Travel

American Airlines promised me vouchers, but instead it billed my card

Q: I recently booked two tickets to Scotland on American Airlines for this summer. A few weeks ago, I saw that the cost of the tickets had dropped considerably. I called American about this and said I felt I was being penalized for booking early.

The representative spoke to her boss about the discrepancy in price and said the airline would issue two vouchers for $494 each. She said the flight had to be booked within a year, but I could travel later than a year. She also told me they were transferable.

Later that night, I received an email from American saying it had deducted $600 from the value of my ticket credit. I called the next day, and a representative told me that American charges a $300 change fee. But there was no change; I’m on the same flight in the same seat.

The representative said it was an American Airlines policy. She then gave me the email for Sean Bentel, American’s vice president for customer service. I emailed him immediately. In the meantime, I have received two vouchers for $249 each. They are nontransferable. There has been no response from Mr. Bentel.

I would like the two vouchers for $494 each that I was promised by the original representative. I don’t care if they are transferable.

James Ertel, Chalfont, Pennsylvania

A: American Airlines should have sent you the $494 vouchers as promised and not dinged you $600. But the first representative you spoke with didn’t tell you everything. Yes, you could get a voucher for the fare difference, but you also would have to pay a $300 change fee on each ticket.

In other words, American was following its own rules, but it failed to adequately inform you of its policy when you called.

By the way, an airline ticket purchase is no place for buyer’s remorse. Why? Most airlines won’t refund the fare difference without significant strings attached. In American’s case, the change fee more than negated the fare difference. You paid another $600; it offered you $498 in funny money. Preposterous.

It looks as if you were on the phone with not one, but two trainees. The first one didn’t mention the fee, and the second one gave you Sean Bentel’s email address. That has to be a mistake. I met Bentel the last time I came through Dallas, and he told me that his email address is the wrong way to get a service problem resolved (he responds, but you can only imagine how many requests the guy gets).

I publish a more useful list of American Airlines executives on my consumer-advocacy site: elliott.org/company-contacts/american. Hint: Use the form. It’s the fastest way to get help.

The takeaway: After you buy an airline ticket, don’t look back. Don’t pay attention to the fare sales. Don’t listen to your friends who found a cheaper flight. You’ll spend too much time chasing money.

I contacted American on your behalf. The airline reviewed its records and decided to offer two $547 vouchers. You’ve indicated you’re happy with that resolution, and if you’re happy, I’m happy.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at chriselliott.org

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