Requested refund from Aeroflot
My wife, Guyette, and I in late 2006 booked a fall 2007 trip on the Trans-Siberian Express, Moscow to Vladivistok, through MIR Corp. (www.mircorp.com). MIR booked the train portion of the trip as well as two business-class seats (at $2,184 each) with Aeroflot for a flight from Vladivistok to Moscow at the trip’s conclusion. For the round-trip flight from Little Rock, Arkansas, to Moscow we purchased our own tickets through Delta.
All went well on the 13-day train trip through eight time zones, and we enjoyed the farewell dinner on Sept. 7, the night before our return flight from Vladivistok. Later, in our room, I discovered that Guyette’s ticket was nowhere to be found. A local MIR adviser suggested we get to the airport as early as possible the next morning, find an agent, explain our predicament and, as she said, “Hope for the best.”
After finding an Aeroflot agent who spoke English, we were informed that, as ours was a “hard” ticket (not an electronic ticket), our only option was to purchase a new one. The replacement ticket cost 72,760 rubles, then equal to $2,944 — that amount on top of the $2,184 we had already paid for the lost ticket.
Fortunately, I had advised Visa of our travel to Russia before we left home and was able to purchase the replacement ticket with my credit card.
The flight, on a Boeing 737, was a long but smooth one, and we spent that night at a hotel near the Moscow International Airport before heading back home on Delta.
At home, the phone calls and e-mails to MIR, Aeroflot, the Russian Embassy, ITN, etc., began. I didn’t want to give up almost $3,000 of my money.
I called Aeroflot in New York (212/944-2300) on Sept. 11 and was given an e-mail address to write to (email@example.com). I received no response to that e-mail.
I called Aeroflot again around Sept. 20, telling my story to a representative of their accounting department. On Oct. 22 I received a fax, signed by no one, stating that any refund could be “done only a year after the original ticket was lost” and that a number of pieces of information needed to be forwarded to them along with submitting the enclosed Ticket Indemnity Form.
I returned the form the next day to Aeroflot Russian Airlines (10 Rockefeller Plaza, Ste. 1015, New York, NY 10020 — Attn. Customer Service) and enclosed other items, such as photocopies of Guyette’s passport, a copy of the Aeroflot ticket issued in Vladivostok, etc.
In early November ’07 I called Aeroflot and spoke to Ilya Elmanov, Commercial Manager. She informed me that I now had to fill out a “declaration of loss and refund” form, which she faxed to me. I sent the form to her office on Dec. 6 (return receipt requested). Then I waited.
After hearing from me and gathering more information, ITN wrote to Aeroflot on April 17, 2008, and received a reply on April 28 from Lidieth Zamora, Interline Manager, USA, stating, “The new ticket amount can be refunded three months after 12 months from the start date of transportation specified in the lost ticket.”
On Oct. 30, I sent another letter to Ms. Zamora (firstname.lastname@example.org) reminding her of an earlier conversation that we had and asking the status of my appeal. I got no response. On Nov. 10 I sent her another e-mail, and the next day I was faxed another “declaration of loss and refund” form and received a message from her on our answering machine.
I called her the next day and, per her instructions, filled out and sent in the form, including photocopies of everything I had sent previously, to her office at Rockefeller Plaza. She had told me the refund process would then begin.
I wrote Ms. Zamora on Nov. 17 and on Dec. 23 sent her a “return receipt requested” letter. In frustration, on Jan. 5, 2009, I wrote to ITN again. The editor wrote back, saying that I should be more patient and to write to Ms. Zamora again by a certain date to request an update.
At some point, Ms. Zamora replied that staff had been out over the holidays. On Feb. 19 I e-mailed Ms. Zamora for a progress report. She replied on March 5, “…as all information was in Vladivostok, you will receive refund in same currency you paid in Vladivostok.” She explained that I needed to provide the new expiration date on the credit card I used to purchase the replacement ticket. I sent the info the next day.
On March 20 Ms. Zamora wrote, “I was advised that you will be credited the following amounts: 71,500 rubles plus 1,225 rubles for the YQ tax, minus 25 euros for the duplicate… . I will really appreciate if you could inform me when you have received it, to close your file.”
The next day I called Visa and, yes, a deposit of $2,120 had been made by Aeroflot the previous day. Of course, the amount refunded was $824 short of what I had paid. Accordingly, I dropped an e-mail to Ms. Zamora and she responded that the difference was “due to the system.”
I was happy to receive the amount I was refunded, but “the system” still got away with more than $800 of my money. I must say, in closing, that had it not been for the encouragement I received from the ITN editor to stick with the claim process, I would have been out the entire amount.
MILTON R. HERZOG
Hot Springs, AR
ITN sent an inquiry to Aeroflot by fax (212/944-5200) and received the reply, “Aeroflot is completely ready for e-ticketing. Paper tickets only per passenger request.”
ITN sent a copy of Mr. Herzog’s letter to MIR Corp. and received the following response.
Aeroflot is currently telling MIR Corp. that all routes are now e-ticketable, including those of Aeroflot Nord, which were among the last paper-ticket-only tickets in their system. (As recently as June 2009, Aeroflot Nord segments still were showing as paper ticket required.)
This changeover to full e-ticketing took a long time and is complete as of this summer. When the tickets for the Herzogs were issued, electronic tickets were not a possibility, which is why the loss of their physical ticket caused them such difficulty.
Also interesting in this case — our notes about the Herzogs’ situation indicate that Aeroflot was going through a policy change at the time, moving from a stricter policy to a more forgiving one in the case of lost tickets.
Their stricter policy stated that the terms and conditions of the original ticket applied in the case of a missing ticket, and the ticket for Mrs. Herzog was a nonrefundable one. However, the policy was changing to one in which genuinely lost tickets which were never recovered would be eligible for partial refunds.
That policy change could have had something to do with the hoops that the Herzogs were forced to jump through but ultimately is probably what allowed them to recoup a substantial portion of their losses.
We’re thrilled that Aeroflot has made the changeover to 100% electronic ticketing, which, with luck, will make travel easier for clients and make issues with lost tickets a thing of the past.
In our experience, however, the reissue of tickets for virtually any other reason (change of flight date, for example), if even allowed by the fare rules, still may require the agent to obtain approval from a head office or a sales office. That can be the case even with e-tickets. It all depends on the circumstances and the airline’s policies.
(In the Herzogs’ case, Russia’s eight time zones would have worked against them, as late morning in Vladivostok would have been predawn in Moscow.)
ANDREW BARRON, Director, Scheduled Group Tours, MIR Corporation, 85 South Washington St., Ste. 210, Seattle, WA 98104