A $6,500 Penalty From EVA Thanks to Complex Fare Rules (Tales From the Field)

Fares, Tales From the Field

In my recent post talking about Delta’s move to reconsider change fees, I alluded to one issue we were having with EVA Air here at Cranky Concierge. Several of you chimed in wanting to hear about it, so here we go. Get ready to learn how a small mistake in interpreting the rules led to a $6,500 charge. And it was all my fault.

We had clients who were traveling from Chicago to Luang Prabang and back from Bangkok. They had purchased tickets using our service in business class on EVA Air, but EVA doesn’t fly to Luang Prabang. The last leg from Bangkok was on Bangkok Airways. This was all on one ticket, plated on EVA for those know understand how that works.

A Thanksgiving Emergency

Fast forward to Thanksgiving Day, and things got ugly for our clients. They had already been in Luang Prabang for a bit when they learned there was a family emergency and they had to get home. They had arranged to get themselves back to Bangkok, and they wanted us to get them to Chicago on the first flight after they arrived. Even though it was Thanksgiving, we were ready to help.

This was a real challenge as the flights were very full. We couldn’t find options on EVA at all since they were sold out, so we expanded our search and began looking at other airline options. The EVA fare was refundable, so we figured we could deal with that later. Other airlines were full too, but we eventually found an option that would split them up. Half flew Cathay Pacific while the other half flew Korean. Those flights went fine, they made it home, and they were grateful.

Complicated Refund

With that settled, it was time to mop up the mess with the original tickets. The tickets were originally $5,967.65 each. That was a combination of the $5,455 EVA fare, the $310 fare from Bangkok Airways, and $202.65 in taxes and fees. The tickets were each refundable minus a $300 penalty. Some airlines will only let you refund before departure, but this one allowed a refund at any time. If only it were that simple.

You might think I could just take the $5,455 EVA fare, cut it in half, figure out taxes, subtract the $300 fee, and call it a day. I couldn’t do that. Though the rules don’t specifically say it as filed by EVA, you have to go back and re-price what was already flown as a one way. Then you can refund what’s left over. After all, if you could simply refund half the cheap roundtrip fare, you’d just always buy a roundtrip and refund half of it instead of buying a one way fare.

This may sound relatively straightforward until you remember that our clients had already flown to Luang Prabang. It’s not as simple as just pushing a button to say “ok, price this one way as it was a few months ago.” I can sort-of do that when the flights haven’t been flown, but not after.

I could try to do the refund in Sabre but there wasn’t an automated way to do that, so I had to manually look for the fare to feed into Sabre. What I found was that instead of having the one way fare equal to half the roundtrip fare ($2,727.50), it was 60 percent of the roundtrip fare ($3,273). So, I took that new fare and punched it into Sabre along with the Bangkok Airways one. It calculated which taxes could be refunded, I took out the $300 fee, and we refunded $1,981.35 each. We were done.

At least, I thought we were done.

The Empire Strikes Back

A month later, I received a nasty surprise. When airlines think travel agents owe them money, they send what’s called a debit memo. EVA sent a massive one over saying we weren’t allowed to refund those tickets at all (except for a little over $100 in taxes), and we owed them all that money back.

This made no sense to me. I had done my homework and checked the fare rules multiple times. I had even calculated the proper one way fare, pulled out the penalty, etc. How could this be? I pushed back, but then a couple weeks later, I got the response of doom.

You’ll remember that what was actually flown was Chicago to Bangkok via Taipei on EVA and Bangkok to Luang Prabang on Bangkok Airways. That was set up as an “end-on-end” combination meaning that to price the ticket, Sabre just automatically added the fares from each airline when giving a price. That’s a very normal thing to do, but little did I know that EVA restricts end-on-end combinations for most one way fares. Gulp.

Had I looked in the fare rules under the “Combinations” category (that’s Cat 10 for those following along at home) of the new one way fare, I would have realized that end-on-end combinations weren’t allowed. In fact, the only one way fare that would allow end-on-end combinations was the full business class fare at over $7,000 one way. Because of that, even though the ticket was technically refundable, there was no way to actually process a refund. Had I dug into Cat 10, I would have told the client that they couldn’t get a refund on anything. But I didn’t catch it, and there was no automated safeguard to warn me.

So what could I do? We can’t (and would never) turn back to our client and say “oops, you owe us thousands of dollars, because we screwed up.” This was on us. Technically, that’s what errors & omissions insurance is for, but I’ve never made a claim before and would like to avoid that if I can. So, before doing that, I tried to fight.

Really, I begged and pleaded. It was an emergency on a holiday and EVA had no options available. This wasn’t an attempt to game the system, but it was just a desperate effort to get people home as quickly as possible. EVA received a fair amount of money for the flights it flew (as did Bangkok Airways for its flight). This massive fee was just hanging on a technicality. Couldn’t they have mercy?

I fully understand that this is my fault and the rules are the rules, but I know many airlines would be willing to look at this and make an exception. EVA has indicated a willingness to reduce the amount a bit, but it’s still going to cost over $6,000 even with that.

We continue to try to get this reversed and have tried more avenues. We’ve worked well with people at EVA before, so we’re hoping someone might come through. That being said, we know we have no legal recourse to actually claw this back. The rules were there, and I missed this tiny issue. And that sucks.

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27 comments on “A $6,500 Penalty From EVA Thanks to Complex Fare Rules (Tales From the Field)

  1. Really sorry to hear that. That’s a huge ADM to swallow. In future I would try and refund using WFRF in Sabre. It would have high lighted at get go your potential problem and you could have then called Eva for a waiver or planned an alternate route before walking out of the tickets.

    1. Chris – WFRF is only for exchanges, not refunds. Sabre does have a WFRA automated refund product, but EVA doesn’t participate. (I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it work.) Even if EVA did, it wouldn’t work because this ticket had been exchanged once prior. The WFRA product doesn’t work if there’s been an exchange.

  2. so very sorry to hear this. I am guessing that Eva doesn’t want to be part of the journey but be used to take someone to their destination.

    We’ll help you earn the money back; we can’t fathom that you would be unable to take a trip such as to Scotland since we live vicariously from your trip reports.

    How about a few extra articles which we’ll all get the word out about? Maybe 7 days in a row of Godzilla for the week of the launch of new HND flights?

    1. Tim – I like it, Godzilla Week. But no, EVA apparently doesn’t care if you fly another airline to your destination as long as you come back as well!
      But this is a city EVA doesn’t serve anyway, so if EVA won’t allow combinations with another airline, then it loses all opportunities to carry that passenger.

  3. Unfortunately the “new” EVAAir — that is, the company run by the elder children of the founder, who kicked out the CEO/younger child — is getting extremely fee happy. There are fees everywhere in a way there wasn’t previously, and no mercy. A great airline that I flew business class on 10x a year is being turned into one I avoid except when absolutely necessary. I don’t think your pleas for leniency will be successful.

    1. abcdefg – Not really, but there are ways around it, in theory, if you’re careful. Since the flights had already been flown, you can’t price them automatically. They don’t even appear in the reservation any longer. The closest thing you could do is try to price the same flights you had on a future date instead of the actual date. Then you can backprice that to the original date of ticketing. But even if you do that, you’d have to ensure that the fare that applies on that date would have applied on the original date too. That means reviewing the fare rules on day of week, seasonality, etc. So it’s still a manual process that’s prone to interpretation issues.

  4. Thanks Brett for ‘pulling the curtain back’ for those of us who have no idea what goes on behind the scenes. Thanks for your transparency. Good read. –Scott Moyer, Phila., PA

    1. … which is exactly why Brett wrote this post. Even though he goes out of his way not to blame EVA, they come out looking bad. Now if they work with Brett and refund more of his money, he can post an update and they look better. The positive PR probably would be worth more than the refund for EVA. Itpays to have a fairly popular blog. Also, this is a good argument to use Cranky Concierge because an individual like your or me doesn’t have any pull with airlines.

      1. The cynic would say that Brett made a mistake, and is applying public pressure to EVA Air to cover him for at least part of his mistake.

  5. All of this repricing should be 100% automated so that you don’t run into this. I understand that an airline should be able to make complicated rules to make sure that people don’t game the system, but they should back it up accordingly with the automation to enforce it.

  6. This just confirms my number one rule of flying: if you are talking to someone who says the word “rules”, you are talking to the wrong person. Disengage (politely if possible or as politely as possible) immediately and find someone else. I have never yet failed to improve over what “rules person” told me in the first place.

    Doesn’t really work in your situation since that is applicable once you are in motion and really only then…

  7. Thanks for the story. I’ve used your service before and will continue to do so because I trust you and your people will do the job honestly and with integrity. Hopefully things will work out in the long run.

    In life, it is best to try and move on. As painful as losing money is, there are worse things to deal with.

    Good luck.

  8. Hello,

    You lost me technically when you got the part: “end-on-end combinations weren’t allowed”.

    What does that mean and how can that invalidate the refundability of a “refundable” ticket?

    Would you have had a different financial result if you had ticketed the Bangkok Airways flights separately?

    This all seems quite unfair.

    1. Stewart – I’m not sure I can explain it better but I’ll try. Basically it means this. To process the refund, we had to price the already flown flights at the prevailing fare. EVA one way fare wouldn’t allow us to include Bangkok so there’s no way to price it low enough. If Bangkok wasn’t on the ticket, then this would have been perfectly fine.

  9. I guess that the only way the penalty could have been avoided was to sell your clients’ BKK-LPQ segment as a separate itinerary. But, that would have meant that your clients would have had to deplane at BKK, pass through customs, pick up their bags at baggage claim, schlep their bags over to the BR ticket counter, check in for their flight to LPQ, then pass through security on their way to their new flight.

    I have done that domestically in the USA, connecting between a flight on a legacy carrier to an LCC, but even then things have to go like clockwork for that to work. Even when it does work, it is a pain in the rear end, head to toe!

    What I really don’t understand is, what does BR care where their passengers go once they have flown their segment(s) with them! It appears that the airline with the “Hello Kitty” plane has become a man-eating tiger when it comes to their rules!

    1. Q. – OK, we seem to have established that if the BKK-LPQ sector had been ticketed “separately” and therefore its costs not listed on the main EVA ticket’s pricing matrix, that this would have stopped this matter becoming an “end-on-end combination” costly technicality…. but that it could have disadvantaged the customer in respect of his flight connections, baggage flow, etc. Some time ago, I had a ticketing situation where the travel agent issued and priced the second ticket separately, but did so using the “plate” of the primary carrier, and they showed on each ticket the ticket number of the other ticket as being “in conjunction”. On that basis, I was allowed to check my luggage all the way to the final destination, etc. Is this sort of thing still current, and if so could this procedure have worked in this case?

      1. Stewart – I don’t believe that’s possible. If it is, I’m not aware of an airline that would allow you to do that with their plates anymore.

  10. The fact the system let you do a refund that was against the rules without notice and then they came back and charge you is pretty terrible from a programing perspective.

    These kinds of stories about behind the scenes, or you helping people in irrops are always my favorite.

  11. Ugh – this is where making a change in the middle of travel is such a pain. Regardless of the end-to-end pricing, sometimes it’s complicated even when it’s booked as a roundtrip on the same airline.

    If you were able go back in time and undo the request: since the tickets were refundable with penalty, could you have leave it alone, tell the client to purchase a new ticket, and use the remaining coupons for a future trip? Or would there be the same penalty regardless?

    1. ptahtcha – Sure, they could use that ticket as a return for a future trip.
      But that would have to be done within a year of ticketing, and they’d have to return from Asia. So it’s unlikely that they’d be able to do that.

    1. Nick – Not yet. There are several parties now involved in this, and they have indicated they want to talk about it. We continue to wait, but I wasn’t going to leave the post down indefinitely.

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