Where’s the refund for my canceled flight?

05/30/2014 12:00 AM

05/31/2014 5:38 PM

Q: I recently booked a last-minute flight with American Airlines because my father was scheduled to have surgery the following day. American canceled my flight 20 minutes prior to boarding. At the gate, I was told that I could either fly to another city or go to a different gate if I wanted a refund.

I went to the second gate and was told that I would receive an email confirming my refund. The next day I called American because I had not received the confirmation. I was told to look in my spam folder. It was not there.

I called the airline again, and the person I spoke with told me that American didn’t send emails confirming refunds, and didn’t understand why other American employees had told me to expect one.

I never received a refund, and, after calling the airline a couple of more times and being told that it takes a while to be refunded, I initiated a dispute with my credit card company. American now claims that I’m not entitled to a refund because I bought a nonrefundable ticket. Can you help?

Kristen Nordlund

Plano, Texas

A: I’m sorry to hear about your father, and I hope his condition has improved. If American Airlines canceled your flight, it owes you an immediate, no-questions-asked refund. Instead, it gave you the runaround, followed by a denial.

What’s particularly galling is that you bought a last-minute ticket, the kind normally reserved for business travelers who are on an expense account. Those are usually twice as expensive as the advance-purchase tickets bought by everyone else, sometimes much more. Often, they are refundable — not that it makes any difference.

If an airline fails to operate a flight, it must refund your money. No “ifs,” “ands” or “buts.”

Instead of filing a credit card dispute, I might have taken it up the chain of command at American first. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of American’s executives on my website: http://www.elliot.org/contacts/american-airlines-2.

Even a cursory review of your case by a manager would have shown that American was in the wrong. Had that not worked, you could have appealed your case to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Aviation Consumer Protection Division, which could have helped the airline see the error of its ways.

A credit card dispute is a last resort for a refund problem like yours. It’s a process that appears to be fairly automated, and it generally favors the airline. For example, if your ticket is nonrefundable and the flight isn’t canceled, all an airline must do to prevail is show the credit-card-dispute department its fare rules, and it wins.

I contacted American Airlines on your behalf. A representative investigated your claim and blamed the refund problem on an “agent error.” American refunded your ticket.

About Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott

@elliottdotorg

Christopher Elliott writes the Travel Troubleshooter column for the Miami Herald; he also writes about the travel industry for MSNBC.com and for National Geographic Traveler. If you don't find the information you need here in his past columns, you can reach Elliott via his website at www.elliott.org.

Join the Discussion

Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Terms of Service