This refund request should have been easy. Why did American make it so hard?

By | December 18th, 2016

When Eileen Swindling books two American Airlines tickets, the airline sends her a confirmation. When she’s charged more than the amount in the email, she expects a fast refund. But she doesn’t get one. Can our advocates help?

Question: After spending considerable time researching airfares, I purchased two round-trip tickets from Miami to Quito, Ecuador, for $419 through American Airlines’ website for myself and my husband. The base cost of each ticket was $295, and “taxes and carrier-imposed fees” were $124 each, totaling $838. American Airlines listed these amounts in the “eTicket Itinerary & Receipt Confirmation” email it sent me.

But the actual charge for the tickets that appeared on my credit card statement was $858 – a difference of $20. While this is not a huge amount, it is clearly a bait-and-switch technique that could affect countless travelers.

I called American Airlines to request a refund of the $20. Two representatives of American told me that the extra $10 per ticket was for an international fee, over which they had no control. They referred me to American Airlines’ customer relations department without providing me with a telephone number for the department.

I then emailed the department to ask for the refund. Its only response was an automated acknowledgment of my email, providing a reference number and “letting you know that we received your comments and will be responding shortly.”

I’m still waiting for my refund. Can you help me get American Airlines to issue it to my credit card? — Eileen Swindling, Highland Beach, Fla.

Answer: You were clearly frustrated by American Airlines’ charging you an extra amount for your tickets after confirming the price to you. The confirmation should have listed all taxes and fees – including the additional amount, which turned out to be taxes that were omitted because of a computer glitch.

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The representatives you dealt with should have resolved your issue when you spoke to them, or alternatively, provided you with a working telephone number for the Customer Relations department. And they definitely should not have kept you waiting so long for your refund.

That said, your case did have some problems. You didn’t help matters by using all caps in your emails to American, which is the online equivalent of shouting, and accusing the airline of a “scam” and “bait-and-switch” tactics.

You might have escalated your complaint using our company contacts for American Airlines. You turned instead to our advocacy team for help in getting your refund.

American Airlines’ conditions of carriage contain the following provision regarding fare changes and erroneous fares:

AA reserves the right to cancel tickets issued with an erroneously quoted fare due to a technical failure or mistake, including but not limited to a fare filing error, computer error or third party error (either human or mechanical), prior to the erroneous fare being detected and corrected. AA, as a policy, does not intend to file fares that are erroneous or are reasonably apparent as erroneous. Where an erroneous fare has been published and a ticket issued at the erroneous fare, AA will void such ticket and notify the passenger that the ticket has been cancelled (i) within 72 hours of becoming aware of the publishing of an erroneous fare, or (ii) at least 24 hours prior to the passenger’s scheduled departure time in cases where the ticket is purchased less than 72 hours before the scheduled departure from the point of origin. AA will provide a refund of the total cost of a ticket purchased at the erroneous fare price to passengers so notified.

According to this provision, American will void tickets with erroneous fares and issue refunds of the total ticket costs. But you didn’t want your tickets voided – only the refund of the price differential.

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Our advocates reached out to American Airlines on your behalf. After we contacted American, an agent of American called you, but unfortunately, she was resistant to discussing the problem with you or offering you anything other than 5,000 frequent flier points. You told her that you would “accept that as her effort to make some progress, but that [you] did not consider this to be an acceptable resolution.” The agent did agree not to cancel your tickets.

But our advocates heard from another agent of American Airlines that the additional charges of $10 per ticket were for taxes that had been omitted from your confirmation. The agent agreed to refund the additional charges to you.

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