Getting refunded for airline cancellation fees

August 31, 2012 7:07:06 PM PDT
If you book a flight way ahead of time you may save money on the fare. But what if you have an accident or get sick?

Some tickets are refundable, but others are not, and it can be tricky trying to get a refund.

7 On Your Side came to the rescue of one Bay Area woman who was told she could get her cancellation fees refunded. However, all she got was three months of pure frustration.

Linda Abdilla used 60,000 miles from her United Airlines Mileage Plus account to buy an airline ticket for her son, John.

John lives way out in Contra Costa County, so the night before he was due to fly to Florida, John stayed at his mom's house, which is near San Francisco International Airport.

It was a perfect plan -- until the bug hit.

"In the middle of the night he got violently ill and we took him to the hospital," Linda said. John was so sick he was admitted to Kaiser Hospital in South San Francisco.

Linda immediately canceled his flight and got her 60,000 miles back, but she had to pay a $150 cancellation fee. However, United said it would refund $100 of that fee because this was a medical emergency.

"You pay the $150 and they will reimburse you $100 if you send the right documents," Linda said.

Linda applied for the refund and submitted the required medical forms. United sent her a letter saying that her request for a refund had been approved so she waited for her $100.

But she never received it. Instead, she got a credit of $5. She contacted United and asked about the rest of her refund. United told her it could not find her records and that she should send the airline an email.

"I would explain to them that I've just sent four emails and I'm not getting any response," Linda said.

Finally Linda was told all records changed when United merged with Continental Airlines and that no one could find her data.

"My ticket number, my claim number, nothing was valid any more. There was no way to look it up," Linda said.

That's when she called 7 On Your Side. We contacted United Airlines and within days, Linda received her refund -- not $5 and not $100, but the entire $150 cancellation fee.

United said: "We review refunds on a case-by-case basis. After reviewing Ms. Abdilla's circumstances, we refunded the service charge."

So why did she get that first $5? United says that was the tax she'd paid, which United automatically refunds for canceled flights on Mileage Plus.

Linda says the $150 is nice but that this wasn't about the money. "I'd pretty much given up and it just became a matter of principle."

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