Thursday, November 5, 2015

Traveler's Aide: When A Serious Illness Affects An Already-Planned Trip

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Carl de Souza, AFP/Getty Images)
Question: We go to Croatia each summer, and prefer to fly via British Airways. I started planning our 2015 trip in fall 2014, and planned to use a British Airways Chase voucher that expired in August 2015.
In November 2014, I was diagnosed with cancer. My treatments were slated to extend through January 2016, so I would not be able to travel in June as planned. I first contacted British Airways in December to ask for a one-year extension of the voucher so I have time to recover, and I have followed up routinely since then.
I have tried everything I can to get a response. I have written to, and spent countless hours on the phone with, British Airways and Chase, and provided medical documentation to verify my condition and treatment schedule. I contacted British Airways and Chase’s customer service departments, my local Chase bank manager and his supervisor, as well as executives at British Airways. I was hoping you could get an answer to my request.
— Joyce Resh, Oceanside, Calif.
Answer: Resh was savvy in combining a teaser promotion of one credit card with the benefits of another for her family’s upcoming trip to Croatia. But right before she could implement her carefully crafted plan, she was sidelined by a serious illness.
Resh earned her voucher by using a co-branded British Airways credit card issued by Chase. She had to spend $30,000 on the card in one year to procure the voucher, which is a valid for a companion ticket on British Airways. There’s a catch, which is that the primary ticket can’t be purchased with money, only with miles — or Avios, as British Airways calls them — and is thus subject to award-ticket availability. The upside is that the companion ticket is good for the same class of service as the redemption ticket, so can be used for a premium-class seat. That was Resh’s intention.
In order to snag that seat with more leg room and china, as Resh puts it, she needed to top off her British Airways Executive Club frequent-flier account with extra miles. She did so by transferring points earned from her Sapphire Preferred, another Chase credit card. Consumers can also earn Sapphire points with Chase Freedom and Ink cards.
Sapphire points can be deposited in frequent-travel accounts of Chase partners, including British Airways, Southwest and United, as well as hotel chains such as Hyatt, Marriott and Ritz Carlton, among others. Sapphire points are converted at a 1:1 ratio, but transfers are a one-way deal: Once the points get turned into Avios, or any other frequent-travel currency, they can’t go back to a Sapphire account.
Resh hit the spending target and earned her companion ticket voucher in 2013. She researched her award ticket options, found dates that worked for her planned travel, and converted her Sapphire points to Avios. She was waiting for those points to credit to her Executive Club to redeem her voucher and book those two tickets for summer 2015. Then she received her cancer diagnosis.
Within weeks, Resh began her appeal to British Airways and to Chase, asking them to extend her hard-earned voucher’s expiration date by one year. Months later she was still getting bounced from one company to another. Resh’s local branch manager first indicated that he might be able to help, but ultimately Chase told her that any extension had to come from British Airways.
But British Airways finally wrote to Resh in August — more than seven months later, and just a few days before her voucher expired. The airline tossed responsibility back at Chase, writing that British Airways could not extend a Chase-issued voucher.
I sent her complaint to both companies. Chase promptly confirmed that the voucher’s expiration date was out of its control. A Chase agent called Resh and helped connect her with a real person at British Airways, requiring her to start her appeal anew.
“I can understand why she was confused,” says Chase representative Paul Hartwick. “The voucher was issued in connection with our card, but serviced completely by British Airways.”
British Airways apologized for the delay in responding to Resh’s request, and an airline agent called Resh and left a message agreeing to extend her voucher. “We are reviewing the processes we currently have and are working with our partners to avoid this happening again,” says British Airways representative Michele Kropf.
Resh checked her account and her voucher is now good until October 2016. So she has a year to finish treatment and regain her health before jetting off on that long-planned, and long-delayed, trip.
How can you avoid trouble?
• Redeem vouchers as soon as you can. An expired voucher is usually worthless; getting an extension will be time-consuming and difficult at best.
• Ascertain who is responsible, and focus your efforts. Resh spent a considerable amount of energy working with her local Chase manager, who was entirely powerless to intercede. More direct prodding at British Airways might have garnered a faster result.
By Linda Burbank, Special for USA TODAY

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