Kevin Hunt: US Airways Credit Mix-Up; Woman Contests AirTran Change Fees


Gene Nowak and his wife, Jean, were among the 3,594 passengers on the Royal Princess cruise last September that barely made it halfway through a 12-day Mediterranean trip before the ship lost power.

At least the toilets didn't stop working. After reaching Naples, Italy, Princess aborted the cruise and offered passengers a full refund, a discount on a future cruise and transportation home. Shortly after the Nowaks returned to Glastonbury, though, US Airways emailed a reminder to check in for their return flight.

Nowak called the airline and, after explaining they no longer needed the flight, received a credit for more than $1,200 that expires Sept. 27, 2014. The airline sent an email confirmation. That meant the Nowaks could apply the credit to the make-up Princess cruise to the Mediterranean they recently booked.

"I thought this would work perfectly," says Gene Nowak, "because we were now due to return to the United States on Sept. 23."

But when he called US Airways reservations, he was told the credit expires Sept. 14, not Sept. 27. The original email was incorrect.

"Obviously," he says, "this would not work in our favor."

Nowak called, and emailed, US Airways to protest. The airline apologized for the "confusing information" but reaffirmed the Sept. 14 expiration date and told Nowak it considered his file closed.

That was obvious, Nowak said when he contacted The Bottom Line last month: "US Airways no longer wishes to discuss this as two emails to them have gone unanswered."

After reviewing the case at The Bottom Line's request, US Airways confirmed the Sept. 14 expiration but acknowledged the erroneous information in the initial email.

"The error was on our end," says Andrew Christie, a US Airways spokesman. "In light of Mr. Nowak booking his cruise within the time limit of the original date, we will honor the Sept. 27 date for use of the travel credit."

Nowak received both a voice message and an email from the airline's corporate office.

"Quite frankly," he says, "I was shocked to get their response."

And, naturally, pleased. When Nowak learned the flight on the original return date was sold out and the only option would cost the couple $1,400 more, he booked the a flight for the following day at a reduced rate. "A steal, in my estimation," he says.

Now he's hoping the ship will make it through the entire cruise.

"I guess it was a learning lesson for all," he says. "US Airways to provide accurate information and I to better understand the restrictions on airfares."

AirTran Vs. SouthwestChange Fees

Q: "I went onto the Southwest site to purchase four tickets to Atlanta from Bradley International Airport. There were many options, some flights operated by AirTran. I happened to pick those flights. At the bottom of the page, it says no change fee. But when purchasing the tickets I was transferred to the AirTran site.

"When I telephoned in February to change the date I was told I would owe $600 more. I argued about the no-change fee and they told me I went on the AirTran site so that as not true and there would be a fee for each ticket. I went to the Southwest site specifically so I would not have a change fee."

Joanne Cichocki, Vernon

A: Southwest Airlines merged with AirTran in 2011, but the airlines' flight-change policies still differ. The Bottom Line agrees that's confusing when booking an AirTran flight through Southwest. In your case, the link to book the flight took you to AirTran.com. When at AirTran.com, you apparently must play by AirTran's rules.

"The customer booked travel through AirTran.com," says Whitney Eichinger, a Southwest spokeswoman. "All AirTran fees and charges apply when booking through AirTran.com."

Southwest plans to drop the AirTran brand, and its change fees, by the end of the year.

That might help on Cichocki's next trip, but not this one. Cichocki wasn't finished with Southwest/AirTran: She was so upset with the change fees that she called AirTran to cancel the reservation, even though it meant absorbing the $600 in change fees. She then asked to speak to a supervisor.

"The [customer service representative] asked that I hold for a moment then came back and said her supervisor gave her permission to credit me with the full amount," she says. "Persistence has paid off!"

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