Slow news day on Insiders, probably due to the dreadful SSO sign-in bug, so although not Marriott related, or even hotel related, here’s something travel related.
I’m returning from TIPPLE with Virgin Atlantic spending miles. The number of miles is relatively small because European airlines tend to charge fewer miles per redemption flights, but much bigger copays. For instance United one-way East Coast transatlantic Economy redemptions are 30,000 miles and $5, BA is 13,000 miles and $180, Virgin is 10,000 miles and $150. For TIPPLE returning to UK I booked Virgin using an upgrade voucher to PE with its 21” width, great recline (guilt free back of cabin) and 38” pitch, it’s a great product. Using my AMEX upgrade voucher meant it was only 10k Virgin miles and due to a pricing anomaly, the same copay as economy, $150. TIPPLE-y bargain!
Except Virgin Atlantic has a problem with its 787 fleet. It’s Rolls Royce engines are wearing faster than expected. This is a problem across the Rolls Royce 787 Trent jet engines. It especially effects Virgin who have bet the farm on a fleet of just 2 aircraft types, the 787 and the 330. All the 787s are being grounded while it waits for Rolls Royce to manufacture and replace but it’s a long wait, maybe a year or more, Rolls is way behind schedule. To tackle this Virgin has purchased some of bankrupt Air Berlin’s A330s and given them a quick paint-job. Alas Air Berlin didn’t run a Premium Economy cabin but this shouldn’t have effected me as Virgins Manchester fleet is 100% A330s. Except that Virgin decided to transfer it’s MAN fleet to LHR hence ensuring LHR customers get their PE seats, and assigned the Air Berlin paint-jobs to MAN meaning my PE seat, and TIPPLE-y bargain ended up at Heathrow. Drat!
But, Ta-Tara! Enter stage left the EU and it’s consumer protection legislation catchily called EU261 that provides where a flight is downgraded the airline has to refund 75% of the cost of the flight. Virgin duly wrote to me at the beginning of December advising I’d been downgraded but I could change my flight free of charge, revive a full refund or take the downgrade and receive my EU261 refund. Not ideal, but the refund would make it a doubly TIPPLE-y cheap flight, just 2500 miles and $39! It’s a deal. Except it’s not. Virgin has decided not to refund me anything as I’m flying on the voucher and didn’t pay either the miles or copay for PE, all they’re doing is replacing the voucher into my account. Alas, the voucher has now passed its 12-month validity, so the returned voucher enters my online Virgin account and disappears in a puff of airline sleight of hand!
All this shenanigans makes me a distinctly Un-BrightlyBob! So I rang Virgin and spoke to customer services who referred me onto refunds, who went silent so I complained again on the phone and then received an email repeating that no EU261 rebate was due but they would be refunding £46 of taxes. Where that came from I’ve no clue, but it is a step in the right direction, however this has now become a challenge. I’m right and they’re wrong! Time to stoke the boiler, with an email to get Virgin Atlantic to abide by its original letter, and the law...
FAO ROBERT W********
Dear Mr W*********,
Many thanks for your response earlier today. As you say, this has left a bad impression in a variety of different ways:
1. Although the seat downgrade was caused by excessive RollsRoyce engine wear on your 787s this shouldn’t have effected my Manchester flight as it was to be flown utilising Airbus aircraft. Instead your company decided to redirect the Manchester airbus fleet to LHR thereby passing the problem onto me. This was not forced upon you, it was a choice your company made.
2. This was ameliorated somewhat by early communication and immediate confirmation that EU261 applied and I would accordingly be rebated 75% of my flight cost. Had that occurred I would have taken that as the end of the matter. Sometimes **** just happens!
3. Unfortunately after that email at the beginning of December 2017 I received no further correspondence and only after calling repeatedly in January was I advised that your refunds dept had decided that as a points flyer no refund was due. That decision had been made over 2 weeks earlier but without any communication to me.
4. That decision was and remains wholly unlawful as EU261 is completely clear in its wording that the regulations apply to both mileage and money.
5. I then had to complain to you and you handed me over to the refunds dept who as before didn’t say a word, and still haven’t. Why are your refunds dept so speechless?
6. I today received your email indicating that £46 has been refunded, though not yet received, now 2 months after the date of the email from your company promising the refund. Even if paid however, it would still be insufficient.
I would remind you of your obligations under EU261 with which I am sure your company is very familiar. Article 10 (2) states
“If an operating air carrier places a passenger in a class lower than that for which the ticket was purchased, it shall within seven days, by the means provided for in Article 7(3), reimburse
(a) 30 % of the price of the ticket for all flights of 1500 kilometres or less, or
(b) 50 % of the price of the ticket for all intra-Community flights of more than 1500 kilometres, except flights between the European territory of the Member States and the French overseas departments, and for all other flights between 1500 and 3500 kilometres, or
(c) 75 % of the price of the ticket for all flights not falling under (a) or (b), including flights between the European territory of the Member States and the French overseas departments.”
This therefore confirms that in the event of a cabin downgrade (in my case from premium to economy) 75% of the entire flight costs are to be refunded.
And article 3 (3) states:
“This Regulation shall not apply to passengers travelling free of charge or at a reduced fare not available directly or indirectly to the public. However, it shall apply to passengers having tickets issued under a frequent flyer programme or other commercial programme by an air carrier or tour operator.”
This therefore confirms the rules apply in respect of mileage payments to exactly the same extent as the cash copayment.
So that’s 75% of the mileage, that’s 7500 miles AND 75% of the copay, that’s £86 to be refunded. You've decided to return only £46, hence you remain in breach of our contract and EU261.
To resolve this dispute you have the following choices-
You can accomplish this by either:
(A) refunding me 7500 miles and a further £40 to comply with your mileage and cash refund obligations under EU261; or
(B) Paying me £190 representing a very conservative value of the airmiles at 2p per mile making £150 and of course the £40 shortfall referred to above.
2. Changing your mind and not breaching your contract with me.
This can be accomplished by either:
(A) carrying me in Premium Economy cabin, admittedly bearing in mind your decision to reassign the aircraft with it’s PE cabin from Manchester to London that’s a pretty long shot, but it is an option; or
(B) upgrading me without charge to a business seat, hence ensuring I haven’t been downgraded, so you're not then in breach of our contract.
I hope this email is clear, take the opportunity of thanking you for your assistance to date and now look forward to your further responses once you have considered this email accordingly.
Yeah, slow news day, but I’m awaiting their further response and will update on this blog.