My Virgin America / Hawaiian Airlines Award Ticket Disaster

Good morning everyone.  Last week, I wrote this post: PSA: Check Existing Reservations for “Silent” Schedule Changes.  In that post, I talked about checking existing reservations to confirm flight times.  Sometimes, airlines make schedule changes, sometimes airlines will email you to tell you about the schedule changes, and sometimes airlines silently make schedule changes and do not inform passengers.  I, unfortunately, found myself in the last category recently with an intra island Hawaiian Airlines flight.

My girlfriend and I had a flight that was originally scheduled to depart at 1:03pm, but the new flight time was 2:41pm.  If we had booked a paid ticket, we could have easily called Hawaiian Airlines, explained that we needed to be on an earlier flight, and switched to the 12:31pm flight.  Unfortunately, I booked the flight with 3,000 Virgin America miles + $5.60 in taxes/fees per person.  But the really unfortunate thing is that since Alaska Airlines and Virgin America merged, Virgin America and Hawaiian Airlines are no longer partners, so they cannot book new award flights or modify existing reservation.

Long story short, Virgin America is no longer a partner of Hawaiian Airlines, so they cannot modify an existing Hawaiian Airlines reservation.  Likewise, since the tickets were booked through Virgin America, Hawaiian Airlines was not able to make any changes to the reservation.  I would call one airline, explain the situation, and they would tell me to call the other airline.  I bounced back an forth a few times, growing more and more frustrated.  I ended up spending 3-4 hours on the phone with various agents from Hawaiian Airlines, Virgin America, and Alaska Airlines before I finally received a refund of my miles.  In this post, I will share the information I learned and the steps I took to fix this situation.

Approach #1: Try to Change My Existing Reservation

During my first call to Hawaiian Airlines, I did a quick search on Hawaiian Airlines website to see what flight times were available.  My new flight was departing at 2:41pm, but the 12:31pm flight would have worked perfectly.  I explained to the first Hawaiian Airlines rep that, due to a schedule change, I wanted to switch to the 12:31pm flight.  I was then told that since the flight was booked through Virgin America, I would have to contact them to make any changes to the reservation.

After that call, I called Virgin America and told the rep that since Virgin America booked the ticket, they would have to make the change.  Unfortunately, since the schedule change was due to Hawaiian Airlines, I would need to call them and have them change the reservation.  I hung up and let out an exasperated exhale.  This was not going to be easy.

After trying Hawaiian Airlines and Virgin America one more time, I gave up on approach #1.  I decided that if I could cancel the award ticket, I would just book a paid ticket on Hawaiian Airlines.


Approach #2: Try to Cancel My Existing Reservation

I then called Virgin America to cancel the award ticket.  The agent looked into the reservation and said that in order to cancel the reservation and redeposit the miles, I would have to pay a $200 fee.  $200 to cancel a reservation I no longer wanted?!  That was blasphemy!  I politely asked her to waive the $200 fee, but she said that that option was only available for Virgin America Elevate Gold Elite Members.  I then said that I was a Virgin America Elevate Gold Elite Member when I booked the reservation.  The agent was stumped, so she put me on hold, and spoke to her supervisor.  A few minutes later, she came back, told me that I would not be changed the $200 fee and began to process the cancellation.  A minute later, I received 2 emails telling me that I had received a $5.60 refund that would be deposited into my Virgin America travel bank.

I logged into my Virgin America account, went through the travel bank conversion process and converted my $11.20 Virgin America travel bank balance into a $11.20 Alaska Airlines credit certificate.

A minute after that, I received 2 emails from Alaska Airlines.  The first email had my Alaska Airlines credit certificate number and the second email had my credit certificate PIN.

The last piece of the puzzle was to get my 6,000 Virgin America miles back.  This was tricky because the Virgin America Elevate frequent flyer program doesn’t really exist any more.  Alaska Airlines and Virgin America merged and converted all Virgin America miles into Alaska Airlines miles.  During the conversion process, Alaska Airlines offered a 30% bonus for converting miles from Virgin America into Alaska Airlines.

I called Virgin America to explain the situation, but they said I had to speak to a rep from the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan department.  I was transferred to that department and explained the situation.  After putting me on hold for ~10 minutes, the agent said that she could see the 6,000 Virgin America miles in my account and would manually deposit 6,000 Alaska Airlines miles into my account.  I said that was great, but also asked why I would not get the 30% bonus for converting Virgin America miles into Alaska Airlines miles.  She said that after the programs officially merged, that promotion ended, so I would not get the 30% bonus.  I was dissapointed by that claim, but wanted to get this issue resolved, so I said the 6,000 Alaska Airlines miles were fine.  Moments later, the 6,000 “special services” Alaska Airlines miles were deposited into my account.  I thanked the rep and hung up.

There are often sweet spot awards when you book with miles from one program and travel on another program, but there are also pitfalls when those partnerships end or change.  If you have a similar experience with an airline, please let me know.  If you have any questions about this process, please leave a comment below.  Have a great day everyone!

22 thoughts on “My Virgin America / Hawaiian Airlines Award Ticket Disaster

    1. Grant Post author

      Most airlines have a partnership with Hawaiian Airlines. I think American and United both charge 7,500 miles. JetBlue charges 6,000 miles. I’m not sure what other options there are.

      Reply
      1. Patrick

        Thanks… maybe I’ll end up using my chase points booking on their Ultimate rewards site. The Reserve with it’s “1.5 exchange rate” may come in handy in this instance.

        Reply
        1. Grant Post author

          Yes that is a great option. I would personally use JetBlue points since I have so many of those, but not every Hawaiian Airlines flight is available for award tickets.

          Reply
    2. GMP

      I just booked a bunch of interisland flights for an upcoming family trip (OGG-ITO). On some flights, tickets could be had for about $95 on Hawaiian, so it may not be worth it to use miles. The Chase UR portal listed those same flights at $109 (and the equivalent points). But I found the cheapest in terms of miles was 7k United miles.

      Reply
  1. dhammer53

    Talking about

    Last week I received a change of schedule notice. I always check the flight number, flight times and connecting city departures. Everything was the same. I was puzzled why I would receive a notice without a change. Something was fishy. That’s when I noticed it. I now had a 2 day layover on a flight. My new itn was NY to Toronto; layover 2 days instead of a couple of hours, the continue to CPH 2 days later. Whoa!

    I called to get re-booked.

    Gotta watch those schedule change e mails. The funny thing was that I was a split second away from clicking ‘Accept’ change.

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      I keep a detailed spreadsheet with flight times, so I always check to see how much the Schumer change was and keep a record of all flight time changes. Glad you didn’t accidentally click accept changes.

      Reply
  2. Danny

    Oh man that is such a crazy story. It always sucks when the solution seems so easy but impossible due to unforeseen rules.

    It’s one of my fears for using partner airlines for booking award flights. For example, I’m always fearful of using BA miles on AA flights even though they cost less miles especially if we ever need to try to change flight times since I read that same day changes aren’t allowed. But I guess I could always try to cancel and re-book, but that just seems like a nightmare waiting to happen especially if the flight isnt available.

    Hope you at least had a great trip in Hawaii.

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      I saw booking awards on partner airlines works out 95% of the time, so I will still do it, but now I know the headache in store for me if I need to change / cancel a reservation.

      My trip to Hawaii is next month, and it should be awesome, so thank you for the good wishes.

      Reply
  3. Ed.

    I have a trip coming up that is HKG – LAX – DFW – XNA (with a 7 1/2 hour overnight connection at DFW). It is a Business/First Milesaaver award (on AA). The LAX – DFW – XNA segments were downgraded to coach. I found LAX – PDX – DFW Milesaaver First that would get me to DFW in plenty of time to make the connection to XNA. Called AA and they are telling me they would have to charge me $175 to change because the LAX – PDX segment is on AS and it would have to be built as a new trip. Any advice? HUCA situation?

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      If it were all on AA, you would be fine, but since you are trying to book AA and AS, I’m not sure it is possible. Try HUCA a few times and see if you get anywhere. Good luck with your calls!

      Reply
      1. Ed.

        @Grant What I don’t understand is that if I search on AA Business/First Milesaaver HKG – PDX, the LAX to PDX segment always comes up as an AS flight. Haven’t had time to try HUCA yet.

        Reply
        1. Grant Post author

          How many different airlines are you flying on that trip? There might be a maximum number of airlines you can book travel on a single award ticket.

          Reply
          1. Ed.

            The current itinerary (HKG – LAX – DFW – XNA) is 100% AA. From past experience, I know there is very little chance of getting Milesaaver First DFW – XNA – it’s an extremely heavy business route. I was told by AA Gold line to keep a watch on the LAX – DFW segment and if something in first comes available they could easily change it since it is a Milesaaver Business/First award. So I started searching for routes from LAX – DFW and found the LAX – PDX – DFW. The LAX – PDX is AS and the PDX – DFW is AA.

  4. Sean

    There’s no way you could have just taken the new flight time ? Seems like a waste of 3-4 hours on the phone & the sacrifice of 1,800 Alaska miles

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      The part of the story that I left out was that we are connecting in Maui (OGG) onto an Alaska Airlines flight to Oakland (OAK). The new flight time would have only give us 20-30 minutes to make our connection, and I didn’t want to risk missing that flight if our Hawaiian Airlines flight was slightly delayed. If I was staying on Maui for any amount of time, I wouldn’t have spent so much time trying to change the flight time.

      Reply
    2. anonymous

      Not sure Grant has the gift of clairvoyance to know how long it could take, nor the ability to time travel and convert those points back when they offered a 30% bonus.

      :-)

      Reply
      1. Grant Post author

        Since the schedule change happened sometime between May 2017 and February 2018 and there was no schedule change email, I could have possibly caught the schedule before the Virgin America / Alaska Airlines merger. I’m just glad I caught this schedule change before checking into the flights 24 hours prior to departure.

        Reply
  5. Tonei Glavinic

    I’d send a note to Customer Care explaining the situation – this was 100% not your fault and there’s no reason that they shouldn’t give you the extra 1800 miles.

    Reply

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