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.
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.