Someone exchanged my ticket without my knowledge and it cost me $4,000

When William Pierce tried to check in for his return flight from Dubai, an airline representative told him that his ticket had already been used. In order to return home, he had to pay for a new ticket. He doesn’t understand why. Neither do our advocates.

This is one of the oddest cases we’ve handled, because none of the parties involved can explain what happened to Pierce’s ticket. It’s a tale of miles redemption and airline alliances gone wrong.

Pierce redeemed American Airlines miles for a round-trip ticket on Qatar Airways from Philadelphia to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, via Doha, Qatar. He and a companion traveled to Dubai together with no problems on the outbound flight.

But their trip home was another story altogether. Although Pierce’s companion was able to check in with no problem, Pierce was told that his ticket had been “exchanged” for a flight on British Airways and used. He says that he did not ask to exchange his ticket and was never notified of the change.

He tried to call American Airlines from the Doha airport, as did Qatar Airways personnel, with no success. In order to fly home, Pierce had to purchase another ticket on Qatar Airways for $4,000.

Upon his return, Pierce requested a reimbursement for his replacement ticket from American Airlines. Here’s Pierce on American’s response:

American Airlines is refusing to reimburse me for the expense saying they will not pay for [a ticket on] another airline and that I had to have been notified about the change and could have dealt with it. I was never notified, and why wasn’t the other person’s flight schedule also changed?

I asked why I would have shown up to the airport to check in if I had known of a new time. They said I should have tried to keep reaching AA. I felt I had no other choice since I was traveling with someone and the plane was leaving.

Pierce escalated his complaint to American Airlines, British Airways and Qatar Airways executives (we list contact information for all of these airlines), but he was given a runaround:

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American Airlines told me it was exchanged to a British Airways ticket which it cannot access. [Its agent] asked BA and Qatar Airways to contact me and they never did. I emailed back and she asked them again and they never did.

At an earlier point I talked with Qatar and [its agent] said around that time they had a computer glitch and it was possible mine was deleted but that I’d have to talk to AA so I was back to where I started.

With none of the airlines involved helping him, Pierce contacted our forum for assistance. Our forum members advised Pierce to use our company contacts to write a concise letter of complaint to the executives for each airline, starting with the lowest level executives listed and escalating through the corporate hierarchies. Although Pierce followed this advice, he had no success in getting the cost of his flight home refunded.

Pierce then turned to our advocacy team. We reached out to American Airlines on Pierce’s behalf, but learned only that someone initiated and exchanged Pierce’s ticket on British Airways through Qatar Airways.

Neither American Airlines’ International General Rules Tariff nor Qatar Airways’ U.S. customer service commitment addresses a situation like Pierce’s, involving a ticket exchange. But both provide for prompt ticket refunds to the original form of payment used to purchase the tickets. Since Pierce redeemed frequent flyer miles to buy his original ticket, American refunded the miles he redeemed for the original return ticket back to his account.

Pierce isn’t happy with this outcome. He wants a cash refund for the $4,000 ticket he purchased from Qatar Airways to fly home. American has indicated that its agents contacted Qatar Airways, asking them to investigate the matter and contact Pierce directly, but so far nobody at Qatar Airways has done so. American Airlines itself is not willing to offer any additional compensation to Pierce. And nobody has come up with an explanation for how his ticket was exchanged in the first place.

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Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    The guy’s been robbed of $4000, by a computer glitch, it looks like

  • DChamp56

    It’s amazing what airlines can get away with, because there’s no oversight.

  • Alan Gore

    Lack of oversight, but most especially lack of internal logging for accountability. The airline employees posting here claim that the total inability of front-line employees to resolve consumer problems is required by policy to prevent fraud. In other businesses, internal logging of employee activity allows audited flexibility.

    In this case, a customer was defrauded, or hit with a computer glitch, but we have no idea what happened because Qatar did not keep records on what happened to LW’s return ticket.

  • Lindabator

    we aren’t getting the whole story here – what ticket was it exchanged for? and was that ticket travelled on, because only someone with the same name could have used it. weird

  • Zarkov505

    Disclaimer: I am not an attorney.

    $4000 is enough money that it seems appropriate for him to speak with an attorney and possibly initiate civil legal proceedings. As his contract was with American Airlines, who acted as his agent for the booking with Qatar, it seems to me that his recourse will be against American Airlines, in their agency role.

  • Dutchess

    $4000 is within small claims limits, so barring a binding arbitration agreement in AA’s mileage program it would be much cheaper and easier to pursue this in a small claims court. But call me cynical, if you do sue them don’t expect AA to keep your FF account open. Spend those miles first!

  • deemery

    International flight, they have to check the passport for the ticket holder! This story just doesn’t make sense. I don’t know if they store the passport information with the reservation and check that, but at the least the agent accepting the ticket in trade and the agent letting the person with the exchanged ticket both have the obligation to check passports!

  • John Baker

    Something stinks here and its not the brussel sprouts…

    Someone used the ticket.. They should be able to track that. They have a ticket number which can give them the check in info.


    What carrier was the ticket issued on? (Three digits at the start of the ticket tell the carrier I have learned.) If that was an AA ticket then AA is able to pull up the ticket history and say what happened. And if it was their frequent flyer miles chances are that the ticket was an AA ticket. American should be able to explain what happened. Their unwillingness to do so tells me that the airlines botched this up big time and think that it will remain hidden. Sounds like human error (maybe even intentionally) rather than a computer glitch.

  • Mel65

    We’ve seen some odd stories here, but this is at the top. How could someone else travel on his ticket? Unless your name is John Smith, that seems wildly unlikely. A computer glitch seems much more likely but was he the only one affected?? I’d love to know the whole story!!

  • Attention All Passengers

    Right, tickets are like checks – the ticket number tells the issuing carrier (AA?) just about everything – exchanged from what ticket number to another, (new?) name on ticket, routing, when used. My guess is also that there could have been a computer mixup in that whoever (a BA agent?) did the exchange ticket may have entered the wrong ticket number even by one digit. I don’t know if it is still possible but there is actually a way to override certain digits at the beginning of the ticket number to make it attach to something else. I know it sounds crazy but it is true. Possibly a scamming agent on the inside who knew how to do this for a “friend” ? I would love to see what the TICKETING CARRIER could find out – sounds possible given it was an AA/BA combination. Ticket fraud.

  • cscasi

    So, was this a case of someone else used the return portion of his ticket or had there been a schedule change which he did not know about? He stated:
    “American Airlines is refusing to reimburse me for the expense saying they will not pay for [a ticket on] another airline and that I had to have been notified about the change and could have dealt with it. I was never notified, and why wasn’t the other person’s flight schedule also changed?

    I asked why I would have shown up to the airport to check in if I had known of a new time. They said I should have tried to keep reaching AA. I felt I had no other choice since I was traveling with someone and the plane was leaving.”

    Seems to me he was supposedly sent a change to his scheduled departure and never checked while he was in Dubai to see if there had been any change(s) to his return flight.

    Then American told him that his return ticket had been exchanged to a BA flight (which may explain where the problem lay). A Qatar Airlines agent told him that there was a computer glitch (how convenient) about the time this happened and perhaps that was caused his reservation to be deleted. How could that have happened if his ticket was exchanged for a British Airways flight from Dubai to back home? Something really smells rotten here.
    Still, this may have been avoided by his checking his return flight online a couple of times before it was time for him to leave. He just might have caught the issue and have been able to get it corrected before appearing at the airport. Not saying what happened was his fault but had he checked his reservation status while he was in Dubai, at least the error might have been able to be corrected.
    I still do not know if he was actually ticketed to return home on a British Airways flight and why he did not go on it when he had issues at check in; unless that flight had already departed. I feel sorry for him that he had to pay $4000 for a walk up fare to get home.

  • jim6555

    If the ticket number begins with 001, it’s definitely AA. Anything else, it’s probably Qatar.

  • Gary K

    Since AA miles were used, it should have been an AA ticket, and AA should be responsible for sorting out what happened. Personally, I would discount anything Qatar says because they’re only a third party (although may end up being liable). At the end of the day, if the ticket were used on a BA flight, then AA paid BA to carry that passenger, at whatever rate is agreed between the airlines, and there is a record of that transaction somewhere in AA’s systems, even if the front-line folks can’t find it. This may still have an unhappy ending though because it sounds like AA refunded in mileage.

  • Gary K

    It doesn’t sound like it was “his” ticket once it was exchanged. On a reissue, whoever created the new ticket could’ve entered any name they wanted to. We’ve all heard the stories about name errors on tickets where the airlines or the OTAs say that you have to buy a new ticket to get the correct, i.e. different, name. An exchange would create also a new ticket, which would have a ticket # reference back to the original – hopefully that audit trail will enable OP to get some relief from AA once he gets to the right level (if anyone at AA cares at all).

  • joycexyz

    Maybe a “fat finger” by an airline employee? Someone else may have requested the change, and the employee mistakenly cancelled Pierce’s ticket??? Don’t they keep records?

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    I think, in this unusual situation, this would be better handled by an attorney because it might require joinder of all three airlines as parties, with discovery motions against each airline to find out with whom, precisely, the ticket was exchanged. If the OP has a friend who would handle it pro bono, that would be ideal, or if there is a customer focused legal advocacy group (new line of work for Chris?) in appropriate cases. In Maryland, at least, you can’t do discovery in small claims.

  • John McDonald

    hey it’s easy to hack the CIA, what chance have airlines got in keeping hackers out of their systems.

  • John McDonald

    you’re forgetting hacking, where a good hacker can do anything

  • Michael__K

    Why aren’t AA/Qatar providing these details?

    According to the customer, in the forums: “In speaking with Qatar they noted they had a computer glitch and several customers found themselves in this situation.

  • pauletteb

    If the AA miles were used for a ticket on a partner airline, wouldn’t the ticket have been issued on that airline?

  • Mel65

    But every Airline clearly states in their TOCs that tickets are not transferable so they will charge you to correct a name from Joan Smith to John Smith but you can’t correct the name from John Smith to Bob Johnson and it sounds like that’s what would have had to happen here in order for his ticket to have been used by someone else and that would have violated the airline’s own policies so there’s definitely something we are not hearing or rather reading.

  • Gary K

    No, I don’t think so. Admittedly my experience is with UA, but every award ticket I have purchased with miles is issued by UA, regardless of the operating carrier (s), and I think that they all work the same way.

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