Under the bed

Forget diamonds. A voucher is forever. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

How organized is your house? Do you have a box somewhere filled with papers? Maybe more than one? 

A little over 20 years ago, a man named John Walker booked a flight from Nashville to Sacramento. At the last minute he couldn’t make the trip, so he called United Airlines.

It was too late for a refund, but the airline told him he could still get credit toward a future flight. Since we were still doing things on paper back then, United sent him a physical ticket voucher, in the amount of $378.

Mr. Walker put the voucher in a box. He forgot about it.

A few years went by. The Walkers moved from Tennessee to North Carolina. Mr. Walker slid the box under the bed in the master bedroom in the new house.

There it stayed, forgotten, for another decade and a half.

“I just never really thought about it,” Mr. Walker told WFMY television. But then one day, he was looking for something else, and he opened the box.

He found the voucher, and read the two-decade-old letter that had come with it:

“Domestic wholly unused non-refundable ticket(s) can forever be applied toward the purchase of another domestic non-refundable ticket, for the customer named on the ticket.”

Forever, huh? Walker wondered.

A lot has happened since the 1990s. Google was brand new then. Mobile phones still seemed kinda neat. On airplanes, the average distance between seats in coach class was 35 inches. (It's as low as 28 inches now in some cases.)

Also, United Airlines isn't even really the same company as it was in the 1990s. It went through bankruptcy between 2002 and 2006. Later, it later merged with Continental.

Still, Mr. Walker called the airline to find out if “forever” really meant “forever.”

Customer service had no idea. Nobody had even seen a paper voucher in years. And even if they had, all of United’s debts had been discharged in the bankruptcy—including, one might think, old travel vouchers.

Last ditch, Mr. Walker tried United Airlines on Twitter. Lo and behold, the airline decided: What the heck? Let’s honor it anyway.

"I think it was just good customer service on their part," Walker said. Along with perhaps, the incredibly prescient notion that I would launch a daily newsletter and write about their customer-pleasing decision.

(I’m not the first, obviously. The North Carolina TV station broke the story, and I read about this on The Points Guy a while back.)

It's a unique situation, the airline explained. They didn't expect a flood of 20-year-old paper vouchers from the Clinton administration. 

So, the moral of the story is clear: Never throw anything out!

You never know when you might need one of those 500+ old bank and credit card statements dating back to 1994. Or perhaps, someday you’ll wish you had the old charger to your work laptop from three jobs ago.

And, there’s always a chance that (a) the sweater from 1996 that you were thinking of giving to Goodwill might come back into style, and (b) you might simultaneously get back to your high school weight.

Nah, I’m only kidding. April Fool’s.

The real morals are twofold:

First, it rarely hurts to ask.

Second, if you can do something good for someone, do it—especially if it doesn’t cost you very much.


Special note: Happy birthday to my Aunt Maureen, who is also my godmother, and who has been wonderfully supportive of me my whole life. If you know her, you like her, it’s just that simple. She reads this newsletter, so everyone please join me, on three: Happy Birthday! … 😃 We love you Bo! 🎂


7 other things worth your time


Thanks for reading. Photo from Pixabay. I first wrote about some of this for Inc.com a while back. If you’re not a subscriber, please sign up for the daily Understandably.com email newsletter—with thousands and thousands of 5-star ratings from happy readers.

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