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.

Related story:   No paper trail, no case, and absolutely nothing to laugh about

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. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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