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March 17, 2014

When Hotwire’s $25 Off Promotion Gives You Nothing Off

Filed under: Internet,Travel — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:50 am

 Pierre K. recently wrote to Mouse Print* complaining about an offer he had seen on Hotwire.com’s website.

It promised “$25 off your next booking with our app.” The fine print only said:

“Minimum $100 hotel booking. Limit one coupon per user. Valid 12/30/13 to 03/31/14.”

Since he was about to book an expensive particular hotel stay in Denmark — over $300 when checking the price on Hotwire’s regular website — our consumer installed their app to save $25. To his chagrin, when he searched for that same hotel on the app, nothing came up.

He started a chat session with a Hotwire agent who explained that the $25 off offer only applied to what are called “Hot Rate” hotels — those places that won’t tell you the name of their hotel until after you reserve the room and pay in advance. Pierre wanted a specific hotel whose name he knew, and had seen on the regular Hotwire website. He would never have wasted time installing an app if the $25 he was promised did not apply to that hotel. Here is a portion of the chat transcript:

*MOUSE PRINT:

{Pierre} The only restriction I see is “Minimum $100 hotel booking. Limit one coupon per user. Valid 12/30/13 to 03/31/14.”

{Hotwire Drew} I understand, however, you won’t be able to find any Standard Rate hotels on the mobile app, that is why you do not see any results on the app when you searched for a hotel.

{Pierre} wait… so to get the discount I have to use the app, but the app doesn’t find any hotels that can use the discount? how can I use the promo code on the computer then without going through android?

{Hotwire Drew} To get get the discount you have to use the app only and will not be transferred to your computer, also, the app should show you results if there is some available for your search.

{Pierre} this is false advertising. Nowhere does it say in writing on the website or the app that it’s only for Hot Rate hotels. It simply says on hotels over $100.

Pierre persisted for a while longer with the Hotwire agent, but got nowhere. Mouse Print* contacted the PR firm that represents Hotwire asking them why the company didn’t more clearly state the limited nature of the $25 offer. We also asked if they were going to change the website to more clearly disclose the terms of the offer.

No response was received, and the website remains unchanged. Pierre has moved his travel purchases to Travelocity.

• • •

February 10, 2014

The 24-Hour Airfare Reservation Cancellation Rule Revisited

Filed under: Travel — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:01 am

airplane Last week, we scolded JetBlue for not being as generous as some other airlines if a consumer wants to cancel a ticket purchased within the past 24 hours. JetBlue follows the federal rule to the letter, and only grants a full refund for tickets bought at least a week in advance of the flight and is cancelled within 24 hours of purchase. Delta and US Airways, on the other hand, don’t impose that seven-day in advance restriction. They let you cancel within 24 hours of purchase, irrespective of the actual travel date, and get a full refund.

Mouse Print* checked with a few other airlines to see what their policies were and learned that American Airlines seemed to have a strange application of the federal rule.

Here is the actual federal rule from the Department of Transportation, requiring each airline to adopt a customer service plan that covers certain things, including:

*MOUSE PRINT:

“(4) Allowing reservations to be held at the quoted fare without payment, or [emphasis added] cancelled without penalty, for at least twenty-four hours after the reservation is made if the reservation is made one week or more prior to a flight’s departure;”

Most people would read that to say whether the customer merely makes a reservation OR actually purchases a ticket, and they cancel within 24 hours of making that reservation, they are entitled to do so without penalty (as long as the reservation was made at least seven days in advance).

That is not how American applies the rule. If you buy a nonrefundable ticket on their website at 10 am today but decide at noon that you want to cancel the reservation, American will charge you a $200 penalty/fee. If, on the other hand, you merely want to make a reservation today and lock in the price shown, they will allow you to do that without having to purchase the ticket until 11:59 pm the next day.

They take the word “or” literally in the federal rule, and interpret the rule to require them to EITHER hold a reservation free for 24 hours OR provide a refund for purchased tickets cancelled within 24 hours of the transaction. They chose the former.

What does the Department of Transportation say about such an interpretation? They agree!

*MOUSE PRINT:

8. Does a carrier have to offer a consumer the opportunity to either “hold a reservation for 24-hours without payment” or to “cancel a reservation within 24 hours without penalty?”

No, a carrier is not required to offer both options. But if a carrier accepts reservations without payment, it must allow the consumer to cancel the reservation within 24 hours without penalty, and if the carrier requires payment with a reservation, it must allow the consumer to cancel the payment and reservation within 24 hours and receive a full refund.

Wow. How anti-consumer.

The lesson is that there is no blanket 24-hour right to cancel airline reservations, and therefore you have to check each airline’s policy before you buy.

• • •

February 3, 2014

Full Refunds Not Always Guaranteed at JetBlue if Canceling a Flight Within 24 Hours

Filed under: Internet,Travel — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:50 am

  The airlines don’t like to publicize it, but starting in 2012 the Department of Transportation required US airlines to make refunds to passengers who cancelled their non-refundable tickets/reservations within 24 hours of making them.

That is a great consumer right.

One New Yorker, however, needed to take an emergency flight in the next day or two, so he bought a ticket on JetBlue. His plans shortly changed, and within 24 hours he contacted JetBlue to cancel the reservation. They said he did not qualify for a full refund. What?

JetBlue’s contract of carriage states this:

*MOUSE PRINT:

“Following receipt of payment from a Passenger, JetBlue will allow a reservation to be held at the quoted fare for 24 hours, if the reservation is made at least one week prior to the flight’s departure. [Emphasis added.] If such reservation is canceled within 24 hours of booking, Passenger will receive a full refund without assessment of a cancellation fee.”

Sure enough, the fine print of the DOT’s regulation provides:

*MOUSE PRINT:

Allows “passengers to hold a reservation without payment, or to cancel it without penalty, for 24 hours after the reservation is made, if the reservation is made one week or more prior to a flight’s departure date.”

Who knew?

A check of some other airlines’ policies and a call to U.S. Airways suggest that their cancellation policies don’t impose that seven-day in advance purchase requirement to get a full refund.

As always, don’t assume. Ask your airline if you indeed have the unrestricted right to cancel your ticket within 24 hours of purchase.

• • •

November 25, 2013

TSA Pre-Check: A Pleasant Surprise in the Fine Print

Filed under: Travel — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:01 am

On the way back from Washington, DC a couple of weeks ago, MrConsumer was stopped by a TSA official before entering the waiting line for security. He scrutinized my boarding pass and diverted me to the TSA Pre-Check line. Thinking he made some mistake because perish the thought would MrConsumer pay extra for a pre-screening program to expedite his trip through security, the TSA official said it was a random choice that I was being directed there.

Okay, I thought, maybe this is a heightened security check for random passengers. But how much more could they ask me to remove?

Turns out that pre-check is an expedited process to go through security. No removing of shoes or belts. No taking out your plastic bag of toiletries. No laptop in a separate bin. And no going through the full body scanner. All I had to do was remove metal from my pockets and go through the old-fashioned metal detector.

A check of the TSA website reveals that the TSA Pre-Check program is indeed a system being rolled out across the country. It is currently available at seven airlines, including American, Delta, United, and US Airways in selected cities. They have a secret formula to figure out who is harmless enough to let through security with only minimal screening (and clearly the system isn’t working too well if they let MrConsumer through ).

How do you know if you have been selected to cut the long line, and go express through security?

*MOUSE PRINT:

TSA Pre-Check

Look right on your boarding pass in most cases for that designation.

Based on the details found at the TSA Pre-Check program website you do have to pay $85 for a five year expedited “pass” through security. So maybe the TSA is taking a page from product manufacturers and offering a free sample to random passengers in the hope that they will buy into the program.

• • •

March 25, 2013

One Way Fare to Heaven Gets Costly for Delta Frequent Fliers

Filed under: Travel — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:11 am

A couple of weeks ago, Consumer World brought you a story suggesting that savvy travelers shouldn’t let their frequent flier miles die with them. The miles can be inherited and transferred to an heir in many cases.

Delta Airlines must be a regular Consumer World reader, because last week they changed the rules of the game for holders of Delta SkyMiles.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Here are the 2012 rules for the Delta SkyMiles program:

Transfer upon Death of Member

Upon the death of a Member, the Administrator or Executor of the Member’s Estate may designate one or more other Members to receive a transfer of the mileage credit in the deceased Member’s account. Only whole number amounts of miles may be transferred. The required form and other instructions for requesting a transfer of mileage under these circumstances is available on delta.com/skymilesaffidavit.

On March 20, 2013, however, Delta changed their SkyMiles rules for 2013.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Restrictions on Transfer

Miles are not the property of any Member. Except as specifically authorized in the Membership Guide and Program Rules or otherwise in writing by an officer of Delta, miles may not be sold, attached, seized, levied upon, pledged, or transferred under any circumstances, including, without limitation, by operation of law, upon death, [emphasis added] or in connection with any domestic relations dispute and/or legal proceeding.

Delta dropped the whole paragraph about the procedure for transferring miles on death, and substituted the above new “no transfer” rules. Now Delta says that your miles are not yours, you can’t take them with you when you die, and you can’t give them to anyone else in your will.

Thanks to John Materese, the consumer reporter at WCPO in Cincinnati for the story idea. Here is his video of this story.

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