We recently got a question from a real consumer with a real consumer problem. The consumer, Kenneth, explained that he had purchased four same-day travel tickets on Priceline for $1,700 using a credit card. Within two hours he cancelled the tickets directly with the airline and notified his credit card of the cancelled charge. He was told he would see the credit back on his account in just a few days. Now, five months later, Kenneth has not received any refund, and he asked us whether there was anything he could do.
We always like to see companies make it right with their customers. But in this case, Kenneth has several factors working against him.
First, Kenneth was trying to cancel same-day travel tickets. Most airline tickets that are refundable are only refundable up to a certain amount of time before the flight. In some cases you must cancel a week prior. Other tickets may offer cancellation until 24 hours before the flight. But with same-day travel tickets, you have already passed that window, so most are strictly non-refundable. In Kenneth’s case, the airline’s published cancellation policy was that flights could not be cancelled within seven days of the flight. So his tickets were not refundable under those terms.
Second, Kenneth bought his tickets through a third party. In this case, the refund request might now include Priceline in addition to the airline and credit card company. Any time you book with a third party, you introduce a new party to any cancellations or complaints you have. That inevitably makes things more complicated. It can also cause issues between the airline and the third party, because the airlines themselves may not be able to make changes to a third-party reservation. The credit card company’s hands are tied, too. They cannot cancel or refund a payment that is clearly non-refundable according to published policies.
Third, Kenneth was flying with a discount airline. Discount airlines are not necessarily bad, but you get what you pay for. Discount airlines keep prices low in part by avoiding other costs. For instance, they may charge for drinks and snacks while other airlines provide them for free. Typically, policies around cancellation are similarly restrictive. Having well-documented but strict cancellation requirements is another way for the airline to avoid an added cost, in this case the cost of refunds and empty seats.
So what can be done?
In this case, there aren’t really any options for Kenneth to get a refund. The clearly-published airline policy, which was provided to Kenneth in writing, states that flights cannot be refunded within seven days of the flight. However, there are steps he and all consumers can take to avoid problems like this in the future.
The first thing to do to avoid this situation is to be very careful with same-day travel tickets. Check your airline’s written policy, but always assume same-day travel is non-refundable. Same-day travel may sometimes offer discounts as airlines work to fill empty seats, but choose your tickets carefully. Only purchase tickets when you are sure you can make the flight and will use the tickets. Alternatively, buy tickets in advance when you can.
Second, avoid third-party sellers of airline tickets. Some people believe that these discount sites can get them huge discounts and great prices on more expensive tickets. But that’s usually not the case. Working directly with the airline, online or on the phone, can usually get you the best price for your tickets. It also gives the airlines more options should you need to cancel. They may be able to rebook you, refund you, or give you a travel voucher or flight credit.
Finally, know your airline’s policies. If you are flying with a discount airline, be prepared for different policies than more traditional airlines. Know before you go and you won’t be caught by surprise.