Thanks, Northwest, For Flying Me To Chicago Because I Asked Nicely!

Contrary to published rumors, I did not spend last weekend trafficking Canadian drugs or performing “community service.” No, I enjoyed a gluttonous weekend in Chicago thanks to Northwest’s generosity. In the age or rising fees, reduced frequent flier miles, and general travel hell, it’s still possible to extract favors from airlines, if you know which levers to push…

My friend had an unused electronic credit voucher that he had no hope of using from a botched trip. Not wanting to waste the voucher, we decided to transfer the voucher to me, something clearly prohibited by Northwest’s policies:

Can I give my Electronic Credit Voucher to someone else to use?
Electronic Credit Vouchers are non-transferable…

First, my friend called and asked to transfer the voucher. They said no. We called back, escalated, begged and pleaded, but rules are rules, they said—our request would not be accommodated. After exhausting the normal customer service channels, we loaded up and fired the mighty and fearsome Executive Email Carpet Bomb. Here’s what we wrote:

Mr. Steenland,

On April 17, 2007 I purchased a ticket to Rhinelander, WI from your website (NWA Confirmation Number: XXXXX, E-ticket number: XXXXXXXXXX). I unfortunately never took that trip, but was repeatedly reassured by your agents before canceling that I would not lose the money I had invested in the ticket, and that I would be able to use the remaining balance however I wished towards future Northwest travel.

I am now trying to use the balance, as I was expressly told I would be allowed, to purchase a ticket from New York to Chicago for a friend. Your agents insist that this is not possible and that the credit from my unused ticket will expire in May if I do not fly myself. My considerable travel expenses are currently handled exclusively by my employer. It will be impossible for me to use the remaining balance for myself in the foreseeable future.

I would be most appreciative if you would allow me to use my balance to purchase a ticket for my friend, as I was told I could do. I am a frequent traveler and have a choice of airlines when flying and would very much like to tell my colleagues that you graciously accommodated my reasonable request. Please let me know by the end of the week how this can be arranged.

Best regards,

Carey’s Friend

We summarized the problem, requested a resolution, and specified a timeframe for their response, all while remaining professional and polite. Northwest Executive Communications Representative Jodee Gruebele quickly responded and agreed to transfer the voucher to me. Great!

Except the voucher was going to expire before I could get to yummy, yummy pizza hiding in the midwest. I called Northwest’s customer service line and asked them to extend the voucher by an extra week. They laughed and refused. Time for another EECB!

Dear Ms. Gruebele,

I write in the hope you can remove the remaining barrier to redeeming [my friend’s] voucher. The absolute earliest I am able to travel is May 9-13. I have unfortunately been informed by your customer service representatives that my travel must commence by May 4, a mere 5 days earlier than my schedule allows. They have also told me that it is impossible to redeem the ticket online, forcing me to pay not a $10 operator assistance fee, but a $15 rebooking fee. This is in addition to fees costing $56 already associated with the ticket. I would be willing to pay the fees, provided I can begin my travel on May 9. Please let me know at your earliest convenience how this reasonable request can be accommodated.

Most appreciative,

Carey Greenberg-Berger

Four days later, Northwest wrote back and extended the voucher for an extra month.

Northwest had every right to say no. We weren’t filing a complaint or referencing a violated policy. They made a business decision to help us out, one that I certainly appreciate.

You might be thinking, “But Carey, you unethical rodent, they gave you the tickets because you write for The Consumerist and might say mean things about them next to cat photos if they didn’t acquiesce.” The first EECB containing the big request to transfer the voucher was sent by my friend without mentioning me or the site, and the second one was sent from my personal account.

Executive Email Carpet Bombs are effective because you’re speaking to people who are able to use their independent judgment to come to a reasonable solution. More importantly, anyone can launch an EECB without much effort. Nothing we requested was outlandish. We asked for a favor, and Northwest graciously acceded, gaining an appreciative customer, giving Chris the chance to write a weekend of great posts, and giving me the chance to finally taste Chicago’s ambrosial stuffed-crust pizza. Win-win-win.

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