Hey, where’s the rest of my refund?

Question: I’m having a problem with a refund for American Airlines tickets I booked through CheapOair.com.

We were flying from Kansas City to the Virgin Islands for my brother’s wedding, and our total fare was $1,643. When we arrived at the airport, an American Airlines representative told us our flight was canceled and handed us a slip of paper with a phone number and a message that said American “regretted” the inconvenience.

Since we knew we had to catch two different connecting flights that day, we rushed to call the number. After about five hours of trying to get a flight that would get us to the Virgin Islands in time for the wedding, we were left with one option: to arrive two days later than expected on the island, miss the wedding and two days of our five-day vacation. Plus, we were going to be charged about $1,000 extra for airline tickets because American Airlines would not cover the flight that we would have to take — it was going to be with an airline that they said they did not cover. And we would have had to find a place to stay in Puerto Rico for the night, another extra expense. None of the options were in our budget, so we decided to cancel our trip and miss the wedding.

American Airlines would only refund $1,313, which they said is the value of the tickets. That left $330. I sent e-mail messages to the customer relations department for CheapOair. I received one call back that was left on my answering machine from CheapOair that said they were looking into the matter and that they would get back to me in the next six to eight weeks. That was eight months ago. Can you help? — Ronnee Schweizer, New York

Answer: CheapOair should have promptly refunded your entire ticket. But there were so many things that should have been done differently — by you and by your online travel agency — that I’m not sure I have the space to cover everything.

Let’s begin with CheapOair. American Airlines would have notified the agency of a flight schedule change, and it should have contacted you quickly to let you know that your flight wasn’t leaving as scheduled. The only exception is a last-minute cancellation, which CheapOair couldn’t have known about.

When you decided to cancel your flight, American was required by federal regulation to refund the entire ticket within seven days. That money would have gone to CheapOair, and it should have passed the money along to you quickly — not in six to eight weeks, and definitely not in eight months.

You might have done things a little differently, too. First, always call to confirm your flights. It’s possible you could have found out about this cancellation earlier, which might have allowed you to reschedule the flight and still make the wedding.

When you learned of your cancellation, your first call should have been to CheapOair, which is your online travel agent. One of its helpful representatives might have had other options for getting you to the Virgin Islands on schedule. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have phoned American Airlines, too — only that CheapOair might have been able to save your trip.

I contacted CheapOair on your behalf. A company representative called you and said they were waiting to hear back from American Airlines about the $330. Even so, the company agreed to send you a check for the balance of your refund.

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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  • Michael__K

    You don’t want anyone who doesn’t sell insurance to dare to ask any questions or point out inconsistencies?

    You were invited to share your vast knowledge of the industry and tell us whether you know of any insurance product with a contractual provision that would have paid for the OP to get flights on another carrier to attend the wedding.

    That might be useful info to share with Chris Elliott’s readers. You ignored the question and changed the subject and asserted that the insurance you sell is special. Yet you refuse to tell us what makes your insurance different from any other.

    You imply here that travelers can expect more than is due them in the contract and yet elsewhere you’ve emphatically argued the mirror opposite.

    When asked to clarify, you don’t. Instead you attack me, because I don’t sell insurance. Is that supposed to help Chris’ readers?

  • Michael__K

    Could be, but based on my experience I wouldn’t dismiss out of hand the possibility that AA messed up. About 6 years ago I had a similar issue even though I bought my ticket directly from the airline’s (UA) website. It took about 7 months and a complaint to the DOT before I got a refund. (They responded to the DOT that I was already refunded, but the eventual credit was dated the day after their response to the DOT).