UNDAEROSPACE and all others,
First, I am very sorry to learn of your grandmother's illness. My mother very nearly died this last week due to complications from surgery, so I have some idea how you may feel.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of those who are stating the airline's case are correct. An airline ticket is a contract between you and the airline. When you purchased that ticket, you agreed to the terms of the contract, even if you did not read it or understood the terms.
Delta entered into a contract with you to carry you from point a to b on a certain date and time. When you cancelled your reservation, you didn't keep your part of the deal.
The provisions of the contract allow you, under certain circumstances, to use the value of your ticket toward the purchase of another ticket, plus any change fee associated with the exchange of the ticket you currently hold. In the USA, there are no provisions for refund or cancellations due to the illness of a family member.
Why are the rules so tight? 1) The closer to departure you cancel, the greater the likelihood that the airline cannot resell the seat. If your seat goes empty, then the airline takes a loss twice: Once for entering into a contract with you at a fare that is lower than their operating costs and twice, because you will probably purchase another ticket at a fare at which they still will not make money, even with the change fees and difference in fare. After all, it is better for you to lose a little money than the entire value of your ticket (in most cases).
2) More importantly, the tightness of these rules has a great deal to do with the type of ticket you purchased. If you choose to purchase a deeply discounted fare, you are agreeing to accept the rules pertaining to that fare as a condition of the contract of carriage between you and the airline. Had you purchased a regular coach fare ticket, you would have been entitled to a full refund of the price of your ticket. However, the fare would have been significantly higher. This is the entire premise of airline pricing; the less you pay, the more restrictions are placed on your travel.
While we may argue that this is patently unfair, the reality is that if we demand a $99.00 ticket to fly from LA
to New York, then we have to accept the rules associated with that ticket. Were airlines to do away with all the restrictions, the fares we would pay would be so much higher that the industry would literally implode from the drop in traffic demand. This has implications that are far greater than any one person or an individual situation, no matter how difficult that situation may be.
With all of this said, I would like to offer you two pieces of advice for the future:
1) Use a travel agent. Preferably, a travel consultant, one who you pay for services and works for you and not a seller of travel who works for a commission. As airlines have done away with commissions, travel agents have moved to charging a fee for selling an airline ticket. Sometimes, they buy their tickets net and mark them up. In most cases, you won't know that and they will attempt to place you on carriers with whom they have the best pricing for them to make money. While there is nothing wrong with this concept, the key is, will they help when things go wrong or are they competent enough to do so? Some will, some won't.
The critical difference is that a consultant will help you in situations like yours, by asking you if there are any situations that may arise that cause you to change your travel plans (before your travel), or work with you and the airline to mitigate the loss you will incur as a result of your particular situation. Searching for a good travel consultant is like searching for an interior designer or a great hair dresser. Hopefully, some day, we will be considered like doctors and lawyers, but that is very far off.
In any case, working with a travel agent is better than buying online. Some advice is better than no advice and you will get just that--NO ADVICE--when you buy a ticket over the internet.
2) Purchase trip cancellation insurance. Usually, trip cancellation insurance will provide you a full refund in the event you cancel for reasons of family death or illness. It is necessary, however, to weigh the risk of paying the premium against any potential risk of cancellation.
A rule of thumb that I use is that if your policy costs more than 15% of the total cost of your travel, then you are probably paying too much for insurance, IF
there are no factors which may cause you to cancel that would fall under the provision of the policy.
If there are such factors which could cause you to cancel, then even if the insurance costs you 50% of the price of your trip, then it is worth it, because you will be money ahead by getting a refund back on half of your money, which will in some cases be less than what you would have to pay to use your ticket toward future travel.
In the case of travel insurance, you MUST use a competent travel consultant to sit down and analyze your situation to determine what kind of policy will serve your needs. While most policies are similar, they are not the same and they do not cost the same.
I can appreciate your anger at Delta for their policies. I also understand the policies of the airline in this regard and until there is fundamental change in the travel purchase behavior of the consumer, the reality is that this type of policy will continue to exist.
The only thing you can do is as a consumer is to get educated about your rights and responsibilities and view travel as an investment that you must protect. The lower the price, the more the restrictions, the greater risk. The reward for you is travel at a price far below the cost of the airline to carry you from point a to b. The alternative is to purchase a much higher fare, giving you much more flexibility, but not providing a very good return on your travel dollar.
The purchase of travel insurance gives you some protection of your investment, but at a price. Ultimately, the decision you make will be a calculated risk. It is therefore important to make certain you are as educated as possible, so that you have a better chance of getting a return on your travel dollar.
As a travel consultant and former airline manager, I do charge for my services. However, my clients have come to understand that with the level of experience I have in airline travel, they receive a significant benefit, especially when things go wrong. I can only suggest that you can find someone you can trust to provide you the best advice, thereby further insuring that the investment you make in travel is a wise one. Remember, at the end of the day, the decision is yours.
I hope you find this advice useful and that you will be able to recover a good portion of your travel investment the next time you travel. If you wish to discuss further on the side, please contact me directly. Otherwise, my prayers are with you for the recovery of your grandmother. This ultimately is the best outcome of all.
Dave - baw716
David L. Lamb, fmr Area Mgr Alitalia SFO 1998-2002, fmr Regional Analyst SFO-UAL 1992-1998