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You worked hard to rack up enough points to splurge on your family’s dream trip when the worst happens. Maybe the flight never takes off, a hurricane hits or the hotel is crawling with critters or disruptive construction. So, what happens if you use your hard-earned points and have the worst trip of your life?

When a Volunteer Bump Goes Wrong

Leandra Beabout volunteered her family to be bumped to the next flight leaving Dublin due to an overbooked aircraft. “I’d gotten a ‘free’ flight from points and didn’t mind waiting an extra few hours in the airport to help others stay on schedule.” Those extra few hours turned into what felt like an endless trip.

Shot of queue of passengers waiting at boarding gate at airport. Group of people standing in queue to board airplane.(Photo by izusek/Getty Images)
(Photo by izusek / Getty Images)

The family boarded the new flight but, “As we were hovering over the Atlantic coastline, a flight attendant announced we would be forced to land about 200 miles short of Chicago because of an earlier storm.” Beabout and her family would miss their connection home. They landed in Indianapolis and waited for the crew to figure out if they had enough time to get passengers to Chicago before they ran out of permitted work hours that day.

When the Beabout family finally arrived at O’Hare, their connecting flight had indeed departed, as had the final flight of the evening. She requested hotel vouchers from the airline only to be given a phone number to call for discounted rooms offered to stranded passengers. A recording announced all discounted rooms were booked. Beabout then tried to call rental car companies, but no cars were available since so many flights had been delayed that day.

Beabout said the customer service agent from United Airlines was “kind and sincere,” and apologized, “but she told us the airline would not offer us a hotel voucher.” The airline started setting up cots in the terminal. “That’s when we walked out and checked into a full-priced hotel across the street.” Beabout paid out of pocket for the hotel because, “We didn’t feel we had a choice. Sure, we could’ve rested on a cot in a fluorescent-lit terminal, but we had already been traveling for well over 12 hours. A good night of sleep felt like the best way to end the mess.”

Airport delay waiting family
(Photo by Donald Iain Smith / Getty Images)

Beabout never sought reimbursement since the customer service agent was clear United’s policy considered this weather-related issue “outside our control.” The Beabouts aren’t the only frequent flyers that have been burned on a voluntary bump.

Beabout’s advice: “Keep a change of clothes and essential toiletries in your personal bag. This was one of the only times I neglected to do so, because the airline checked my bag at the last minute due to tight overhead bin space.” Also, “Know your airline’s policies. If you’re concerned, consider travel insurance.”

TPG‘s advice: Before accepting a voluntary bump, always check the weather at your departure and arrival cities. Be on the lookout for anything that could put a crimp in your new plans. If you do take the bump and it all goes wrong, try to negotiate for some sort of compensation. Even if the first agent refuses, it’s possible the next will have more authority. Or check out these tips for negotiating a lucrative airline bump if you need some ideas. Meanwhile, wondering what your rights are if you are bumped? Here’s a detailed explanation of the airline’s rights — and your own. Also be sure and book your flights with a credit card that comes with some level of trip delay protection.

The Phantom Flight

Jenna Mars, a former communications professional at a major US bank said, “When I decided to leave the corporate world to pursue self-employment, I rewarded myself with a solo trip to a place I’ve always wanted to go: Malta.”

In November 2017, Mars booked a round-trip flight to Malta (with a layover in Gatwick) on the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal using points she earned with the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. On her travel day on Feb. 19, 2018, Mars had a short layover in London. “I sprinted to check in for the second leg of my flight only to find no one at the Air Malta check-in desk, and no mention of my flight anywhere.”

London
London’s Gatwick Airport.

Mars asked staff at another airline where to check in for her Air Malta flight and was told Air Malta canceled this particular route “months ago.” She double-checked her itinerary did indeed have a booking with a confirmation number for the flight.

The credit card company was aware the flight was canceled long ago, but couldn’t help with a new one. Mars said, “The rep at Chase acknowledged that she was aware of this change, and they had known for some time. Why didn’t they offer me help? You’d have to ask Chase. The fact they ultimately dumped a whole bunch of points on me acknowledges that they messed up. I tried to check in online but it wouldn’t work. I checked in at the airport. The airport staff would only allow me to check in for the first leg of my flight and told me I’d need to check in for the second leg in London.”

Mars took to Twitter and after some back and forth was put on a different flight later that day at Heathrow. She paid about $40 to take a bus from Gatwick to Heathrow and waited about 10 hours for her new flight.

When she got home, Mars called the credit card company using the number on the back of her credit card in an attempt to resolve the issue. She was told the bus fare would be reimbursed and she’d have a check within 30 days. “Well, 30 days came and went, so I called again,” she said. Once again, the credit card company agreed to send reimbursement but did not. And then again one more time. “I was extremely frustrated and started calling, emailing and tweeting more frequently.”

While a small amount of points was returned to her account, Mars was told it would take yet another 30 days for the bus fare reimbursement. “I was unwilling to wait that long, especially after making about six to eight calls and sending multiple emails.” She filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Within a few days, Mars heard from corporate HQ of the credit card company. While Mars was promised a check, she wasn’t given a date. She was also told she’d be reimbursed around 15,000 points — less than half of what she spent on the flight. The check was sent overnight, and the points returned soon after.

Mars’ advice: Don’t trust the itinerary provided by your credit card company’s travel portal when you book a flight with points. Confirm everything is good to go at least a few days before your departure either by calling or checking your confirmation number on the airlines’ website. And while it’s best to try to resolve issues with businesses directly, don’t be afraid to eventually file complaints.

TPG’s advice: Planning a trip should never be your last step in the process. Always check in for your flight as early as possible. While most airlines offer a 24-hour advance check-in, some longer-haul flights allow even more advance time. Always check your seat assignment periodically as well. If a flight change occurs, your seat might have changed as well. While you don’t have to baby-sit your reservation, it’s a good idea to tend to it — especially if you booked far in advance. And here are some more tips from TPG on what to do when the airline changes your flight or even trying for a full refund if the airline drastically changes your itinerary.

When a Resort Isn’t What You Expected

Frequent traveler Robert Dwyer used Citi ThankYou points for a four-night stay at the Four Seasons Nevis. He said, “The resort was under heavy construction during our trip.” Frustrated by the state of the hotel, he wrote a wrote a review on TripAdvisor and connected with the hotel general manager. Dwyer was invited back for a complimentary stay when renovations are complete.

Four Seasons Nevis
(Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Nevis)

Dwyer’s advice: He says no matter how you book your trip, “You should be treated as if you paid cash.”

TPG‘s advice: Always check a property’s website before booking and look for any red flags. Do they mention upcoming renovations or a complete overhaul? Check to see if the timing affects your stay. If you do run into unexpected problems during your stay, negotiate in-person instead of waiting until you’re back home.  The hotel manager has the power to try and make things right and you should give him or her the chance to do so.

Bottom Line

Just because you plan a trip to a dream destination doesn’t mean you’re going to have the trip of a lifetime. Planning well is only part of the equation. Keep on top of your reservations to make sure everything is on track. If your trip does take a nosedive, take copious notes including dates, times and names of people you speak with so you’ll have proof of everything that went wrong. Just because you’re stuck in a bad situation doesn’t mean you have to be stuck paying for it!

Have you experienced a nightmare trip or flight after using miles and points? What happened and how did you resolve it?

Featured image by George Rose / Getty Images

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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