Zika bites my St. Kitts vacation — why won’t airline refund my ticket?

Sark Antaramian and his wife did everything right when they booked their vacation in St. Kitts. They booked on a reliable airline, reserved a room in a reputable hotel and took out a trip insurance policy.

Then Zika happened.

“We kept hearing reports about the Zika virus in the Caribbean,” he says. “We decided to cancel our trip because we are both senior citizens and susceptible to infections. We consulted with our cardiologist and internist, and both advised against going on this vacation. We also contacted CDC and they advised against going on this trip.”

So, red light from two doctors and the CDC. Yeah, I wouldn’t go either.

Marriott canceled their reservations, no problem. Antaramian filed a claim with AIG for his airfare.

“We filled out AIG’s claim forms, and included notes from the two doctors explaining why we should not go on this trip at this time,” he explains. “We waited five weeks to hear from AIG, and in the end our claim was rejected because we were not infected with the Zika virus. If we had gone to St. Kitts, and got infected, AIG said they would have paid for medical expenses and a flight back to Chicago.”

Not good. So what, exactly, is their airline’s Zika policy? At the time they were to fly, it was this:

If you’re pregnant and traveling to a destination in Latin America or the Caribbean affected by the Zika virus, you and your travel companions can request a refund for tickets purchased on or before March 31, 2016. Just provide a doctor’s note confirming your pregnancy when you request a refund.

No mention of senior citizens. The Antaramians were out of luck.

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They asked us to get involved in this story, and I’ll be honest, our advocates agonized over this one. The Antaramians did everything right but still got stuck with tickets they couldn’t use. While both American and AIG were technically right to deny their request and claim, we still got a feeling that something was very, very wrong with this picture.

“We wanted to get our airplane ticket cost back to us,” he said.

That makes three of us. While we deliberated, Antaramian made a last-ditch effort to contact American. (We list American Airlines’ customer service contacts on our site.)

And guess what? It worked. First American refunded his ticket, and after a delay, it also refunded his wife’s ticket.

But why? I think Antaramian made a compelling case for a refund of a nonrefundable ticket. He had dotted every “I” and crossed every “T” and still faced the loss of $1,486 in airline tickets.

We’re dismissing the case, but only because it had a happy ending.

Should American Airlines have refunded the Antaramians’ tickets?

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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 check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org.

  • Mel65

    Yes! I’m so glad this worked for them. We always sing the “Trip Insurance” song here and these people did all the right things.

  • sirwired

    Hmmm… as a matter of public policy, airlines should certainly be required to refund if you currently have a communicable disease where the CDC / public health authorities recommend you do not travel. I think it’s very frustrating that if you come down with the flu, noro, etc., the airlines will not refund you, which of course makes it more likely you’ll spread the illness. (This is how cruises end up with noro; somebody not feeling well travels anyway to avoid losing their fare.)

    But a disease you do not yet have? I think that’s a nice thing to do, but correctly should be a judgement call on the part of the airline. (It’d be too hard to codify exactly when it would be appropriate to issue such a refund.)

  • Pegtoo

    It’s Monday morning and I’ve voted twice now against offering help on two cases. Beware anyone else who crosses my path today!! I would expect to pay the change fee and pick a different destination. This refund is generous. Hope they appreciate it.

  • Annie M

    While it wasn’t required it was nice that American did. I am generally a rules are rules person but in this case the outcome was the right one and AA did the right thing.

  • cscasi

    It was nice of American to refund their tickets, even though AIG, their travel insurance company would not. American did not have to, but it did what was a nice gesture.

  • Lindabator

    actually – just a general “fear” of the virus is NOT enough for insurance. ONLY pregnant women were advised against travel, even by the CDC, so….

  • I think the real problem is American is defining a high risk individual, which legally only should only be done by a medical professional. Sure, pregnancy is high risk. I’m glad they included it. But there are also other high risk individuals left out by that paragraph. When AMerican starts defining high risk then they start to dance the fine line of practicing medicine.

  • Jonathan Woodman

    You may want to fact-check the couple’s story. They say the CDC advised them not to travel to St. Kitts. But unlike much of the Caribbean, St. Kitts is not under a Zika advisory. Even for countries in the Caribbean under a Zika advisory, the CDC is only recommending that travelers exercise precautions. It seems doubtful that the CDC “advised against going on this trip.”


  • Jonathan Woodman
  • LonnieC

    I would have voted “no”, but only because I think that AIG should have stepped up and covered the OPs’ losses. This wasn’t a case of the OPs “getting the vapors” because of the Zika virus. They were explicitly told by two (!) doctors and the CDC that they should not go. That’s a risk that insurance should reasonably cover.

  • MarkKelling

    The current CDC warning also covers men since the virus can be transmitted from infected men to their sex partners.

    But yes, having a fear of going somewhere, whatever the basis for the fear, is not enough for insurance.

  • MarkKelling

    I agree on the CDC part since there is nowhere I can find that states St. Kitts was ever under any kind of travel warning for Zika. Also, I doubt they were told anything directly by the CDC only that they read something on the website.

  • JewelEyed

    Except that they’re also finding a much higher risk for Guillain-Barre, which doesn’t just affect pregnant women and their fetuses.

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