why didn’t you seek some extra compensation/goodwill for the embarrassment/stress/inconvenience?

    • Marvin, whole was all I was ever after, but I don’t think I was going to get more than that out of them anyway.

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