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[conventions|travel] The high cost of cancellation - Lakeshore
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Jay Lake
Date: 2013-12-04 06:34
Subject: [conventions|travel] The high cost of cancellation
Security: Public
Tags:cancer, conventions, family, health, personal, radiantlisa, travel, uk
As I mentioned yesterday, I am having issues with United Airlines. This first cropped up a while back, as discussed here: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

This all goes back to my troubles trying to get to this year's World Fantasy Convention in Brighton. (I have discussed some of this previously here on the blog.) Last summer, I tried to book plane tickets for me and Lisa Costello to fly there. The $700 per person UK arrival fees for a free mileage award ticket were impossible for us to meet. At the time, I checked out simply paying for a fare, and even the cheapest was far higher, because those $700 fees were embedded in any trans-Atlantic airfare to London.

Unnamed Benefactors stepped forward and offered to fund our airfare if we would pay our own on-the-ground expenses. I very gratefully said yes, and proceeded to arrange a low-cost European vacation for myself by couch surfing in London and Paris, spending money only on the Eurostar train to get between the cities. Except for the convention hotel itself, my only expenses otherwise were going to be food and incidentals, as my Unnamed Benefactors provided tickets for the two of us on United Airlines. Lisa was planning to fly out the day before the convention and join me.

Three days before my scheduled departure, Lisa's father suffered a massive stroke. Other relatives stepped forward to respond with immediate help, but Lisa needed to fly to Maryland at the end of that week to help with the necessary but difficult lifestyle transitions now underway.

That meant (and still means) that Lisa was now juggling my life-ending terminal illness and the life-changing illness of one of her parents. I could not leave her alone with this. So with great reluctance, we cancelled our trip to Europe. We also severely truncated a post-trip engagement with my agent, and cancelled the visit of another friend who was due after Orycon, both of these to great regret.

The financial aspects of this situation have turned into a severe mess.

In order to cover the expenses incurred by my Unnamed Benefactors, I also sought a compassionate medical emergency refund from @UnitedAirlines, which states on their Web site that they provide such consideration. Unfortunately, since our tickets were purchased as nonrefundable airfares, United Airlines also does not offer any refund. Their response to me did not even acknowledge the nature of my request, simply stating that my tickets were nonrefundable, but that I did retain an airfare credit. Which isn't even my money, as the Unnamed Benefactors paid for it. And it's not like I'm going back to Europe anytime in the rest of my drastically foreshortened life.

At the same time, my Unnamed Benefactors wrote me asking me to pay them £1,295.90 (approx. USD 2,073), as we would not be attending WFC.

This absolutely floored me. If I had $2,073 to spend on airfare, I would have bought the damned tickets myself in the first place. What I thought had been an act of kindness and charity towards me turned into me being expected to pay $2,000 for the privilege of not attending WFC so I could help Lisa care for her stricken father.

The books do in fact balance somewhat. Were I to directly pay back my Unnamed Benefactors, I would get to keep the airfare credit, less change fees and penalties. But I don't have $2,000 sitting in a travel budget to give them. If I did, I would have bought my own tickets in the first place. If United were going to refund the tickets, the whole business would just be a wash.

But after multiple rounds of discussion, United has flatly refused to refund the airfare. Apparently a sudden life-threatening illness on the part of my partner's father does not constitute a medical emergency in their eyes. Which makes me wonder what the hell does? I'm pretty damned irritated about this, most especially about the amount of time I have already spent focusing on this issue. My life is running out of time — between the shocking and insensitive demand from my Unnamed Benefactors and United Airlines' refusal to honor their own compassionate exemption policy, I have been expending significant amounts of that finite time and energy on things I should never have had to deal with.

All to no avail thus far.

I'm honestly not sure what to do here. Had I known the original offer of tickets to WFC required a complete payback in the event of cancellation, I almost certainly would not have accepted it. My own health is too precarious, quite frankly, which is why all plane tickets I buy and pay for these days are purchased with trip insurance. While I have enough money sitting in my bank account to pay back my Unnamed Benefactors, that's not what it is for. And I cannot spend a United Airlines airfare credit to pay my bills or help Lisa help her parents. The budget isn't there, especially to pay for a trip I am not even able to take.

I'm feeling very pushed around right now, and looking at a lot of expense well beyond anything planned or budgeted at a time when our expenses have skyrocketed due to both my own illness the problems in Lisa's family. I'm also much more wary of accepting offers of assistance in the future, as I never foresaw hidden strings like this and do not know how to foresee them going forward.

There's a strong temptation to tell my Unnamed Benefactors to take a hike, but that's hardly ethical as I'm apparently inheriting the airfare credit regardless, given the intransigence of United Airlines. I'm tempted to hold a small fundraiser to pay this off, but that also hardly seems fair to people who might want to support me. If United Airlines honored their own compassionate refund policy, the problem would essentially not exist, but that road has now been closed.

This situation frustrates me immensely. At this extremely difficult time in my life, I am left with yet another large, unbudgeted expense for which I have nothing to show but trouble and a waste of my precious, waning days.

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User: chris_gerrib
Date: 2013-12-04 14:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This may be a stupid question, but can you just give the airline miles credit to Unnamed Benefactors?
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2013-12-04 14:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
No, they are specifically demanding the money refunded.
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User: mizkit
Date: 2013-12-04 14:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
*stares incredulously* That is...an incomprehensible, to me, action on the part of the Unnamed Benefactors. Holy crap, Jay. Augh.
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Laura Anne Gilman: brain.  hurts.
User: suricattus
Date: 2013-12-04 15:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:brain. hurts.
Yeah, I'm just...wow.

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User: yourbob
Date: 2013-12-04 14:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Unless your UBs made it clear up front that they were expecting something in return for their investment other than the pleasure of your company, they should at minimum be named and shamed. If they're no longer benefactors, they're no longer deserving of being unnamed.

And you can tell them to sue your estate.
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User: voidampersand
Date: 2013-12-04 15:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't know. How would you like to have to go around for the rest of your life unnamed? "Hey, uh, you." Names are powerful. The fact that Jay can unname people is yet another sign that he is not someone to mess with.
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Angie: New Me
User: aiela
Date: 2013-12-04 14:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:New Me
I...I'm speechless that someone would offer up such a generous gift, and then be so UN generous when you have an emergency that means you can't utilize the gift. The two halves of this don't even match up in my head. Why would someone who would do it in the first place act like this after the fact?

I'm so sorry. Personally, I don't think you owe them anything. It was a gift. There was an emergency. If someone gives me a gift card for a service and I am not able to use it before it expires or whatever, they have no right to demand payback.
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User: goulo
Date: 2013-12-04 15:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Good gift card analogy! I agree, if it was a gift.

(A way it might be stickier is if the U.B. was connected to the convention in some official capacity and there was some (intended or explicit) understanding that the ticket was bought so that Jay could be at the con in some capacity, e.g. as a guest on some panels or something like that. I have no idea of the details. Even then though, it makes me wonder what U.B. would say if Jay himself had ended up in the hospital in a coma, due to some accident, instead of Jay going to help with a loved one's medical emergency - would U.B. still insist on getting the flight cost paid back? In any case it sounds awfully insensitive indeed!)
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User: saveswhat
Date: 2013-12-04 15:03 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think we need a new name for the "Unnamed Benefactors".

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Twilight: Daria
User: twilight2000
Date: 2013-12-04 15:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
And as long as "unnamed" NOT benefactors are going to be A$$hats about their "gift", I think a fund raiser to help you out is completely appropriate. I'm pretty sure there's at least a few of us out here willing to help out as we can.
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Debbie N.
User: wild_irises
Date: 2013-12-04 16:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)

It would not be financially smart for me to just send Jay the $$ right now, but I'm having to sit on my hands not to do it. I am even more furious with the Unnamed Unbenefactors than I am with the airline, which is, at least, a soulless corporation.
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User: fledgist
Date: 2013-12-04 15:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Ye gods and small fishes. This is truly picayune on the part of United. I shall seek to avoid them from now on.
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2013-12-04 16:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm--speechless. Why would unnamed benefactors be like this?

Just croggled. It's not your fault. Good God, it's reality and real life. So sorry this has come along to suck up your time.

And phooey on United.
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Grumpy Bitch
User: TheGrumpyBitch
Date: 2013-12-04 16:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Ok surely the UnBen knew there were serious risks in any case paying for tix for you as he/she did, there was always a possibility you might not make it, being pragmatic. So unless the UnBen specifically stated the conditions attached to their Gift - not sure how they can pursue you for the money back.

Doesn't detract from the fact UA are being total arses about this.

But your UnBen especially if in the UK (for instance) surely doesn't have a leg to stand on...

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Kiss my grits!: Mulder detour gun
User: noelleleithe
Date: 2013-12-04 16:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Mulder detour gun
Like others, I am more peeved at your "benefactors" than at United, though that is damning with faint praise. United at least has policy to back up its bad decision-making, and they are offering something in return, however little its actual value. But I cannot think of any justification for demanding that you repay what was supposedly a gift because your already difficult life circumstances unexpectedly became even more difficult.
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User: dionysus1999
Date: 2013-12-04 16:52 (UTC)
Subject: Tried to refrain from commenting, failed
I fail to comprehend how Unnamed Benefactors have any moral high ground. Asking for the return of a freely offered gift is horrible, and stressing you out should be a crime.
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When life gives you lemmings...
User: danjite
Date: 2013-12-04 17:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
As represented, "UB" is behaving unethically, unprofessionally, inappropriately, and cruelly.

THey have no standing in their request to you and erred in even asking- asking more than once is off, anything more (once they understood the circumstances) is outright vile.

If they ask again, consider naming them. You have literally no time to waste on this and your ethics are clean.
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User: yourbob
Date: 2013-12-04 20:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This. Repeatedly.
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User: martianmooncrab
Date: 2013-12-04 17:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
some days my mantra is "I have better things to do than This" .. and time is something you can never get back.
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A large duck: Cooking with Pooh
User: burger_eater
Date: 2013-12-04 18:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Cooking with Pooh
The gift-giver doesn't get to decide how or if you use their gift; they have no grounds to demand a refund.

It's almost as if they thought they were purchasing the status boost that would have come from being the kind sponsor who brought you to the event... but no, that couldn't be it.
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User: yourbob
Date: 2013-12-04 20:22 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Heck, I'll even throw in a few lead fishing weights and send it "paid by addressee" by airmail to the UBs.
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User: elisem
Date: 2013-12-04 19:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
They what??

I read this over twice and nope, I still got nothin'.

What's your PayPal address again, in case somebody wants to make a Donation To Reduce Stress? Because regardless of how I feel about the UB's actions, I would like to reduce the stress this is putting on you, and on Lisa as well, I bet.
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User: scott_lynch
Date: 2013-12-04 20:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This use of "benefactors" is a new synonym for "sharp kick to the balls" I must admit I have not previously encountered.
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User: cissa
Date: 2013-12-04 21:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
United are being douches, but that's par with them.

I am shocked and appalled by the behavior of the "UBs". That is unconscionable.
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Lawrence M. Schoen
User: klingonguy
Date: 2013-12-04 22:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I call Shenanigans, on both United Airlines and the Unnamed Benefactor.

Also, screw them!
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User: mmegaera
Date: 2013-12-04 23:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"I cannot afford to pay you back. I thought this was a gift or I wouldn't have taken it." Period. You owe them nothing else.

Even if they're threatening to sue, unless you signed something to the effect that you'd pay them back if you couldn't go they haven't got a leg to stand on.

"Friends" like that aren't your friends, anyway. I'm just sorry you had to find out this way.

Edited at 2013-12-04 11:27 pm (UTC)
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User: djonn
Date: 2013-12-05 00:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
A demand for repayment certainly represents a severe lack of consideration on the part of the Unnamed Benefactors...but I find myself reluctant to group myself among those piling onto the UBs in this situation.

From their perspective, they've expended over $2000 -- a nontrivial sum to anyone short of the very, very affluent -- which has effectively vanished into thin air. My suspicion (which I admit is based on no hard evidence whatsoever) is that the UBs exercised poor financial judgment in making the offer/gift in the first place; either the $2073 was an expense that they really couldn't afford but chose to make anyway, and/or that a subsequent event has inflicted a financial reverse on them that's been greatly exacerbated by the gift to Jay. Does this excuse the also-poor judgment of demanding the return of what was offered as a gift? No, it doesn't -- but then again, I can't really blame the UBs for being as upset and frustrated about the matter as Jay is himself.

Part of the problem is that the matter at hand involves airplane travel. For good or ill, the airline reservation system worldwide is structured in a way that makes it relatively difficult for an unrelated third party to pay for somebody else's plane ticket. In nearly any other situation involving a gift of goods or services to Jay, the UBs could have written a cheque or supplied a credit card number directly to the seller or service provider, and Jay wouldn't be in the financial loop at all. Here, that wasn't a realistic possibility; to make the deal work, Jay had to act as the UBs' financial intermediary with United.

Bearing that in mind, and even allowing for the axiom about hindsight being 20/20, I think that were I in Jay's shoes, I'd almost certainly have turned down the UBs' offer of airfare. Three factors stand out: the size of the gift coming from an individual (especially someone whom I didn't know well), the cash-handling aspect as noted above, and the inherent uncertainty of any travel plans in light of personal circumstances. (The specific crisis that did occur was absolutely unforeseeable, but the potential for medical or other issues to disrupt the trip on short notice would have struck me as unreasonably high.)

In the end, I think there's room for criticism -- and for lessons to be learned -- on all sides. Based on the story as we have it, however, I don't see a way to amicably resolve the financial issues so long as United insists on keeping the money despite the tickets going unused.
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User: keikaimalu
Date: 2013-12-05 01:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
to make the deal work, Jay had to act as the UBs' financial intermediary with United

This isn't true. You can indeed buy an airplane ticket directly for someone else, as long as you have their relevant information for TSA. My company just flew me on a business trip, and I didn't act as a financial intermediary. (Of course, that means giving personal information for the TSA requirements. But it's still possible.)

However, as much as I feel for and agree with Jay -- and I do -- I'm not joining in the piling on the UnBens either. I don't know them. I don't know the circumstances. I'm sure they have their own story to tell.

I agree it looks outrageous from the outside, but I am loath to condemn someone when I don't know their side. It is possible to have and show enormous compassion for the frustration and upset Jay is going through without vilifying a total stranger.

Jay, I'm so very sorry you're going through all this. And at such a time. Insult to injury. I hope it all finds a quiet resolution soon, and brings as much peace as possible to your life.
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Lynn Gold
User: figmo
Date: 2013-12-05 07:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Alas, the best solution I can think of would be to have United give the "benefactors" the airline credits and the hell with the money.

IMHO, you don't donate money and then say, "Oops, I take it back." To do so is Just Plain Rude.
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