How I wasted 43,000 miles and $700 — reader mistake story

Mar 2, 2020

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Shoby, who misunderstood the rules of 24-hour flight cancellation policies:

Two months ago, I booked a LifeMiles + Money award for a Lufthansa first-class flight from Chicago to Frankfurt. I redeemed 43,000 LifeMiles (transferred from Amex Membership Rewards) and paid $660 for cash portion, plus another $30.60 in taxes. I booked within 24 hours of the flight’s scheduled departure, but within an hour after booking, my plans fell through. I called LifeMiles, and the agent I spoke with told me she would cancel my ticket and refund me without penalty, since I was still in the 24-hour cancellation window.

Two weeks went by and I hadn’t received a refund, so I called LifeMiles again. They said my case had been escalated since I had canceled my ticket for a flight that was in less than 24 hours. I told them the first agent had assured me that I’d get a full refund with no penalty regardless. Another week went by and I kept checking, and they kept assuring me I’d get a full refund “tonight,” then “tomorrow” then so on. In the end, however, they said no refund would be coming at all. So I wasted 43,000 miles and almost $700.

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The 24-hour cancellation policies mandated by the U.S. Department of Transportation only apply to flights booked at least seven days before the scheduled departure. Some airlines offer more favorable policies — for example, American Airlines’ 24-hour cancellation policy applies to flights booked as little as two days before departure — but seven days is all that’s guaranteed by D.O.T. regulations. Avianca adheres to that seven-day minimum, so even though Shoby attempted to cancel within 24 hours of purchase, the ticket was not eligible for a full refund.

Nonetheless, Shoby should have been able to secure a partial refund. Avianca typically offers refunds for LifeMiles awards (even after the departure date) upon payment of a cancellation fee, which should be $200 for a long-haul premium award. The money portion of a LifeMiles + Money award is refunded in miles — the normal award rate for ORD-FRA in Lufthansa First would be 87,000 miles, so that’s the amount Shoby should expect to get back, along with the $30.60 in taxes. Avianca’s customer service leaves much to be desired, but recovering those miles is worth the effort.

Program specifics aside, the lesson here is to confirm cancellation policies before you book, especially if your plans remain uncertain.

Related: Everything you need to know about Avianca LifeMiles

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing us to post it online), I’m sending Shoby a gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

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