Consumer complaints are rising rapidly as attempts are made to reschedule flights or use coupons due to COVID. A travel expert has tips to help you get your money back.
MAHTOMEDI, Minn. – The pandemic has canceled or postponed millions of flights and trips. And some families find that they are out of luck using credits or trying to get refunds.
Last Christmas, months before the pandemic, Gabe Smoley and his wife decided to surprise their three children with a trip to Disney World.
“They were just amazed,” he recalls.
He and the kids booked tickets for spring break with Frontier Airlines. His wife booked a separate flight with Delta.
The kids were so excited that Gabe bought a countdown timer to tell them how long it would be to get to Orlando. This timer will pause after 1 day and 7 hours as the emerging coronavirus pandemic has forced Disney World to close.
“When we had to tell our kids, Disney World was canceled. That was tough, ”he said.
Delta automatically refunded his wife’s ticket.
But getting back the $ 1,200 Gabe spent on Frontier was a different story. First, a voucher was offered.
“They said they would give me a voucher that I thought was fine at the time. We had no idea how long that would take, ”he said.
COVID was still with us until summer, but the voucher had already expired. Gabe said when he contacted Frontier, a staff member said they were making an exception and gave him 48 hours to book a new flight.
“You can’t book a family vacation in 48 hours,” he said. His wife is a teacher, so they are limited to school holidays.
They tried to use the voucher by booking flights for the MEA weekend in October. As the date drew near, the family became more skeptical that this trip would actually take place.
Then Gabe received an email from Frontier notifying him of a change. Its direct flight to Orlando was rerouted through Denver with a four-hour layover. A change large enough to warrant a federal policy refund.
In addition, the ten hours of flight would significantly reduce the time it would take the family to travel.
“It all became kind of a disaster, ”he said. Frontier offered a voucher again. By then, the cost of flights had more than doubled to more than $ 700 per ticket in the next spring break.
“It’s a way out of budget,” he said. “We just want to get our money back.”
In an email Gabe shared with KARE11, Frontier said no.
“There is no consumer protection. So if I try to get a refund from an airline they can just keep my money and there’s nothing I can do about it, ”Gabe said.
He is among a growing number of travelers disappointed with airline refund and voucher policies for flights during the pandemic.
A monthly report by the Federal Office for Aviation Consumer Protection shows that more than 63,000 complaints about refunds were filed between April and July of this year. That is 103 times more than in the same period last year when only 616 complaints were filed.
The problem is so widespread that 40 attorneys general – including Minnesota’s Keith Ellison – wrote a letter to Congress in October demanding that all federal funding for the aviation industry be tied to consumer protection, including refunds for customers due to flights cancel or change from COVID. 19th
The letter mentions complaints against Frontier Airlines by name.
“Flyers hold out their hands. You are frustrated. You’re upset, ”said Zach Griff of The Points Guy travel website.
“They think these airlines are flexible enough that I can change my flight for free. It used to cost $ 200. But when they actually make that change, and at Frontier in particular, they are basically being tricked into taking coupons that really do expire within 90 days, ”he said. Many customers do not know when they will be comfortable flying again.
Fortunately, says Griff, If you’re struggling to get a refund, sitting on a worthless coupon, or need to change a flight due to COVID, your options are a few.
First, wait for a flight to be canceled up to the last minute. If the airline cancels first, you will receive a refund.
Second, he says, ask your credit card company to fight for you. Many have successfully scraped back money.
If that doesn’t work, file a formal consumer complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation. They can force the airline to work with you.
“This is one of the best ways to get a refund if the airline says no,” advises Griff.
KARE 11 turned to Frontier Airlines. They defended their policies in a statement:
We sincerely apologize to our customers for the unprecedented impact of the global pandemic on air travel and we are working with them to accommodate their travel needs within our guidelines. If a customer voluntarily canceled their reservation as a courtesy due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we waived cancellation fees and provided full travel credit for eligible non-refundable tickets. Please note that the trip does not have to take place within the period for which the credit is valid. The customer only needs to book the trip by the expiry date. The trip can be planned until November 2021. These reservations can be changed free of charge up to 60 days or more before the travel date. Any price difference would apply. We understand that some customers may have inadvertently allowed their credits to expire recently, and we encourage these individuals to contact our Customer Care Center so we can review their reservation records and assist them.
Regarding Gabe’s situation, Frontier wouldn’t budge from a refund, but a spokesperson said in an email: “We’re reaching out to the customer directly to extend their current balance and give them more time to rebook trips . “
Just before Christmas, Gabe’s last Christmas present to his children appears to be another victim of the pandemic.
“I’m kind of proud of the way they handled the disappointment. I just hope we can go back there sometime. “
Here are a few more tips if you want to book a trip to Griff:
- Find out about the cancellation policy in advance.
- Check the expiration dates of all coupons and make sure you use the ones that expire first.
- Don’t buy travel insurance to cover yourself against COVID concerns. Most policies don’t cover changes due to the virus.