Letters – December, 18 2008

Letters – December, 18 2008


I am an avid fan of your publication. I am a consumer who has been ripped off by Lufthansa and Air Canada by way of having cashed in 180,000 AMEX miles, which were forked over to Aeroplan for two business class tickets between Toronto and Rome.

The details are all contained in the attached letter I sent to six major newspaper travel editors as well as to Norman Strickman, Director, Aviation Consumer Protection Division of the U.S. DOT. Mr. Strickman’s response is enclosed, as is the response from Air Canada and Lufthansa.

[Note: The letters are not printed here because of space restraints, but because of a catering staff strike on Lufthansa and a delayed flight on Air Canada, Mr. Lichtman did not receive a business class flight experience on either carrier. On Lufthansa, he and his bride were offered only water or wine, no other options, with a meal service that was served all at once in plastic containers with no appetizer or snacks on one flight and nothing at all on another. On Air Canada, not only was the meal service lacking, but there was no amenity kit and Mr. Lichtman’s reading light was non-functioning.]

I must tell you that I am absolutely depressed about the responses from the airlines. Lufthansa sent me two 50 euro gift certificates to be used on their flights and Air Canada offered 5,000 air mile credit. Not one travel editor responded to my letters and enclosed fact sheet sent to six major newspaper travel editors!

You’re my last resort and I hope you can help me to get a refund credit for the 180,000 miles that were charged for shoddy service on both air carriers. Otherwise, I will have no choice but to file a lawsuit which would be time consuming. I am not a litigious person but they are leaving me with no other alternative.

Please see if you can help me and I will be very interested in your opinion. If you could help me by way of making contact with either or both of these air carriers, I would be most appreciative. I am willing to pay you a fee for your assistance in the matter.
Ronald E. Lichtman

Editor’s Note: Ronald, we’re very sorry to hear of the unfortunate events that added up to a less than favorable travel experience on your honeymoon. We have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that you can save your money, we would never accept payment for helping out a reader–it’s included with your InsideFlyer subscription. The bad news, however, is that getting sympathy by legal means would be very difficult. With prior cases similar to this in mind, the case would key in on the catering staff strike and the airline’s contract of carriage. As for the delayed flight, from the airlines fine print point of view: “Schedules: We do not guarantee them to you and they do not form part of your contract with us.” As for the catering strike: “Force Majeure means unusual and unforeseeable circumstances beyond our control, the consequences of which could not have been avoided even if all due care had been exercised.” The strike was a legal action and gives no entitlement against the carrier.

The failed reading light is a different matter, legally and commercially. The argument will be if the malfunction could have been prevented, which would include finding out if the airline knew of an existing problem prior to your flight. This is a situation whereby Air Canada fulfilled most of the contract (from Point A to Point B in your booked class of service) but failed to fulfill part of its service concept.

Ronald, this could get expensive and the airlines have the upper hand here because even the more stringent EU regulations covering this type of situation do not give you any positive assistance.

Based on past experiences helping readers in similar situations, I think there is only the chance we can hold out for 10,000 bonus miles from Air Canada for the reading light problem–but that may or may not help you since your points began as Membership Rewards points. I know it’s not what you are looking for and I hope this won’t change your opinion of our publication. I wish you both many years of wedded bliss. I know exactly what you were hoping for with the use of your miles.

One Year and Eight Months

Are you aware of the newest rule change from Flying Dutchman? I think there should be an outcry as they have given little notice for the big change. Previously we had 36 months to use our points without actually buying a flight. Suddenly it has changed to 20 months as of April, 2009 for Ivory holders.

As a family of five who has lived in the Middle East for 17 years, loyal to KLM for many of those years, some of us have a lot of points. We stopped flying KLM a couple of years ago when nonstop flights became impossible due to schedule changes between Vancouver and Amsterdam.

Suddenly, I have 400,000 points but have to buy a retail ticket and fly by April. And our three kids, though they do not have as many points, are in the same boat. So we are going to have to fly inconveniently just to have the privilege of keeping our points that clearly we spent countless thousands over the years to acquire.

Not only that, but even KLM is mixed up. My daughter in Vancouver called the Flying Dutchman office in Canada and they did not understand the new rules and told her she had until January 2010. With great difficulty I managed to get a real person in the Netherlands on the phone and at first all she could really say was that we should buy tickets just to make sure we did not lose our points. When I suggested that this was not a very good answer she put me on hold for ages then came back with a yes, we have to buy tickets and fly before April.

My suspicion is that many thousands of Ivory card holders are not going to read the fine print and will inadvertently lose all their points. I would be interested to hear how you feel about this latest from Flying Dutchman who in our opinion became a much lesser frequent flyer program when Air France came onboard.
Marian Leighton

Editor’s Note: Marian, we don’t like to have to say this, but this change by KLM Flying Blue (the program name changed from Flying Dutchman to Flying Blue in June 2005) is just another sign of the times. Many programs have changed their policies regarding the validity of the miles. Although 20 months is a shorter period of time than many programs allow, it is still within the rights of the program to make these changes. And you have several months’ notice to make the required flight to keep your miles. The programs, after all, are called “frequent flyer” programs. We might not like changes such as these, but there’s not a lot a frequent flyer can do other than voice their opinion. We suggest you write KLM Flying Blue and let them know how you feel.

Delta Mileage Run Trip Report

Here’s a report on my quick 10,000-mile weekend top-up to London on Delta. My travels were not as frequent as expected this past year, so to ensure I maintained at least Silver Medallion status going into 2009, I booked a great return trip from Denver to London Gatwick over the Nov. 15-16 weekend.

The itinerary departed DEN Saturday on DL1218 (MD-88, with an upgrade to first) at 2:20pm, then a one-hour connection at Cincinnati (CVG) to DL36 (a 767-300ER) with great room in the forward coach cabin, then turned around in about 2.5 hours, came back on the same aircraft as DL37, and again a short 1+15 connection in CVG to DL1125 (MD-90), and into Denver on time at 5:45pm. With roundtrip from Colorado Springs to Denver by car, the total time door-to-door was 33 hours, and the fare was about $843 with fees plus parking at DIA. Total Medallion Qualifying Miles: 10,102 and 25 percent bonus SkyMiles as a Silver traveler.

A couple things I learned: the transatlantic coach class meals and amenities were actually quite nice, and the cabin crew was fantastic; also, when I cleared Immigration and Customs at Gatwick, the inspectors told me I could have stayed “airside” to receive my return boarding pass, and not come through immigration or customs at all; and, one of the perks of a Delta Crown Room membership gives a courtesy visit to the British Airways lounge that was busy for a Sunday morning, but quite nice and handy to the gates.

My only luggage was a small cruise line tote where I had a laptop computer, some magazines and files to read, and a basic toiletry kit and change of undergarments.

I would recommend this itinerary to anyone needing 10,000 miles to attain the next level with Delta, and with a bit of planning, and good weather, it was a breeze. The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas might be a good target for someone wanting to do the same.
Len Campaigne

Yes, You Can’t

I have a Bank of America US Airways Visa card with an annual fee of $90. Last year, I called about changing the card to a no-fee one and they offered me 5,000 miles to continue. Which I did. This year, I called to switch the card and Bank of America told me that I could not. I could only pay the $90 or close the account. [They also stated] that their contract with US Airways did not permit this, nor the offer to continue with the award of 5,000 miles.

They said US Airways is holding them to the contract. They suggested opening a new BofA account and then transferring the balance. Talk about nickel and diming the flying public.
John Reilly

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