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Air Miles users run into turbulence over flight changes: Roseman

If you book flights with frequent flyer points, you can lose the points later if you change your plans. You can also lose the taxes and fees paid out of pocket.

Three Air Miles collectors came close to saying goodbye to their points after they ran into problems. Luckily, the Toronto Star was able to get the points restored.

Bad weather leads to flight delay

Celine Leung was booked to fly to Newark, N.J. on Porter Airlines at 6:30 p.m. on June 30. Because of rain storms, she was still waiting to board at 10:15 p.m.

Passengers were advised to seek other transportation arrangements. The airport in Newark was still grounded and no flights were allowed to take off after 11 p.m. at Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto.

Leung decided to take an overnight bus to New York City, but all the buses were sold out. Later, she learned her flight had taken off at 10:30 p.m.

“I did not make it to New York and my vacation was spoiled. It was the most unpleasant flying experience I have ever had,” she said.

Porter told her to call Air Miles to get back her points. After two weeks of trying to get through and spending more than an hour on hold, she wrote to me.

Kahina Haffad, manager of community relations for the Air Miles reward program, pointed to extensive air traffic control delays on June 30. As departure times changed during the day, airport passengers were given verbal updates.

Porter could not provide a detailed summary of what passengers were told on June 30, she said. A likely scenario is that Porter didn’t initially have clearance to operate this flight before the 11 p.m. curfew at Billy Bishop Airport.

Porter would have told passengers it couldn’t guarantee the flight would depart that evening. It did receive a relatively late clearance and was able to fly out of Toronto that night.

“Passengers who elected to wait were able to board,” Haffad said. “Unfortunately, the timing appears to have been poor for Celina. She had left the airport and was formally listed as a no-show for the flight.”

Considering the difficulties Leung faced, Air Miles and Porter decided to issue a full refund of the flight booking to her account.

Same day booked for departure and return

Faye McDonald booked flights for two passengers to Boston on Porter last fall, trying to use her points before they expired. Air Miles later cancelled plans for a five-year expiry date.

She intended to leave Toronto on Sept. 24 and arrive back on Sept. 28. But after confirming the flights and printing the tickets, she noticed the departure date was on Sept. 28, the same day as the return.

“I would never book a flight the same day,” she said. “When I contacted Air Miles, they said it was going to cost over $ 547 to change both tickets because that was what Porter charged. It’s outrageous,” she said.

Air Miles told McDonald she would lose her taxes, plus all the points she had collected for years, if she cancelled the flights.

Flight bookings made at AirMiles.ca do not allow cancellations or refunds, Haffad told me. However, changes to flights may be permitted, subject to airline fees.

“Our terms and conditions may be more restrictive and may supersede the airline fare rules. We do offer and highly recommend travel insurance to our collectors for reservations,” she said.

“Together with Porter, we have reviewed this request and decided to issue a full refund of this flight booking to Mrs. McDonald. We want to reinforce that this is an exception we’ve made, considering the error with the date.”

Flight cancelled after wildfires in B.C.

Lynne Muia booked two flights last November from Hamilton to Vancouver on WestJet, departing July 13. The cost was 5,880 loyalty points, plus $ 158.48 in taxes and fees.

In May, worried about flooding in Kelowna, B.C. (where her hotel was booked), she called WestJet to cancel the flights. Air Miles said she could not get a refund.

Muia bought two new WestJet flights to Calgary at her expense ($ 526.86) to spend time at a hotel in Banff, also booked last year.

On her return, she asked Air Miles for an extension because of the wildfires burning in B.C. She was given 10 days to use her points for a new booking with a travel date of Dec. 31, but the $ 158.48 paid in taxes and fees was gone.

“We just spent two hours on the Air Miles website trying to find something to do, but came up with nothing,” she said. “All I want is a refund of the 5,880 points into my account to use as I please.”

Muia received a better deal after contacting me. She’s getting a refund of her 5,880 points, along with $ 158.48, as long as she books with Air Miles before August 2018 for flights to be taken on WestJet by July 2019.

My advice: Travel booked with loyalty points may have tougher rules than travel booked directly with the provider. Read the terms and conditions about refunds and change fees.

Buy travel insurance each time you make a booking with loyalty points. A good insurance policy should provide a refund when personal problems derail your trip.

Finally, look for any mistakes in dates or times when you book your travel plans. Once you receive your confirmation email, it may be too late to correct them.

When booking flights with Air Miles, contact the rewards plan first when you want to change or cancel the flights.

“We encourage collectors to reach out to us with their inquiries, as we manage these bookings ourselves. If additional info is needed, we will work with the airline directly,” Haffad said.

Ellen Roseman appears in Smart Money every Tuesday. Her email is eroseman@thestar.ca .