For a recent trip to Washington, DC, I used US Bank Flexpoints to book my partner's ticket on the only daily nonstop flight home from Washington National Airport. Since economy tickets cost $264 while first class tickets cost $343.10, either option would have the same cost to me: 20,000 Flexpoints (an example of what I call "price compression"). I used Delta denied boarding vouchers to pay for my own $264 ticket in economy.
When I checked us in the night before our flight, I found that my partner had been seated in economy, although her ticket correctly showed her first class fare. My first move was to reach out to Delta's Twitter handle @DeltaAssist to see if they could resolve the problem:
Since my partner needed to get back in time for work the next morning, I decided not to push harder over Twitter and instead resolve the issue once we got back home.
Filing a Department of Transportation complaint
Since Delta wouldn't offer a refund over Twitter, I filed a Department of Transportation complaint, explaining that Delta had neither offered a refund nor reaccommodated my partner in the class of travel I paid for. I asked for a refund of the $79 price difference between first class and economy and any other compensation she was entitled to.
Response from the Department of Transportation
My first response from the Department of Transportation was a lengthy e-mail, reading in relevant part:
"Based on the information you have provided, your complaint appears to fall under the Department's rules. I will forward your complaint to the airline and ask the company to respond directly to you with a copy to me. Airlines are required to acknowledge receipt of a consumer complaint within 30 days and provide a substantive response to the complainant within 60 days. I will review the airline's response. If you need to contact me, please include your name and case number (see above). I will make every effort to reply to your message within one business day."
Response from Delta
Three days later, I received an e-mail from Delta's refund department, saying:
"I’m happy to help with your request regarding a refund.
We’re sorry you weren’t seated in the forward cabin as planned. An adjustment has been made for the fare difference between the class of service purchased and the class of service flown.
A refund for you
We processed a refund on April 8, 2016 as follows:
Now, obviously, I don't have a Visa card ending in 5853: that's the account number used by the travel agency contracted by US Bank to book Flexperks reward tickets.
US Bank is clueless
My first thought was to call US Bank and see if their customer service agents knew what happens to Flexperks ticket refunds. They don't.
But they were able to transfer me to, and give me the direct number for, "The Rewards Center," the travel agency they use to book revenue flights. That number is 1-855-516-9182.
The Rewards Center is slightly less clueless
To communicate with the Rewards Center, you don't need your credit card number, your Flexpoints number, or even your airline record locator. You need your "Trip ID," the 12-digit number that is e-mailed to you when you make a Flexperks Travel Rewards redemption.
The frontline Rewards Center customer service agent had no ability to understand what I was talking about; he kept trying to transfer me back to US Bank. But once I said the word "refund" enough times, he finally was willing to check with his supervisor, and eventually came back to say that no refund had been processed for my reservation.
How Flexperks reservations are refunded
At that point I decided to wait and see how this played out. And it turns out, with no additional action on my part, my $79 refund was processed automatically — back to my Flexperks Travel Rewards Flexpoints account.
Remember that I paid 20,000 Flexpoints for a $343.10 first class reservation, getting roughly 1.72 cents per Flexpoint.
On April 20, 2016, 12 days after Delta e-mailed that they were processing my refund request, I received a "Points Adjustment" of 4,605 Flexpoints into my account.
For those doing the math at home, 4,605 Flexpoints for a $79 refund comes to 1.72 cents per Flexpoint — a refund of the exact number of Flexpoints corresponding to the original redemption rate.
Conclusion: when booking first class, go ahead and snap an economy screenshot
In this case, I actually had an economy ticket booked within minutes of the first class ticket I redeemed US Bank Flexpoints for, which allowed me to upload my economy receipt to the Department of Transportation complaint website.
But that won't usually be the case! My recommendation is, out of an abundance of caution, whenever using Flexpoints (or any other fixed-value rewards currency) to book revenue airline tickets in business or first class, take a screenshot of the economy fare as well. If an equipment change lands you in economy, you'll be glad to have some evidence supporting your refund request for the amount you actually overpaid for the premium cabin you didn't get to sit in.