When Agencies Make Up Rules and Deny Refunds (Tales From the Field)

Customer Service, Fares

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.

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48 comments on “When Agencies Make Up Rules and Deny Refunds (Tales From the Field)

  1. Hate it when agents leave messages in reservations about their interpretation. Reminds me of one time in LAX about 14 years ago when I was confident I should have been allowed into the Admirals Club (had arrived on a QF ticketed codeshare (FJ operated) flight in business which should have been sufficient; leaving on AA business class to JFK which I knew wasn’t) and the desk agent wouldn’t let me in. Went to a payphone and called my travel agent and American both of whom felt I should be allowed in; she still didn’t want to know. Back at the payphone chatting to family, I saw her leave so went to try with the person now at the desk but agent #1 saw me… While agent #2 was about to let us in, agent #1 called from her cellphone to say not to let us in (agent #2 gave this away with a “I think I have them here now” response). Agent #2 agreed with agent #1, put the phone down, and… let us in. So I took her name, found a computer, and filled in the online feedback form for great service.

    (In hindsight, they may have both been right – that lounge was only open to QF pax later in the day…)

  2. Escalate the matter. It’s becoming a common practice to cheat the American People, had the same issue with Vivid Seats. Only after I filed a complain with the FTC and threatened to take my credit card company to small civil did the second charge back get actioned correctly.

  3. I had the same experience with a Chase Travel booking to Cancun. My itinerary was split between two airlines (on there, and one back) and I knew to wait to ask for a refund until after the flights were cancelled by the airline. First, the return flight was cancelled and miraculously I got a prompt refund by using the chat system. The outbound flights didn’t cancel until the day before, and the chat agent insisted a travel voucher was the only option. After attempting to re-explain the rules regarding cancellations, I refused the credit option and disconnected. I then disputed my charge with Chase (they gave me a temporary credit) and then went directly to the airline via phone. They agreed that a cash refund was due and put it into the payment queue. Later that week I saw that the airline had refunded Chase Travel’s card.

    Since I still had my money back via the card dispute I did nothing. After a month, they denied my card dispute and so I re-entered the chat queue. I informed the agent that I had proof the airline refunded the money to them, showed the links and again asked for a refund. It took nearly an hour for the agent to call the airline and confirm that they were “allowed” to give the refund and eventually sent me a receipt. Now I have to wait “up to” 30 days for the refund.

    I am sure that we all know to book travel directly from the airline/hotel…and this is why.

  4. I’ve had similar obtuseness from B6 and UA this year; B6 denying their flight was cancelled, and UA claiming fully refundable, government fares are non-refundable…

    B6 refunded me eventually, UA I’m still working with.

  5. try dealing with priceline.i had no way to get to Dubai as flyts were cancelled as well as my cruise.they did nothing and i was working on this for three months.finally gave up and just will never use them again.

    1. Don’t give up. Use your resources and take them to small civil suit and file a complain with the FTC. If you give up it’s like going down without a fight. Trust me you will win. Take them on. Happy to help you as well.

  6. I cancelled 2 flights over a month ago before it got this hard. The points still do not show back on my account. I was told it takes 2 billing cycles. Is this true?

    1. rita – Ultimate Rewards? No, they should go back right away if they’ve agreed to refund. Sad to say you need to get back in touch with them and force their hand.

  7. Wow. Just wow. This is the kind of “caveat emptor” behavior that makes people ask: why should an industry that considers itself so “essential” that it receives significant and substantial amounts of both indirect and direct taxpayer subsidies (from multiple levels of government) when times are good and direct cash assistance when times are bad not be regulated like the public utility it apparently is? Please, convince me.

      1. Cranky – I understand completely, believe me!

        But nonetheless the – shall we say – “shenanigans” for air travel using these third party vendors just causes people to mistrust the entire system, including (and especially, unfortunately) the airlines themselves. And the opacity of the pricing system – requiring computer programs and algorithms to truly master – also foments distrust of the entire industry, I feel.

        I am constantly arguing with friends and relatives who long for – for example – transparent and consistent pricing on fully interchangeable/refundable tickets between Braniff and Pan Am and the “days of yore”. I am always reminding them (okay, mostly my father!) that the good ole’ days weren’t always so good, and were certainly pricey.

        But then this kind of predatory behavior – whether directly from the airlines or not – gets media play and all I hear is how it should instead be a well-regulated utility, given the overall industry’s uncanny ability to suckle at the teat of government.

        Don’t misunderstand me – I myself am not longing for a return to the days of the CAB and regulation. But don’t underestimate the sentiment for such a return among certain segements of the flying public when things like this happen (or people get dragged off regional jets, even though it has almost nothing to do with regulation of fares and service).

        My hardest talks are trying to convince the friends and relatives who live in small markets that the Kennedy-Cannon Act was good for them, as I think the smaller markets may have the toughest road to hoe in terms of post-deregualtion choices and pricing, as I understand it.

        Sorry to be so obtuse in my original comment – this kind of “blood boiling” behavior just gets people upset at “the whole system”, as you might imagine. One of the reasons I like reading your blog is that you are typically the “cooler head” in the room whose opinion is more appreciated!

    1. To be fair the complaint is Chase/Expedia here, not the airlines themselves. Cranky’s final line sums it up nicely. I have never had a problem when dealing directly with the airline, either paid fare directly with them or award trip on points I booked directly with the airline. Granted I’ve had status with Delta for years and that certainly helps but when I hear the ubiquitous ads for the different travel cards from the big banks I usually tune them out. Not worth it for a few meager extra “points.”

  8. Wouldn’t it be easier to book direct with airline and not go thru Chase/Expedia I had some cancellations thru AA and they took care of no problem

    1. lrosenberg – Can’t use our points at the same rate if we book direct. If we weren’t using points, we’d book in our agent system.

  9. I used Delta SkyMiles to book a non-refundable April SNA-SLC-CDG round trip that I cancelled when Delta expected the flights to be delayed or cancelled. I contacted Delta directly, and after 5 minutes on the phone, I had my Sky Miles returned to my account and dollars refunded to my credit card within days. I guess some of us are lucky.

  10. This is why David’s second law of flying is “If whoever you are talking with says ‘rules’, disengage immediately and find someone else.” The only time the general public encounters that word from the travel industry is when they don’t want to do what you want them to do…

  11. I hate lawyers, but this is why class action suits were invented. These bastards should be forced to pay millions for their behavior as an incentive to never do it again, and I don’t really care if they lawyers make a killing in the process. The point is to change the behavior.

  12. My parents had a rough experience with Chase years ago dealing with fraudulent charges on a United Mileage Plus card, to the point where I’m still surprised that they later applied for and use other Chase co-branded cards. I still try to avoid them, though I did get stuck with Chase since they would up being the bank backing my last car loan (financed via the dealer/manufacturer).

  13. For some reason, the scenarios listed here only happens in the air travel industry, with its byzantine rules and waivers and “one-time exceptions”. I have lost count of number of times where I had to hang up and call again to resolve the issue, or airport agents who simply would not follow their own rules or waivers in place.

    Then again, you will find great agents to go the extra mile to make sure things are done right, or proactively put you on another flight (even on another airline) to get you where you need to go.

  14. What amazes me about this is the fact that it happened to Cranky, someone who knows his way around the travel/ aviation industry & yet even he got screwed. Just shows that even those who know what to do in a situation like the one he pixeled can still get caught in the matrix.

  15. The moving of the travel portal to Expedia and the CSR annual fee increase is seriously making consider dropping the card at my next renewal in September.

    There’s only so many Hyatt points I need transferred.

  16. The whole story makes me boil too. Just awful, and one of the reasons I will only book directly with the airline / hotel.
    But, the comments about “class action” etc. are mis-placed. Check the small print on your (various) agreements – you have probably agreed to “arbitration”, and again, probably, under their terms.
    Now, that’s something that has to change also!

    Thanks Brett – good job!

  17. I noticed a while ago that the DOT is not only accepting complaints against airlines, but also against OTA like Expedia. The complaint form has a drop down to select the Airline/Company and Expedia is one of the options. Cranky, did you consider filing complaints against them? Perhaps even retroactively, one for each ticket that was poorly handled?

    1. Oliver – I did! After I got it resolved, I still filed the complaint.
      Naturally, Chase responded immediately after DOT jumped on the complaint and said they couldn’t refund it because my tickets were already refunded. I very clearly said I didn’t need any further action in my complaint, so I wasn’t surprised to see them not actually read it fully.

  18. As far as I’m concerned, going through a middleman or third party to book any sort of travel (hotels, airlines, cruises, tour companies, etc) is a guarantee that once something goes wrong your whole situation is in the hands of some low-level “clerk” usually with little or no experience other than fishing through a website and attempting to provide information by stumbling on it. Aimless button pushers at the end of a lower salary skill set. Even then, the issue or problem becomes subject to interpretation by the person you get on the phone. Might as well just flag down the janitor and ask him what to do. They are paid by a third party “travel” company with no loyalty to or ability to think out of the box for any particular airline, hotel, cruise line etc. and again, why would they, working for some low hourly wage.

  19. What happened to, you know, “business friendly” and being in the airlines corner? Shouldn’t we be thinking about “the greater good” where the survival of these airlines that provide tens of thousands of jobs and a very valuable service should be more important than getting your $149 back?

    Well…

    till it happens to you.

    That tends to change attitudes.

  20. Hi, Cranky.

    Can you write a follow-up post about your success in getting Chase to refund UR points? I had a hard time following your recent post which seemed to deal with several different sets of facts. As there was no summary, I still don’t understand how to solve one very simple problem:

    Bought ticket paying with Chase UR through travel portal (Expedia) Airline canceled Want to be reimbursed with original form of payment (points)

    Yes or no? How?

    Thanks!

    Christine

    1. Chris – The summary is that you need to know the rules yourself to see if you are eligible for a refund. Then if you are, keep trying different chats or calls until you get someone who is willing to follow them. If you give up, file a DOT complaint.

  21. NOW you understand what we unwashed masses go through all the time! That is one reason we hire you to suffer for us.

    I have found that in dealing with situations such as this, it is very helpful to find out who the “Cheats” never want to hear from. Then, make certain that they hear from them often until they give you your due. I always send the company courtesy copies with a full list of the agencies they can expect to hear from. When you think about it, if only ten or twenty percent of your complaints to regulatory agencies get sent to the company for reply, you can cost the “Cheats” tens of thousands of dollars in attorney fees and management time in replying to them. It becomes cheaper to give me what they owe me than to fight me!

    I find this sort of ‘kick to the crotch’ is much more effective than begging.

  22. Chase gives the option of redeeming points for a penny each or using each point for 1.5 cents worth or travel. However, when I wanted a hotel in San Maarten I found I could book it directly for less than the Chase price with the result that if I booked it thru Chase I would only be getting about a penny a point. So, i went with cash because occasionally, but only occasionally, I can get a good deal by converting to United Miles for premium travel.

  23. There is no way you got your last customer service rep by accident. You tweeted about taking to chase rewards and expedia, and wazam, customer service to Mr. Cranky, public blogger and influencer. You know they monitor that stuff for people like you!

  24. Thanks for sharing.
    I’m going through though this process with Chase ultimate rewards and 2 flights on Iberia intra Europe

    I finally got points returned on 1 flight after about 4 contacts by chat, phone and email The last contact was about a 10 minute chat. After I stated my inquiry I got “shall I go ahead and process the refund?”
    Still working on the 2nd flight. Gave them that info on the very first call, but it apparently got lost.

  25. Because of Cranky’s time within the industry, I’m surprised that he didin’t file a “formal” complaint with the D.O.T. – which then becomes public record and in addition, a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (C.F.P.B.) against J.P. Morgan Chae for the his comcern was handled. Even though Chase may contract with Expedia – Chase is still ultimately responsible.

    Glad it worked out in your favor – and it just shows how the bis companies like to push viable small businesses around.

    If it wasn’t for small businesses like yours – we would have no economy.

    SO_CAL_RETAIL_SLUT

    1. I did file a formal complaint, but I just did it after it was all done. I wanted to make sure that Chase was punished for this kind of behavior.

  26. Can anyone provide help regarding point reimbursement with Chase Sapphire Reserve? I booked on AA using Chase Points/Exepdia. Cancelled because of Corona (AA flights were not cancelled) and they are giving me $960 AA credit (non-transferable) to use by 12/31/21. I want my 64,053 points back into my chase account. Suggestions?

    1. Amanda – If the flight wasn’t canceled, then you can’t get your points back. You’ll just have to use that credit before it expires.

      1. I booked on Qatar using Chase UR points/Expedia. My flight was canceled by Qatar. I have not received anything yet, just a few non-dispositive emails. I’m overseas, so calling really won’t work for me (because of the long hold times you wrote about). Are you saying I’ll get my points back?
        If so, that’s great news.

        1. Chris – A refund should be an option, but you have to get Chase to do it.
          If you aren’t able to handle from abroad, our Refund Hunter service can help. Just check out crankyconcierge.com/refundhunter.

          1. Awesome! Will Chase actually talk to you about another person’s account though? Wouldn’t you need a power of attorney or something similar?

            1. Chris – Not quite that far, but there are a few ways to handle. If you want to email info@crankyconcierge.com, the team can talk to you about options before signing up. We re-open Tuesday after the holiday weekend here in the US.

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