Updated on January 23, 2016
“Mistake fares” as some may call them, can be a great opportunity to take spontaneous trips or maybe that trip you wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise.
Many people around the world got in on the Etihad Airways’ mistake fare last Christmas (myself and my buddy Pat included). If you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about, head over to the FlyerTalk thread and get way more information then you were probably hoping for.
While the cheapest fares were for NYC-AUH (~$175), we didn’t want to spend our entire time in Abu Dhabi, so we went for the trip all the way to Johannesburg, S.A. – completely splurging for the grand total of $326 a person! *These prices are roundtrip!*
We booked our trips for this upcoming week, November 5th through 13th. My parents also got in on the deal, except that they would leave the 14th (flying out of JNB on the 13th). The sweet spot of this deal is to travel during the week and avoid weekend flying. Since my parents were leaving JNB on a Friday, there’s were outrageously expensive at ~$426 a ticket.
Well, things didn’t quite work out for everyone.
Because life happens and plans change, my parents are no longer able to take the trip. While I obviously knew these tickets were non-refundable and that my parents would have to sacrifice their ~850, I had to try and get it back for them.
While many people have gotten these tickets canceled because their flight’s days have changed or they were re-routed in a way they didn’t like, we didn’t get any of that.
Not to fear, to the rescue comes my favorite bailout – schedule changes!!
As you can see below, their original flight for the journey home (from JNB) left at 8:30 pm.
As luck would have it, Etihad decided they didn’t want to leave that late anymore! They ended up changing the flight to leave at 7:40 p.m., a 50-minute move up!
While a 50-minute delay or even a 50-minute change in transit time wouldn’t usually qualify as an ‘out’ or refund, moving a flight UP in time that much can do just that!
Now, they booked these flights (and by “they” I mean “I”) through Orbitz. Another part of this mistake was that you had to book the flights through an OTA (Online Travel Agency). Using Orbitz often, it was an easy choice.
After a few back and forth phone calls between Etihad and Orbitz (probably 2 hours on the phone, total), I finally got that sweet, sweet phrase (from the Orbitz customer service woman) – “Mr. Caldwell, I just got off the phone with Michael from Etihad and we’re going to be able to issue you a full refund”. Hell yes.
The argument was simple: You cannot move a flight up almost an hour on a customer and force them to use that flight. For example – say you’re a business man who has a meeting until 6:00 p.m., so you schedule a flight for 8:30 p.m. Then, the airline changes the flight to 7:40. You cannot be expected to move your timeline up an hour, as you precisely booked the flight you could make.
While it may not have applied to my parents situation exactly (or at all), the principal stands.
Not truly believing anything until I see it in writing (even if it is electronic writing), I waited until I got the confirmation emails to celebrate.
The first email left me a little concerned. The verbiage of “if the airline approves” was scary, but I figured it may just be the standard, cookie cutter email that was always sent. I was right.
The second one made me feel much more at ease:
So that’s it! Never give up hope of canceling (with a refund) a non-refundable ticket. My advice would be that if you know you can’t make the flight and you’re prepared to eat the cost, just wait, and don’t cancel. There’s limited benefit if you cancel early, while if you wait you may just get that schedule change you’ve been praying for!
Have you ever gotten a non-refundable flight fully refunded? How?