Is this enough compensation for a partially flown flight?

By | December 4th, 2016

When her flight was canceled, Val Robinson expected a refund. Instead, she was threatened with a collection notice. 

It seems unfair — not to mention terrible customer service — for airlines to refuse to refund airfares (even nonrefundable ones) because of conditions over which passengers have no control. But them’s the breaks in the airline industry.

And it’s a warning to all air passengers, regardless of how well-traveled or knowledgeable about air travel they are: Know whether or not your tickets are nonrefundable before you buy them. And be aware that airlines don’t like to issue cash refunds – even when they’re responsible for canceling flights.

Robinson found that out the hard way when she booked a roundtrip flight on American Airlines from Sacramento, Calif., to Harrisburg, Penn., via Phoenix through Orbitz for herself and her husband, using her credit card.

Then American canceled both the Phoenix-to-Harrisburg and Harrisburg-to-Phoenix flights and issued vouchers to the passengers.

But the Robinsons didn’t want the vouchers because they don’t travel often. She contacted American Airlines and Orbitz to request a refund, but both companies refused her request because the tickets were nonrefundable.

Unfortunately, the next step Robinson took made her situation worse. She contacted her credit card company and disputed the charge for the tickets. The credit card company removed the charge.

Then Robinson heard from Expedia (the parent company of Orbitz). According to Expedia’s agent, when Robinson disputed the charge for the tickets on her credit card, “the terms and conditions of the purchase were broken” and Expedia would have to recharge her for the cost of the tickets.

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The agent added: “Failure to collect payment may result in your account being sent to collections and possibly blocked from future purchasing on our sites.”


At that point, Robinson asked our advocates for help in getting Expedia to drop its threat of collection action, asking: “How could Expedia collect on something I have not used?” (Our website’s contacts section includes executive contact information for both American Airlines and Orbitz.)

Her confusion is understandable based on a reading of American Airlines’ contract of carriage, which holds that

In the event the refund is required because of American’s failure to operate on schedule or refusal to transport, the following refund will be made directly to you. …
If the ticket is partially used, the refund will be the difference between the fare paid and the fare for the transportation actually used as determined by the applicable rules.

As American Airlines, not Robinson, was responsible for the cancellation, Robinson thought that this provision of the contract of carriage should apply to her situation even though her tickets were nonrefundable. American disagreed. And Orbitz took American’s side.

Orbitz’s terms of use contains the following provision:

You agree to abide by the terms and conditions of purchase imposed by any supplier with whom you elect to deal, including, but not limited to, payment of all amounts when due and compliance with the supplier’s rules and restrictions regarding availability and use of fares, products, or services.

So in Orbitz’s view, by disputing the charge for nonrefundable tickets, Robinson violated this provision of its terms of use.

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Because of Robinson’s confusion, our advocates reached out to both American Airlines and Orbitz on her behalf. Although American reiterated that her tickets were nonrefundable, it agreed to issue a refund to Robinson for the Phoenix-to-Harrisburg and Harrisburg-to-Phoenix portions of her tickets through Orbitz, which was in the form of – you guessed it – vouchers.

Should Val Robinson have been issued a refund instead of vouchers for the unused portions of her tickets?

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  • Alan Gore

    American absolutely owes the pax a refund for flights they canceled. You can’t flip worthless vouchers at people to cover a situation like this.

  • AJPeabody

    “We cancelled your flight. We are keeping your money. Fly somewhere else.”

    They have to be kidding!

  • Michael Gunders

    Something really seems strange about this case. Some details don’t get answered. What did they do once they got to Phoenix? Did they get to Harrisburg?

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    How the heck can they cancel a flight and then give vouchers? If they can’t be bothered to operate the flight you are owed your money back in full, at least

  • American voided the contract by failing to perform.
    Time for a DOT complaint.

  • Rebecca

    Unless I’m missing something, this is outrageous. If the flight is canceled, the OP is absolutely due a cash refund. She needs to formally dispute the debt AND file a DOT complaint. It’s actually relatively easy to dispute the debt, and she needs to do it, via certified or registered mail, immediately. If it’s already on her credit report, she needs to dispute it with the credit bureau as well.

  • Bill___A

    If they cancel the flight, it is a refund. Full refund.

  • greg watson

    Non Refundable, should not apply, in any way, if the airline cancels the flight. One of the best lessons, that I have learned from this site, is to search 3rd party sites for a good deal & try & make the same deal directly with the business who is offering the service.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Yup. That’s exactly what they are doing. This should not even be legal.

  • PsyGuy

    This is easy tell Orbitz/Expedia/American to kick rocks. She already won with her credeit card, if they caharge again, she will win again, and if they send her to collections, then she can and should file suite and ask for punitive damages, which she will likely receive.

  • PsyGuy

    This is American they aren’t kidding.

  • PsyGuy

    It’s not,businesses (airlines included) say all kinds of things that aren’t legal or enforceable.

  • PsyGuy

    American breached the contract by failing to perform, and their breach obstructed the PAX from performing.

  • PsyGuy

    Well that’s an option the other option is you get a refund, which is what the PAX elected.

  • Bill___A

    I’m not sure that’s an option they offered with “no penalty”. In fact, I think what they must have been offered was a different flight, hence the problem.

  • Pegtoo

    Copied and filed. Thanks. (Hope I never need it)

  • Lindabator

    I don’t think we are getting the whole story here. Is it possible to see HOW this was ticketed, and a full explanation?

  • Michael__K

    According to AA’s contract, failure to operate a flight on schedule should be grounds for choosing an Involuntary Refund which should result in a refund for the unused segments. AA asserts the right to issue the refund in whatever country or currency it chooses, but I don’t think AA vouchers count as a “currency.”

  • AAGK

    That’s not how credit card disputes work.
    A merchant may still seek payment/send account to collections/sue the consumer regardless of what the card issuer decides. To the extent that the merchant takes action against a consumer that violates the terms of its own merchant agreement with the card issuer, that is between them.

    Also, I wonder how were the tickets partially used? Did she take the trip with new routing, at no additional cost and were the vouchers a customer service gesture? If the Airline didn’t get her where she needed to be when she needed to be there, it should refund the cash plus any price diff if she paid another airline.

  • PsyGuy

    Yes, that is how CC’s work. A collection account or a lawsuit is completely separate from a chargeback or CC dispute. Let them do either, a judge isn’t going to rule for either the airline or the OTA.

  • Greg Paul

    I guess now isn’t the best time to be asking this, what with the fall of civilization fast approaching but…couldn’t a very simple, ironclad FAA ruling that refunds must be in the same form they were made (cash or credit card) and with the same speed that the money was taken (tens of milliseconds to single-digit seconds) eliminate all this Monopoly money hijinx?

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