An Aeromexico refund runaround with a surprise ending

aeromexicoExtracting a promised refund from an airline can be hard work. At times, it can even be impossible — or close to it.

All of which makes Michael Levin’s case so remarkable. He and two friends were scheduled to fly from Sacramento, Calif., to Mexico late last year, and their flight was overbooked. Aeromexico offered them a ticket voucher or a refund, and they chose the refund.

What happened next may help you if you ever need to get a refund from an intransigent airline.

Levin was told it would take six weeks to get his money back, which is a ridiculously long time. The Transportation Department gives airlines seven days to process a refund. I’ve seen refunds take minutes, if not seconds, when a business wants to move quickly.

But when he contacted me nearly three months after his scheduled flight, Levin had nothing. What’s more, the site he’d booked the ticket through, Orbitz, had been unable to help him secure a refund.

He thought he was out of options. But he wasn’t.

I contacted Aeromexico on his behalf, hoping the airline would quickly process the refund it had promised him. But several weeks later, Levin hadn’t heard anything.

Now I was out of options, too.

But Levin didn’t give up. Here’s what happened next:

I was at the airport a few weeks ago for an afternoon flight and had a few extra minutes, so I went up to the administrative offices for the airport.

Sacramento airport is owned by the county, so they are all county employees. I think I may have been the first person to ever come up and ask for assistance.

Within minutes, I had two receptionists, an administrative assistant, an administrator, and the acting airport director all trying to help me. They gave me the name and email of the local manager for Aeromexico, and they emailed him as well and copied it to me.

I think they embarrassed him because he emailed me immediately, and I responded and copied it to the airport director. In his reply email, he asked me not to send any of my emails to the airport since they were not involved.

After a few weeks of emails and reminders, they finally sent the $1,500 by money order and it arrived yesterday.

I suspect I am one of very few people who have been able to get a refund from Aeromexico.

I love this story, because it underscores the value of what I call the three “Ps” of complaint resolution: politeness, patience and persistence.

In-person visits are rarely used by travelers because it’s travel. Returning to the hotel you stayed at while your were on vacation isn’t always practical. The travel industry uses distance to its advantage. They also invoke language barriers, which is surely something Aeromexico has done a time or two. (“Did we say ‘refund’? We meant ‘rebook’.”)

I wish I could have secured a promised refund for Levin, but I’m not alone in my failure. Aeromexico and Orbitz also didn’t do what they were supposed to.

Levin wasn’t out of options, though. He still had a credit card dispute and a visit to small-claims court in his arsenal. Good thing he didn’t have to use them.

Do airlines drag their feet on refunds, hoping to eventually keep the money?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • polexia_rogue

    don’t think i would ever trust an airline for a refund. a credit- yes. even i can get a credit through most of the websites.

    but a refund? get it in writing to prepare for the fight ahead. congrats to the OP for never giving up.

  • sirwired

    I would think that a complaint to the FAA would get the ball rolling quite quickly. The FAA gets surprisingly few “hard” complaints involving clear violation of passenger consumer protection rules, so the ones they do receive I believe get quite a lot of attention.

  • EdB

    Isn’t he owed more than just the refund for denied booking because of the overbooked flight?

    A couple other things that bothered me about the refund coming in the form of a money order. If it had been paid by credit card, the merchant agreement, at least for MasterCard, says the refund has to be put back on the card, otherwise it will be considered a cash advance.

    Also, I have never heard of a large company issuing refunds this way. I could understand a smaller type business, but not a larger company like this I’m thinking the local manager didn’t want the home office to find out about what happened (could be he pocketed the refund?) and used this methods so there would be no record in the company ledger of that payment.

  • MarkKelling

    I routinely got refunds from Continental (before the UA merger) with no hassle. But of course I also bought refundable tickets when I thought I might need to cancel a trip. Unfortunately since the merger, the price of refundable tickets is outrageously high so I don’t buy those any more. I have only had to get one refund from UA post merger for a cancelled flight and it went without issue – the money was posted to my credit card within 24 hours. Of course that refund was generated while I was standing in front of a UA employee and the refund receipt was printed and handed to me. Kinda difficult for them to overlook and delay that one!

  • Alan Gore

    Yes, the basic reason customer service in the travel business sucks so badly is that you’re away from home and out of your normal social network and legal support system. Travel companies know this, which is why showing up at your local airport and buttonholing management produced such unexpected results for the OP.

    Today Internet shaming gives us a new means of fighting back. Take your complaint to those online review sites or to a blog like this one, and watch those closed doors magically spring open.

  • Susan N

    Honestly, I don’t think he would have had trouble with getting a refund if it were a US-based airline, and the reason for the refund is clear, offered by the airline itself, or within the ticket rules (such as canceling due to overbooking, canceling a flexible ticket, canceling due to weather delays and the like). I’ve never had problems getting refunds within a few days in these cases.

    I feel that foreign carriers are much more likely to get away with it though, since it’s harder to find them in person, and they are, for the most part, under foreign jurisdiction.

  • emanon256

    Yeah, what is up with that. I could get a Refundable R/T on UA pre-merger for $800-900, now its $1,500+ on the same routes.

    Fortunately I have been able to get refunds when a fligth is canceled pre and post merger on UA without much issue.

    Frontier on the other hand, it takes multiple calls and several months of persistence to get a refund when I get a refundable fare. Fortunately, their refundable fares are only about $100 more R/T than the cheapest fare on most routes.

  • emanon256

    A lot of clients I worked with had policies that required their credit card information be purged after 3 months (Transaction info kept, only the credit card info was purged). So in cases when a refund was issued 3 months or more after the purchase was made, they had to issue refunds by check, which was allowable in the merchant agreements. It’s possible that the OP booked far enough in advance that by the time they gave the refund they had already purged the credit card information.

    That being said, still no excuse, they should have refunded him on the sport either back to his CC or by check if they didn’t have the CC data.

  • Adam_The_Man

    Scam! They were just trying to keep his money hoping he would give up. I bet most people do.

  • JenniferFinger

    No business likes to issue a refund, regardless of what industry it’s in. If it can give a discount on future or present sales, ignore the issue, or in some way resolve the situation without having to issue a refund, it will do everything it can to keep the cash from having to leave its coffers. Refunds are its last resort.

  • Ian Parrish

    In the event of an actual overbooking, he is due involuntary denied boarding compensation, in addition to the actual flight or refund. This is an important issue of knowing your rights and is quoted in 14 CFR 250.5. All travelers should know this. It breaks down as follows:

    –Airline gets you there on alternate transportation < 1 hour late. That's life, you get nothing ;)

    –Airline gets you there on alternate transportation 4 hours late. You get 400% of the fare up to a maximum amount of $1300.

    This is real money. They can’t pay you in funny money, aka airline vouchers either, unless they disclose how much real money you are entitled to, as well as all conditions of any alternate voucher.

    The EU has similar and slightly more generous rules that also cover delays.

  • EdB

    So are you owed anything if you take a refund and not travel?

  • TrixiDelite

    I was recently on an Alaska Air flight from Portland to National. We were about 3 hours in to the flight when the captain announced that we had to turn around because the de-icer had stopped working. We had to fly the 3 hours back to Portland because of a lack of Alaska mechanics, crew, etc. elsewhere. As we deplaned we were handed food vouchers and reimbursement forms. We went and ate with our food vouchers, and were on a new plane in an hour and a half. Before I had even returned home from my trip I had a personal apology email and 12,500 points on my account. My colleagues who asked for monetary refunds were granted $300 (they also gave us free wine and beer onboard!). Maybe it’s just Alaska, but I’ve never seen so many inconvenienced people so happy.

  • Nick Ramirez

    This story is 100% true. I know because Red Butler had to complete a request IDENTICAL to the one mentioned in the story. This adds to something we, at Red Butler, always advise which is – if you’re going to book a flight, book DIRECT with the airline! Booking through a 3rd party OTA is a very bad idea, especially if you ever need a refund or help with that reservation.

    Companies like Orbitz will tell you “we don’t process the refund, the airline does” and the airline will tell you that “Orbitz will refund you, not us” – so, you quickly find yourself in the middle of a blame game which doesn’t help your situation at all! We actually tried doing a 3 way call with both Orbitz AND AeroMexico and AeroMexico said, “We will hang up the phone if you initiate a 3-way call with Orbitz”! Can you believe that? Crazy.

    At the end of the day, this (and many other reasons) is why a company like ours can help –because we make these calls for you! Not a bad way to “get things done” huh. Either way, safe travels out there and remember, always. book. direct.

    Nick

  • Michael Kent Minor

    Duh!

  • y_p_w

    I remember when airlines had ticket offices in major cities that actually handled this sort of thing in person. While it’s great that one can now do almost everything online, part of me wishes that there was still a backup in the form of ticket offices.

    Once we were overseas and had to handle a change fee in a country where we otherwise were going to have an issue flying in. We managed to find a United ticket office there to handle all this. I don’t even think they even have more than maybe a couple of those left in the US. I think theoretically one can handle stuff like this at an airport desk, but when they’re looking to check-in luggage and actually get people onto flights, I don’t think they really want to handle this sort of thing.

  • SAS

    I think this is a great story too, Chris. I recently moved to Sacramento so it is nice to know that the airport employees are so helpful. Thanks for sharing this informative story. I am glad that it ended well.

  • a montes

    on top of that is a dirty way to promote refund insurance. they laugh at the federal laws

  • jen

    AeroMexico told me in an online booking chat that I could have a senior discount only if I ticket with an agent. So I paid bus fare to go to their only local office and bought a ticket. I discovered after I got home and saw my e-receipt online that I was charged a $15 vcr service fee for using an agent. The online chat rep never mentioned that.

    So an AeroMexico senior discount costs $15 and they don’t tell you. I’m fighting the $15 charge with my credit card company, but I’m sure AeroMexico will claim the vcr fee is clearly noted online. Yes, but they won’t waive the fee for senior discounters who aren’t allowed to purchase online.

    What to do?