Help, my American Airlines ticket credit disappeared

1-american tailQuestion: We had to cancel a cruise recently because my husband needed to have surgery. I called American Airlines to cancel the flight and was told that the tickets would be good for one year from the day they were purchased.

But when I called the airline to rebook, I was told the tickets were worthless because I was a “no show.”

I’ve called American Airlines several times and they keep insisting that we have lost the tickets. I called Expedia, the online travel agency through which we booked the tickets, and they show that the tickets were canceled.

I don’t want my money back — I just wanted to use the tickets for another trip in two months. I would appreciate anything you could do to help. — Miriam Bustamonte, San Francisco

Answer: Your credit should still be good. But how can you know if it is?

Normally, when a business cancels a service, it offers you a cancellation number. If you get a cancellation number, be sure to keep it for future reference, just in case someone questions your order. If you didn’t, then you need to get one. A business should be able to offer some kind of proof in writing that you forfeited a product or service.

And what if it doesn’t? Well, then it’s your word against its word if there’s ever a dispute like the one you’re having. And businesses — and specifically airlines — have a way of believing their own version of events. American thinks you didn’t show up for your flight.

I can understand why American would want to keep your money if you were a “no show.” It didn’t have the opportunity to resell your seats, so it lost money. Still, if you tried to cancel, there should be some record of it, somewhere.

I would have handled this cancellation differently. Since you booked your tickets through Expedia, I would have canceled my tickets directly through the online travel agency and insisted that it provide evidence of the cancellation in writing. Expedia would have been able to let American know of your change in plans. At the very least, I would have let Expedia know of your cancellation, preferably in writing.

After that, you needed to get a paper trail going: written proof that your flights were canceled — preferably a cancellation number of some kind — and then, when American denied credit, use the back-and-forth emails between you and the airline. (These emails can easily be forwarded to a supervisor, if necessary.)

Calling American or Expedia wasn’t the best idea. There’s no evidence of these conversations, so they’re not even worth having, when it comes to a grievance like yours.

I contacted American on your behalf and it restored your credit.

Is it too easy to lose an airline ticket credit?

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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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  • technomage1

    Get it in writing or it doesn’t exist seems to be the take away here. Did American really think a customer would not show for a flight and then randomly try to rebook it later? And it is also surprising they would not take expedia’s word for it either. What poor service.

  • johnb78

    Surely Miriam’s comment “I called Expedia, the online travel agency through which we booked the tickets, and they show that the tickets were canceled” implies that there *was* some kind of record of cancellation held in some kind of database, which Expedia was able to access (and which American should have been able to access)?

  • Elizabeth Smith

    I agree that a “paper trail” is much better than a phone call. Depending on the airline, there is either a cancellation confirmation page or an e-mail is generated if you cancel a ticket online directly with the airline. I always print the cancellation confirmation page. I have never received a cancellation confirmation number, as the record locator of the original ticket is what you need to redeem the residual value less the change fee. With most airlines, the residual value usually shows in your frequent flyer account for easy redemption. However, YMMV (your mileage may vary) depending on carrier.

  • MeanMeosh

    I wouldn’t necessarily assume that there was a definite record because Expedia told her the ticket was “canceled”. If the airline voided the ticket because of a no-show, the Expedia rep she talked to might have just seen that and told her it was “canceled”. But since AA reinstated the ticket credit so quickly in this case, I suspect you are indeed correct.

    The bigger lesson here is that if you book a ticket through a TA, online or otherwise, always handle the cancellation directly through the TA. They would have a clear record of it in case of a dispute like this. In fact, many
    airlines won’t even handle the cancellation if you try to call them directly. They’ll just direct you back to the agency you booked with.

  • JenniferFinger

    With any kind of travel problem, always, always, always have a paper trail. Phone calls by themselves with no paper trail to back it up always gives the company some loophole for backing out of agreements. And as Chris notes, they’re eager to take advantage. They are for-profit enterprises, after all.

  • JenniferFinger

    Yeah, I agree. But not getting a paper trail always seems to be a loophole that travel companies, which are after all for-profit companies, try to exploit.

  • Harry Baxter

    I’ve found that in many cases, companies like Expedia and Travelocity just get in the way when one has a problem. After a couple of bad experiences, I decided that their “value added” is close to zero, and I don’t use them anymore.

  • Josh S

    Add to this the fact that many places refuse to give you a written summary of a phone call. Just a verbal reference number that can be misread, transcribed incorrectly, or whatever. Or even, “Trust me, I’ve put the details in the notes on your account,” when those ‘notes’ vanish or were never there in the first place.

    Yet many places make it impossible to conduct business via email or other written form. Either they don’t respond to inquiries or they make you call to verify security before they allow you to complete transactions.

    It all happens on their terms, so they can dictate the interaction. A lot of times it’s either error or mistakes by (underpaid, poorly-trained) customer service reps rather than malice. But there are times that they want to make it intentionally difficult too, so you can’t ever ‘prove’ you did what you said.

    It’s a racket.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    She booked through Expedia but cancelled through American? Sort of explains the confusion, doesn’t it?

  • Peg

    And many companies lead you through their “contact us” link…which is a form of email but leaves me NO record of the written correspondence. When you fill in the blanks and click “send”…it’s gone. I try to remember to do a screen shot (including date and time on my screen) before sending, so I have some record (?) of the communication.

  • EdB

    “If you get a cancellation number, be sure to keep it for future reference, just in case someone questions your order.”

    Even getting that number, a cancellation or confirmation number, isn’t always helpful. I had an incident with SouthWest airlines where I called and booked a flight. Got a confirmation number, read it back and verified it. When I didn’t see the charge show up after 3 days, I called and asked what was happening. I gave them the confirmation number and they said it was *INVALID*! This after reading it back after getting it the first time. Their records showed I had called and was offered this fare but they said I didn’t book it, even though I gave them my credit card number. They said it was in the record but couldn’t explain why I would have given it to them if I was not trying to book it. Now the fare I had originally booked was no longer valid and to get that flight, the only seats left were almost twice as expensive! They said there was nothing they could do and I would have to pay the new fare. Well, there was something I could do. I booked the flight on another airline and have never flown SouthWest again.

  • cjr001

    I’ve said for awhile now that Expedia is probably fine to use… until you have a problem. Then it’s one more middle man you have to deal with.

  • Nigel Appleby

    Another example of when booking through a good bricks and mortar travel agent and then (in this case) cancelling through the same travel agent would have been much better.

  • Asiansm Dan

    May be I am and old grumpy traveler but I miss the old paper tickets. Never have problem even in case of travel disruption as flight cancellation, strike, etc… I had much better service while re-booking on the Airlines and specially other Airlines. When traveling full-fare economy (paid by employer) or less-restricted fare, other Airlines re-book me on First or Business Class. Others Airlines are happy to take my paper tickets and endorsed it in case of strike or cancellation. Now it seems I am stuck with the same airlines, their website or phone answering machines. With full-fare I can always cancel without penalty but my credit cards are not unlimited. With paper tickets I didn’t need to handout my credit cards again. They just endorse the tickets.

  • bodega3

    A no show in a reservation can mean your fare is no longer useable as you forfeit the funds by not canceling your reservation. A canceled airline reservation does not come back in the PNR with a cancelation number. In the history of the PNR the date of the cancelation is noted, the agent who took the cancelation is noted and the ticket number, when the proper entry is typed in, will show open. You have one year from the time of ticketing, no the travel date, to utilize the funds.

  • flutiefan

    exactly what i was thinking. we don’t have a “cancellation number” when we cancel a reservation. it’s just the PNR that has funds remaining.

  • bodega

    Since Expedia issued the tickets, they can do the entry in their GDS and see if the tickets show up as open. Very simple to do and not sure if this is what the OP means by showing canceled or not.
    As for Chris wanting something in ‘writing’ showing the reservation was canceled. I do a screen shot, copy it and email it to the client showing that there are no segments in their PNR and I also display the XHK in history so they have that, too.

  • MarkKelling

    Since the ticket was purchased through a travel agency, why is the OP insisting on dealing directly with the airline? Nothing within the posted details states the OP tried to have Expedia apply the funds to a new ticket or anything more than Expedia stating they show the cancellation. All of this should have been handled through Expedia since this is where the original ticket was bought – unless Expedia is wanting to charge service fees and the OP is trying to avoid them.

    If the OP would have booked the flights directly with the airline originally, there may have been a lot less confusion. What does using Expedia, or any other online agency, give you on domestic airline tickets that buying direct does not? A couple dollars in savings? Seems nothing but frustration.

  • TonyA_says

    Something is wrong here. It should be very easy to cancel a RESERVATION before departure. You can either call the airline or your travel agent (if you used one). All they do is cancel all the flight segments in your itinerary. There is nothing else to it. Your ticket is still good one year from date of issue. (No need for confirmation number. You can try to view your reservation afterwards and if you can still see it then it was NOT cancelled. You should not be able to pull up a cancelled itinerary.)

    Now here is where I think the problem is. The OP called American Airlines (AA) to try to exchange/reissue a new ticket when they had an OTA in the first place. Since Expedia shows the RES was cancelled, then they could have done the exchange and reissued a new ticket for her.

    Unless the passenger was trying to get out of the change penalty by using a medical reason, then AA should have not been involved at all with the exchange.
    I’m not sure if the OP was trying to get AA to issue a certificate or voucher when she cancelled. That point was not clear.

  • oldft

    “Get it in writing” or, at least a file number ALWAYS!!

  • MarkieA

    C’mon! Really? Use a travel agency to book a simple, round trip flight? Just because it MIGHT have saved some frustration here, I think that using a travel agency for this type of transaction is overkill.

  • bodega3

    I would disagree…go figure :-)

  • bodega3

    With the airlines, it is called a confirmaiton number and even with a cancelation, that is the the number you still use. You could ask for a copy of the PNR, which can be sent by email so show no segments, but what you really want is to see the history and I doubt Expeida or the likes would do that…but a brick and mortor agency would. I do it all the time!

  • commentfromme

    Elliot should help you with this situation.

  • EdB

    He probably would have if he had been around when this happened. :)

  • jpp42

    Tony maybe you can explain the difference between a ticket and a reservation in this case? I know there are technical differences but in the world of e-Tickets I think the background on this would be relevant.

  • TonyA_says

    Difference between a RESERVATION versus TICKET

    A reservation is a confirmed booking for space on a particular itinerary (composed of flight segments). A reservation can be unpaid or paid.

    Once a reservation is paid, a ticket is issued. A travel agent or an airline can issue the tickets. A ticket is composed of one coupon per flight segment.

    The flights on the reservation and the ticket(s) must be the same (or in sync). Therefore it is important that after you pay for a booking to inspect the (e)ticket and make sure they are:
    a) the same flights as the reservation.
    b) the status of the coupons are OPEN FOR USE.

    If you have tickets already and CANNOT make your flights, you must cancel YOUR RESERVATION before departure (some airlines want 24 hours prior). If you do not cancel your reservation and miss your departure, you will be a NOSHOW (and lose the whole value of your ticket). The point is you need to tell the airline that you won’t be occupying the confirmed space so they can sell it to someone else.

    Note that you cancel your RESERVATION and not the ticket. To cancel a reservation, the agent simply deletes the flights segments from the itinerary of your reservation. In the case of the OP, the agent will remove all the segments so the OP will no longer have an itinerary. When they do this, the airline will remove you from the flight (roster). But your ticket still has value (for one year past issue date). The ticket can either be refunded or exchanged for a new ticket (subject to the fare rules). To exchange for a new ticket, all the agent has to do is create a new reservation and use the value of the old ticket minus the change fee (plus any additional collection like fare difference).

    While you can CANCEL a reservation with the agency that booked you or the airline directly; you should go back to the same agency (if you used one) to reissue the new ticket.Some fares are actually even “marked” as refund only through the same agency.

    Sometimes an airline will “take control” of your ‘ticket’ from a travel agency. But that should not have been the case here UNLESS the OP was trying to get a certificate or voucher for the FULL AMOUNT of her ticket to avoid any change fees (because of a VALID reason). Almost all agencies will charge a separate fee for changing a booking or reissuing a ticket (since they have to do some work). I think that this is what the OP was trying to do but of course I cannot prove it.

    I hope I explained this to y’alls approval.

  • bodega3

    Need to clarifiy something. Many carriers no longer allow a change fee to be deducted from the old ticket. So you have to apply the value of the old ticket, plus pay a change fee and any additional fare and taxes should the new ticket cost more. Also, if you don’t use all the value of the first ticket on the second, many carriers do not allow the residual to be carried over for future use.

    Also, many carriers only require that you to cancel up to the time of the first segment’s departure (actual time zone time) to retain the value of the ticket. This is usually on US domestic flights. You can have the issuing agency cancel the reservation or you can call the carrier. To reuse the value of the ticket, if it was issued by an agency, the carrier will usually require you to go back to the agency for reissue.