Everyone who travels with budget airlines know what they are in for — cramped seats, no luggage, and bad customer service. As a frequent flier of the region’s budget airlines, I have had generally good experiences. Flight times were usually on time, cabin service good, and reserved seat rates quite cheap. That is until I found myself on the receiving end of Air Asia’s ultra-bad customer service.
I fly Air Asia a lot. Or I used to fly Air Asia a lot. I’ve taken flights in between cities in Southeast Asia and to and from Clark even way back when it was just servicing Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur under Air Asia Berhad. I was a big fan of its nice planes and easy online booking system . It’s safe to say that I trusted the airline enough to create an online account, install its mobile booking system on my Android and book numerous flights with them. Heck, making mock bookings was my just-before-I-go-t0-sleep past time. It was just second to the should-I-press-the-book-button game.
Unfortunately, that trust was broken.
January 2013, my travel buddies and I booked December flights to Taipei during a seat sale. Summer came, and I was informed that the Taipei route was temporarily being cancelled but there was a chance that it will be reinstated in December. About that time, Air Asia was realigning its operations as it had merged with Zest Air so I thought it had something to do with that. On the later part of the year with no advice coming about the flight reinstatement, I inquired about it at the Air Asia Facebook page. I received a private message saying that it was not going to be reinstated and that I could opt to convert the ticket to a credit shell which I could use in 90 days or get a full refund. After consulting with my travel buddies, I opted for a refund. Requesting for it and having it processed via its call center seemed easy and smooth enough. It would just take 30 days, the pleasant call center agent informed me. That was the 3rd week of September.
On October 13 , I received the following email:
Dear EARL CLARENCE JIMENEZ ,
We are pleased to inform you that your refund has been validated and is in progress. This refund process will be completed within thirty (30) business days. Kindly check your credit card / bank account after the said period.
If you are an AirAsia member, you can view the status of your refund application on our website.
Kindly login via http://www.airasia.com
Look up for the Member Portal -> My Refund Status. Quote your Case Number or Booking Number provided below:
Case Number: CAS-4905634-656PW3
Booking Number: Q3NK6L
Where applicable, please use your first booking number () for travelling purposes. If you have any pre-booked meals, seat or baggage in any refunded booking(s), please add the same to the aforesaid booking under the first booking number ().
Thank you for choosing AirAsia as your travel partner.
Wow! I said to myself. That was quick. However, when I did an online check on the “Refund Status” portion of the my account at the Air Asia website, my booking and those of the others could not be found.
Mid-November came and one of my travel buddies said that her credit card and that of another friend had not reflected any charge back. Per bank records, no request for a charge back had ever been received. If my friend could supply an ARN number, they could double check. Unfortunately, we never got any such number from Air Asia. Ask for one from the airline, my friend was told. She called the Air Asia call center and was informed to fill-up the online form. I called my own bank and I received the same feedback. I filled-up the online form and on November 20, I received the following email:
Dear Valued Customer,
Greetings from AirAsia.
With regards to your refund status for booking number Q3NK6L, kindly be advised that we have refunded the amount to the bank details as below;
Payment Method: Visa Card
Refund Amount: 4,250.00 PHP
Kindly check your December bank statement for refund amount. Kindly contact us back if you still did not received your refund in order for us to verify with our finance department.
Hope this helps.
Refund Support Team (RST)
Air Asia Q
LCC Terminal, Jalan KLIA S3,
Southern Support Zone, KLIA,
64000 Sepang, Selangor Darul Ehsan,
I was leaving for Bali a few days before Christmas and won’t be back a week after the New Year so I shelved it in the meantime. My frustration with Air Asia was not going to spoil my trip.
By the time I returned from Bali, I had learned to play the gamelan, cook Balinese food, and practiced my Bahasa-Indonesia but my and my travel buddies’ money was still safely ensconced in Air Asia’s fat bank account. Oh and by the way, the Taipei flight was supposed to have taken-off on December 25, 2013.
Time to make a call at the… where else… call center. The person at the other end said that he would write a report asking for an ARN number which I take to mean as an authorization number for the refund. A week went by and there was still no update. I posted a message to the Air Asia Facebook page and got private messages saying they would look into the matter. Another week, and still no response. So I turned to the next best thing — Twitter. AskAirAsia was quite prompt in answering to my tweets. Unfortunately, other than apologies and gratitude for my patience and the promise to look into the matter, there was nothing that really gave me hope that my travel buddies and I would see the light of day of our money. The next couple of days were spent alternating between FB and Tweeter to get updates. FB said in a private message that they had already escalated my concern to the Finance Department and would update me as soon as they themselves received an update. Tweeter said the same thing.
I googled “Air Asia refund” and found a message board with the Tweeter account of Air Asia CEO, Tony Fernandes. Will he read it? Will he care? I don’t know but Tweeter had become my second best friend after Facebook and if someone had told me to send snail mail, I would have probably done it. In short, I needed to COMMUNICATE what I needed! So I sent him a tweet about the way Air Asia Philippines was handling the refund. It seemed trivial compared to his tweets and those of others about his business dealings including the football club he owned. After all, why would the big guy care. After all, Air Asia had just won a SkyTrax award.
It had been months since I was promised a refund and by this time, I was reading the websites of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Civil Aviation Authorities of the Philippines (CAAP) to find out how I can file a complaint.
Of course, I was still an obedient customer going through the normal corporate communication channels and filled-up the online form asking about my refund. I got the email below:
Dear EARL CLARENCE JIMENEZ,
RE: Booking No. : Q3NK6L
Case Number : CAS-6105929-V7378R
We have reviewed your refund request. Regrettably, we are not able to process your refund as your request does not meet our refund criteria.
If you wish to appeal, kindly use our e-form and let us know the reasons for this claim. The e-form is available at the following link:
Note: This is an auto-generated email sent by AirAsia Customer Relationship Management System (CRM). Please do not reply to this email thread.
I filled-up the form again and asked how could that be possible since the I had received an October email informing me of my refund. Plus, the refund was the result of Air Asia, not my, decision to cancel the flight.
I got the same email.
I was about to fill-up the same online form when I noticed the phrase “This is an auto-generated email sent by AirAsia Customer Relationship Management System (CRM). Please do not reply to this email thread. ” So that’s it. Air Asia’s online customer service form is simply answered by a computer. In short, it just sends Spam Mail.
This afternoon, with a little spare time from work (yes, I use my spare time to follow-up my refund), I tweeted AskAirAsia again. I got a private message with Refund Transaction Numbers for all 4 bookings and a message saying that it will take 3-21 days for the bank to do the transfer and that I can follow-up with the bank using the numbers. Are these proof that the refund had been processed and with the bank already? Yes, came the reply.
Today, I count Day 1 again since that day during the first week of October when I got an email promising my refund via credit card credit back within 30 days.
I have been really frustrated with the way Air Asia has been handling the refund. I never got any promised updates except for the spam mail courtesy of the online forms I had been filling-up. If it weren’t for my insistence at Tweeter, I would not have received those Refund Transaction Numbers.
This is not the first time I refunded flights. I have made a refund each with Cebu Pacific and Zest Air and the refund did come through my credit card within the 90 days that they promised me.
When I made my call to ask for a refund, I was told by the agent that credit back would be within 30 days from my call. When I sent an online form, I was told by the computer to expect it in a few weeks.
Today is near the end of January and it will take 3 to 21 days. I just wonder if that’s just 21 days of respite for Tweeter and Facebook from my badgering to get my money back.