Why was my refund issued in travel vouchers?

By | May 24th, 2017

If an airline offers you compensation in the form of a voucher, be sure you understand the rules and conditions that come with it. Andria Benjamin of the United Kingdom didn’t. That led to a dispute with American Airlines that she couldn’t win.

Benjamin booked a trip to the U.S. for her family. She used four American Airlines travel vouchers, worth $800 each, to buy two adult and two child tickets. She used one voucher for each ticket. However the adult fares were each a little more than the value of the vouchers. So she paid the difference, about 22 British pounds each (about $55 for the four tickets) by credit card.

Everything seemed OK until she got an unexpected refund. American sent her two vouchers, denominated in British pounds and worth about $93 each. You would normally expect someone getting a refund to be happy.

But it ended up making her angry because she wanted the $55 that was charged to her credit card to be refunded first, with only the remainder in vouchers.

“I emailed them to ask for our credit card to be reimbursed instead of vouchers that we are unable to use because we cannot afford another holiday,” said Benjamin. “They refused. I can’t believe this is legal. They should have given us our cash back first and then once that was reimbursed, if there was more to refund, only then used transportation vouchers.”

I can understand her frustration. It didn’t help matters that the first email reply from the airline not only did a poor job of explaining things but also included this inaccurate statement: “The second reason you were issued a voucher as a refund is because we do not have the capability to issue credit card refunds to anyone who lives outside of the United States.”

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That statement struck her as illogical, unreasonable, and possibly illegal. She vented in an angry note to the airline threatening legal action if she didn’t get that $55 back.

Before we get into the meat of the issue, let’s take a moment to point out that the tone of her note didn’t help. And threatening legal action over such a small amount has no credibility. We have tips on how to write an effective complaint letter on our website. They’re worth reviewing before you vent in writing.

The real problem was that she was laboring under a set of false assumptions about the voucher refund policy, how her vouchers could be used, and how her family’s tickets were actually charged. She apparently never read American’s terms and conditions related to travel vouchers. The rules are clear that there are no cash refunds for unused vouchers.

Travel vouchers from any airline come with a number of restrictions that you should understand before you try to use them or even accept them in the first place.

We don’t know the circumstances under which Benjamin received the original vouchers. All she said to our advocate was that they were compensation, but she did not say for what. If they were compensation for denied boarding because a flight was oversold, she could have insisted on cash instead of vouchers. Here are American’s compensation rules for oversold flights.

She filed a complaint with the Department of Transportation and she wrote to us. It was the DOT that prompted a meaningful reply from the airline. Here are the key points from American’s response:

  • Each adult ticket cost more than the value of one voucher. That required the extra credit card charge for each adult ticket.
  • The child fares were less than the value of the vouchers. The refund she received was for the unused value of each voucher used to buy a child’s ticket.
  • Unused value of a voucher can only be refunded by another voucher.
  • American does process refunds back to the original form of payment (correcting the inaccurate statement by the first representative).
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After reading the airline’s detailed explanation, Benjamin seemed to accept its position. She did suggest that airline personnel include copies of the terms and conditions when they offer vouchers as compensation. That might have helped her understanding and avoided the anger.

We will label this as a “Case Dismissed.” The key takeaway here? It’s important to remember that vouchers are not equal to cash. They come with many restrictions and an expiration date. The airlines leave it up to you to know the rules when you accept or try to use vouchers.

There is one more reason she is not owed a refund. She and her family still have their tickets and as of this writing are still intending to take that trip to the United States. I hope they enjoy their visit.

  • Mel65

    Yikes! So angry over something so meaningless!

  • Rebecca

    I find it suspicious she isn’t saying why she received the vouchers in the first place. Why not? “Compensation” for what? Based on the information provided here, it really seems like she’s a difficult customer.

  • Bill___A

    One has to allow some leeway in these things. The world does not function perfectly and yes, read the terms. I hope they enjoy their trip and don’t flip out over anything else.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Just to make sure I’ve got this right, because it’s a little confusing at first…if I’m reading this correctly, two of the tickets cost $707 each. She paid for them with two $800 travel vouchers. So that left $93 due back to her as the unused portion of each voucher (total of $186). She wanted that $186 in cash – they gave it to her in travel voucher.

    I wouldn’t have expected the airline to provide them with cash for the unused portion of their vouchers. They are vouchers – funny money. They have no cash value – their only value is for purchasing tickets with the issuing airline. Why on earth would she expect to get cash back?

    The rest of the story told here – the cost of the other two tickets, what she had to pay in cash over and above those vouchers – is completely unrelated and has no bearing on the two transactions that resulted in the refund vouchers. Clearly it was her misunderstanding of how travel vouchers work that led to this.

    American did the right thing, and I’m glad that she finally seemed to grasp that she had no claim on anything else.

    But this does go to show why, when we’re legitimately due compensation from an airline (e.g. denied boarding, cancelled flight, whatever), we should always ask for real CASH MONEY, not airline funny-money. The article doesn’t explain where she got her vouchers from, so there’s no way to know if it was even possible that she could have received real money instead of vouchers – but in the context of this case, it doesn’t matter. She used vouchers, and she should have fully expected any unused portion of the vouchers to come back to her in a voucher.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I don’t know if it’s so much that she’s a difficult customer, versus just confused about how vouchers work. She seems to think they are worth actual money. They’re not.

    In the end, American provided an adequate explanation. Hopefully she can let this go and enjoy her family trip. It’s really not worth getting so worked up over such a small amount of money.

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