Bamboozled: Prize came with strings attached

BB brandingSusan Travers was diagnosed with breast cancer 23 years ago. She fought the battle and won, and she’s been cancer-free ever since.

Since that time, Travers has stayed active as a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. So active that she was named a Pacesetter, a title bestowed upon those who reach certain fundraising goals for the charity.

In recognition of her work, Travers was entered into a raffle last March. The winner would receive vouchers for two airline flights on JetBlue, one of the charity’s corporate sponsors.

Travers won.

“I was pretty excited,” said Travers, 54, of Landing. “At first I thought it was a scam and I called the American Cancer Society, and it was for real.”

The couple talked about booking a trip, and they decided on Las Vegas. They’d have to pay any taxes and fees associated with the flight, and that was fine with them.
There were a bunch of blackout dates when the vouchers couldn’t be used, but the couple was flexible.

21714Travers’ husband Brian jumped into action.

“I called the number provided to book the flights, and pay the associated tax and fees, only to find out that we could only redeem this voucher for ‘specific’ flights,” he said. “Understanding that there were some restrictions, we proceeded to attempt to find flights that were acceptable to both parties.”

To no avail.

He said he spent several hours on the phone with JetBlue in October, and he and the rep checked every combination of flight days and times.

“Wednesday to Sunday, Thursday to Monday, Friday to Tuesday, Saturday to Wednesday, from the last week in October to March 1, 2014,” he said. “It was determined that there was not any availability that didn’t require a red-eye.”

A red-eye would be hard for the couple, he said, because of scheduling issues. Additionally, a red-eye would have meant additional days off from work, Travers said. And because they had to fly out of JFK rather than Newark International Airport, there would have been other challenges, such as travel time to the airport, and hotel check-ins and check-outs would have more difficult, he said.

The other item that bothered Brian Travers about the red-eye situation was that those flights would only cost about $530, so they would be putting to waste about $370 of the vouchers.

He said he couldn’t believe that there were no possible flights over a five-month time period, he said.

“It is obvious that JetBlue never intended these vouchers to be used, and if someone was able to fit the ‘specific’ flights into their schedule, it would only cost [JetBlue] half the money,” he said.

Brian Travers said he then sent JetBlue an e-mail outlining the dilemma, but the response said the couple would have to stay within the required parameters.

“We regret to hear that you’ve been unable to find travel that suits your needs using your Travel Certificate,” a JetBlue customer service rep wrote in an email. “While we understand your dilemma, Travel Certificates are a special promotional item and are subject to specific terms and conditions which are outlined on them and cannot be altered.”

The couple was disappointed. Brian Travers thought the timing of this trip was important for his wife.

“Sue’s mom, who lived with us, passed away last May,” he said. “Susan took care of her at the house until the end. She was bedridden the last couple of months and it was really hard on Sue. It would have been a nice getaway.”

Brian Travers said they’ve thought about letting it go, but some recent JetBlue advertisements reignited his anger.

“After seeing JetBlue ads saying how they don’t have any blackout dates kind of turns your stomach,” he said. “The most frustrating part was not having the possibility of a solution. After a couple of hours on the phone and web site we were back to square one, in fact we were below square one because when we started we thought we had won flights.”

“It’s like getting twenty dollars to spend in a dollar store but being told you can only buy two items,” he said.

They asked Bamboozled for help.


We reviewed the fine print on the JetBlue vouchers, and the wording on the email notifications Susan Travers received from the American Cancer Society.

“Please note that redeemed travel is subject to availability, blackout dates, capacity controls and seats may not be available on all flights,” the email said.

The JetBlue letter that came with the vouchers was even more specific.

“Travel is valid for one (1) year from issued date, blackout dates may apply, and redeemed travel is subject to availability and seats may not be available on all flights,” it said.

The vouchers themselves have similar language, but they don’t say “red-eyes only.”

The list of blackout dates for the JetBlue travel certificates won by Susan Travers.Alex Remnick/The Star-Ledger

The American Cancer Society said it awarded 180 pairs of tickets last year, and it hasn’t received word of any complaints.

We also reached out to JetBlue, and it said it would investigate.

In about 24 hours, Brian Travers received a call from the airline.

“[The rep] informed us that all of the restrictions have been removed from our travel vouchers,” he said in an email. “Also, she mentioned that they are contemplating other options for their donations, i.e. maybe awarding points which are less restrictive.”

JetBlue confirmed what Travers said, calling it a “goodwill gesture.”

“Since 2003, we have provided over 4,000 round trip tickets to American Cancer Society through corporate support and crewmember requests,” a spokeswoman said in an email. “We are currently reviewing our terms and conditions on travel certificates.”

She also clarified that the vouchers do not have a set dollar value but were for a round trip flight from any JetBlue city to another JetBlue city, so any retail value is approximate.

Susan Travers said she was pleased with how JetBlue handled Bamboozled’s inquiries, and she’s encouraged by the airline’s promise to review current restrictions and policies for similar donated vouchers.

“It’s nice to see that they are concerned about the gifts they donated, and that they want to do anything they can to honor that commitment,” she said. “That is very impressive and appreciated.”

The couple plans to try to schedule a new Vegas trip for May.

We hope they bring some luck with them. (Bamboozled’s lucky number is 22, just in case there’s a stop at the roulette wheel. Just sayin’.)