After German oneworld airline air berlin went bankrupt travelers didn’t just lose their flights and their miles – the topbonus program was a separate company, but it went bust because most of its assets were receivables from the airline, which didn’t pay for the miles it had issued for flights – they also lost a lot of money.
The advice when an airline goes bankrupt is to get your money back for future tickets from your credit card company. If a business doesn’t provide the services you paid for, your credit card company will get you your money back (usually). Credit card companies don’t give businesses all of their money from sales right away, there’s usually a ‘hold back’ – at least unless the business meets certain conditions, for instance an airline might get its money right away provided it has minimum cash balances in the billions.
German law has an interesting quirk though. Apparently people who pay for services they haven’t received are considered unsecured creditors in bankruptcy, and getting your money back via a credit card chargeback is considered ‘queue jumping’. That’s why there are reports in German media that the airline’s bankruptcy administrator is sending bills to people who bought air berlin tickets, and then got refunds from their credit card company when the airline went under. (HT: Loyalty Lobby)
Reportedly 679 bills were sent out to passengers who had partially flown their tickets prior to filing the charge back. If a customer had flown one way, got stranded, and had to buy a new ticket home then a(t least a partial) charge back seems appropriate to me though perhaps the credit card company refunded the full ticket price and that wasn’t appropriate. In total roughly 10,000 chargebacks were filed against the airline.
I first wrote about this issue 18 months ago when an American received one of these bills.
Most consumers assume that successfully disputing a credit card charge nullifies a debt. That’s not true – the company you paid can still ask for payment and sue you for the debt.
However in this case air berlin doesn’t have a claim that the customer failed to pay for something they received — air berlin cancelled the flight. The claim is that even though they didn’t provide the service, the limited funds the airline had should have gone to repay someone else.
That may or may not be the case under German law but as a US resident I simply wouldn’t worry too much over it. Ultiamtely the chargeback was done in compliance with the airline’s credit card processing agreements covering events including bankruptcy.