Today, I bring you a very special edition of Tales From the Field. What makes it so special? Well, today’s story has nothing to do with a Cranky Concierge client; it happened to us directly. The villian in today’s tale is Chase Ultimate Rewards, powered by Expedia, but you should know that this is a problem that’s been happening all over. Airlines have policies and certain agencies aren’t following them. It’s a despicable practice, and it shouldn’t be tolerated.
For Cranky Concierge, 2019 was a great year. We had set a distant revenue goal and we actually reached it. The reward was a trip to Hawai’i for the team. We were going to go to Maui last week for a few days, and we tried to use our accumulated Ultimate Rewards points for travel as much as we could. In some cases we transfered points into airline programs, but some fares were so cheap that it made sense to just use the Chase points to buy travel.
The way this works is Chase buys revenue tickets from the airlines and then just deducts the equivalent number of points from your account. To do this, Chase has outsourced the business to Expedia. It’s fine when you book something, but if you need any sort of customer service? Good luck. Once we realized we had to cancel the trip for COVID-19 + quarantine reasons, we braced for the pain.
We had six reservations that had canceled flights, so I started off trying to call. That’s not an option. Chase had put a restriction on speaking to an agent to only those traveling within 72 hours. You have to input your trip ID to get help, and they check to see that you are actually traveling. If you say you want to make a new reservation, they tell you to go online. So, I decided I’d try chat.
Chase makes chat about as difficult as possible. You have to go to your My Trips page, and then it tries to time out on you all the time. It only gives 60 or 90 seconds to confirm you’re still there, and if you don’t, you have to log back in again. Fortunately it holds your place so you don’t lose the chat, but it’s still frustrating.
Failed Chat Number One
On my first attempt, KC came on the line after a 40 minute wait (Chase said to expect 16 minutes). I started with a Hawaiian flight from Los Angeles to Kahului, and after an hour and a half, she got it done. This was taking a really long time, but at least it was happening. Then I hit a brick wall.
I tried to get points back on a United roundtrip from San Francisco to Kahului. The outbound flight had been canceled by the airline. I explained which flight was canceled and copied in the link to United’s policy. Then I’ll let the transcript take care of the rest…
Apparently KC couldn’t bother to look that the outbound had canceled and there was no other option. She did not budge on this, so I moved on and figured I’d try another agent for this one later.
The next one was a one way from Nashville to Kahului on American. The flight to Kahului was canceled and there were no other options. Would I have better luck on this itinerary? Of course not.
This requires a little backstory.
We previously received notice that Dallas/Fort Worth to Kahului was canceled, but the flight from Nashville to Dallas/Fort Worth was operating. So, I went on to the Chase website and this was the first thing I saw under My Trips.
I guess I misunderstood. Chase had already said I couldn’t talk to anyone, so I assumed if I just filled out this form it would get us in line for a refund. It did not. I received an email saying we had a credit we could use, but we didn’t want that. That’s when I decided to reach out.
Based on these first two interactions, my assumption is that KC simply doesn’t know how to read the history to understand what happened. I confirmed with American that this was canceled by them and it was refundable per the rules. But KC would not budge once again
For some reason, I decided to ask about another reservation. This was San Antonio to Kahului, and I’ll spare you the back and forth. I was told the same thing. We canceled this reservation and we couldn’t get a refund. After more than 5 hours, I disconnected.
Failed Chat Number Two
I was pretty wound up at this point, so I waited to try another chat. This time it was again a long wait and I was connected with Keni. This started off well when Keni admitted that the San Antonio one was actually canceled by the airline, but my optimism was misplaced.
Keni confirmed that the previous agent had left the note saying I couldn’t get a refund, but that wasn’t the final answer. Keni hopped on the phone with American and came back with the good-ish news that I could get a refund, but I had to request it directly from American.
I did not like this answer, because I don’t know how it works. If American processes the refund, then the money goes back to Chase and Chase is responsible for giving me the points back? I don’t trust that’ll happen. So, I just screenshotted the conversation (Chase can’t send a transcript) and then prepared to file with American. But then I got cold feet.
I figured this still didn’t seem right, so I decided to find my way around the Chase IVR gauntlet. I thought about buying a ticket for travel within 3 days and then immediately refunding after I got through, but I found a better way. I pushed the button saying I wanted to buy a ticket on Southwest. That sent me to an agent since it can’t be done online. That agent was then able to transfer me to a different agent that could help with my existing trips. In neither case was there any wait. Obviously these artificial 72 hour restrictions have freed up a ton of time for Chase agents to wait around for calls.
My Semi-Failed Call
I got an agent on the phone who seemed happy to help, but this was really more of the same. I will admit, I had some luck with refunds, but it was very strange.
Remember that United ticket? This agent processed that refund with no issues. But then I moved on to another refund for a United ticket from Phoenix to Kahului. I’ll let my tweet speak for me.
I proceeded to walk her through how to find the policy on the web. I gave her the United Jetstream agency site and got her to the policy. She said she read it but she couldn’t give me a refund. I could ask United to refund it and document the record so they could give me my points back. There were no words to describe my level of frustration. But, we had a 50 percent success rate, so I moved on.
After refunding the San Antonio to Kahului flight from earlier, she again told me that there was no way to refund that Nashville to Kahului one since I had requested the cancellation. My blood was boiling at this point. Sure, we had been able to get three of the six itineraries refunded, but the misinformation was just grating on me. I hung up.
I had reached the end of my rope, so I reached out to United on Twitter. They quickly responded and said they could put in the queue for a refund. Great. That was quick and painless, but now I had to go back to Chase. I knew the refund wouldn’t be done yet, but maybe there would be something that allow it to happen?
The phone was no better than chat, so I went back online to be able to have more of the conversation documented. That’s when I met Melissa.
My One Successful Chat
Melissa came on immediately and asked what she could do. I explained the United situation and asked if she could get my points back. She kept me updated saying she was working on it, but she asked for no clarification. In 20 minutes, she had confirmed the refund.
I was smitten, and now I figured I’d press my luck. Could she help with the Nashville to Kahului ticket? She sure could. In THREE minutes, she had it canceled with a refund on the way. Who was this magical woman?!
The last itinerary I knew was a long shot, but I tried anyway. See, this was another San Antonio to Kahului flight that had been upgraded after purchase. When that happens, American takes control of the ticket, so I figured we’d have no choice but to try to run this through American. But hey, Melissa was great so why not try?
After some initial confusion, she said she could call American. She kept me updated the whole way. I know she spoke with Angie at the Gold desk, and soon, she came back saying it was done.
I’m sure my tone with other agents had been snippier than it should have been, but my frustration level had gone through the roof. With Melissa, the service was excellent, so I wanted to write a compliment. She told me that there would be a survey at the end of the chat and that was the best way to do it. It was a limited survey, but I enthusiastically gave her the highest ratings possible. Hopefully someone can find her and clone her, because after 8+ hours, she was the only competent person I spoke with.
Why This Bothers Me So Much
For someone like me and everyone here at Cranky Concierge, this is a real annoyance, but we know the rules and aren’t going to stop fighting until we get what we’re due. The reason this bothers me so much is that there are likely thousands of people out there who are being railroaded by Chase and Expedia.
I think it’s fair to assume that most people don’t know the rules, and they are relying on their agent to give them the right guidance. In my limited experience, 75 percent of the time Chase/Expedia is failing miserably. While that’s not a scientifically-valid result, it’s easy to scour social media to find that many others are feeling this pain.
Heck, that’s one of the reasons why we started our Refund Hunter service. People need access to good information and they aren’t getting it. And what makes it worse is that they don’t know they’re getting bad information. That means they take the credit they’re offered and grumble about it, not knowing they should have been able to get a refund.
Expedia makes a lot of money from airline commissions, and when those get refunded, the money goes back. There’s no question that in the short term, Expedia’s financial interest is to prevent people from getting refunds. In the long run, we can only hope, people will realize that this is a scam and they will take their business elsewhere.
Of course, it’s not so easy when you have Chase points to use. We could have simply transferred those into airline programs directly, but it would have cost a lot more to do that for these itineraries. In the future, that may be a cost I’m willing to consider.