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!