Holders of airline gift cards who did not use them, lost them

Restivo v. Continental Airlines, Inc. (Ohio App. Jan. 20, 2011).  Continental sold gift cards for air transportation that were valid for one year after issuance.  Purchasers agreed in writing to the one-year validity period.  When the airline refused to honor expired cards, cardholders commenced a class action lawsuit, alleging that Continental had violated Ohio’s gift card and consumer protection statutes and had been unjustly enriched.

Continental moved to dismiss the statutory claims on the grounds that they were preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act.  The preemption provision of the ADA, 49 U.S.C. § 41713(b)(1), provides in part that “a State . . . may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier.”  Continental argued that the unjust enrichment claim should be dismissed because the parties had entered into express contracts.  The trial court granted the motion to dismiss and the cardholders appealed.

On appeal, as to their statutory claims, the cardholders argued that a Continental gift card is not a “service” within the meaning of Section 41713(b)(1) but, rather, is simply the equivalent of money.  The court disagreed, holding that because the gift card’s only purpose is to allow the purchase of air transportation from the airline, it is “related to” the airline’s “price, route, or service.”  The court reasoned that “the fact that the gift card postpones the eventual purchase of an airline ticket does not alter that the gift card is still related to the provision of air transportation.”

As to the cardholders’ unjust enrichment claim, the court held that the existence of valid contracts between the parties prevented any recovery under such theory.

Accordingly, the court affirmed the trial’s court judgment.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s