How to Get a Refund When Your Airline’s Wi-Fi Is Terrible

How to Get a Refund When Your Airline’s Wi-Fi Is Terrible

When an airline sells you a service, you should be able to receive a refund if it doesn’t deliver. But when is it not worth your time to even bother asking for one?

I asked this question last week when I had serious trouble connecting to Wi-Fi during an American Airlines flight. The carrier charged $17 for the privilege. I figured that the nuisance of getting the money back would cost more than $17 of time and aggravation.

Turns out I was wrong, according to over 100 readers who set me straight after I asked for advice in our weekly Your Money newsletter.

Nearly everyone who asked for a refund when the Wi-Fi didn’t work properly got the money back. Many had even cracked the code on how to make the request in under 60 seconds.

This week, I distilled their wisdom and talked to the major airlines and credit-card companies that were willing to answer my many detailed questions.

First, some guidance from the airlines on the fastest path to a refund request:

Go to care.inflightinternet.com. You can chat with a representative on that page about a refund or contact the airline via the email address or phone number provided there.

I did end up asking American for a refund, without quite knowing how. After a few minutes fumbling around on its website, I found a place to send the airline an email. The response I received offered vague platitudes, but no compensation.

Readers suggested a different tactic: Find the email receipt for the Wi-Fi purchase, hit reply and ask for a refund. I tried that, too, and several hours later, I got an apology note and an “offer” of a discount code for a Wi-Fi “pass of your choice” for a future flight. Following readers’ advice, I politely rejected the offer. The reply said my refund had been processed.

According to American, the best place for any passenger to go to request refunds from one of its three Wi-Fi providers is the “Wi-Fi and connectivity” page on its website.

Delta is rolling out free Wi-Fi for members of its frequent-flier program on all flights this year and next, and over 700 aircraft already have it. For people who pay and want to request a refund, head to delta.com/wifi and click on “customer support.”

All internet access is free on the airline, but flight attendants, at their discretion, can offer a $15 credit if the Wi-Fi (or anything) is problematic.

The airline has a page on its website just for Wi-Fi refunds.

Send an email to the airline by going to: support.southwest.com/helpcenter/s/email-us. But keep in mind that the airline sometimes sends refunds proactively when it knows that things didn’t work well.

United will also send a refund notice via email when it senses trouble. If you’ve experienced Wi-Fi problems, the airline asks that you wait a few days for that note. If you don’t end up getting one, head to the “refunds” page on its website.

For issues when flying on a regional partner of the carrier, you’ll need to take things up with Intelsat, the Wi-Fi provider. Confused about whether it’s a United flight or a partner? You should see the Wi-Fi provider’s name listed on the receipt if you purchase the service.

Is it worth asking flight attendants for help?

Yes. They may be able to reboot the system and get the Wi-Fi working, or working better. On some airlines, they can also offer compensation on the spot.

How bad does the Wi-Fi have to be before I can ask for a refund without being a jerk?

I found Alaska’s response to be reasonable:

“While we do not have a firm policy on this, we would characterize poor Wi-Fi as lacking a connection for more than 20 minutes at any particular time during the flight, being unable to stream movies or video clips without multiple buffering events or being consistently unable to send or receive emails,” said Cameron Greenberg, a spokesman, in an email.

What happens if I just hit reply to the email receipt I received when I bought Wi-Fi and ask for a refund?

That can work, and it worked for me with American.

Can I push back if the first offer of compensation is a coupon or frequent-flier miles?

Yes, this often works, as I found with American. It’s worth trying, because a refund is money back in your pocket, while miles and coupons are easy to forget about. And the worst that can happen is that you get “no” for an answer.

Why not just dispute Wi-Fi charges with your credit card company if its customer service is better than the airline’s?

Generally, you’re supposed to give any service provider a shot at fixing the problem first.

I understand that it’s tempting to go straight to the card issuer, though. As I reported more than a decade ago in a column about the art and science of using your credit card company to dispute purchases with merchants, some industry watchers believe that big banks will automatically credit their customers during disputes over dollar amounts that are this small. In other words, they may not even bother contacting the merchant.

The airlines I talked to did not comment on this. Capital One and American Express said they investigated every dispute. Citi, which teams up with American on various credit cards, declined to answer the question. Chase did not address it.

Do airlines ever turn down a Wi-Fi refund request?

Rarely, it seems. But this is not an invitation to try to put one over on them. They may be keeping an eye on you.

“Whenever a guest reaches out, our provider vets their complaint,” said Mr. Greenberg of Alaska. That includes seeing whether the passenger consumed “substantially” more data than other passengers.

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