Now that I don’t need the miles I purchased, can I get a refund?

Jessica Peterson wants a refund for her American Airlines miles. She bought 17,000 miles to cover the cost of a ticket, but then American Airlines lowered the number of miles needed for the transaction. Now, the airline is balking at helping her undo the transaction.

Her story is another reminder of playing the points game. And, that when it comes to refunds, the money flows in one direction.

Peterson wanted to redeem American Airlines AAdvantage miles for two tickets from Austin to London. She successfully booked her husband’s ticket using 30,000 of his AAdvantage miles. Next, she tried to book her ticket on the same flight, using her AAdvantage miles. But the award redemption level had increased to 47,500. So, Peterson bought an extra 17,000 AAdvantage miles at a cost of $474. When she tried, again, to book the flight with her miles, the redemption level had decreased to 30,000.

Of course, she quickly booked the ticket and redeemed her 30,000 award miles. But now she had 17,000 miles that she didn’t need, or want, at a cost of $474.

Peterson wanted to return the 17,000 extra miles and get a refund of her $474, but American Airlines refused. The American Airlines agent told Peterson that once she input her credit card information for the purchase, she agreed to its terms and conditions. Those terms and conditions clearly provide that “transactions are nonrefundable and nonreversible.”

Peterson posted her dilemma to our help forums, which are staffed by travel industry experts, and often read by company executives. Peterson didn’t know if there was an error on the site, or a temporary glitch that made the price increase, then decrease so quickly. But, she said that she felt that American Airlines had “robbed” her, or engaged in a “bait and switch to make more profit.”

Related story:   “Even though some folks might not believe it, airlines have a heart”

Our forum advocates felt that Peterson was impatient in her purchase. Once the redemption amount fluctuated, Peterson should have waited and watched, before she bought more miles. Our advocates stressed that if someone is also trying to book the same flight, or just testing availability, inventory will fluctuate. Plus, our team pointed out that computers determine seat availability. People working for the airline don’t try to adjust inventory to get more money for a seat.

Playing the mileage game can be tricky. Peterson spent $474 for 17,000 miles because the redemption amount suddenly increased by 17,500 miles. Before she bought the extra miles, she should have asked a few questions. First, what is the redemption of an award mile really worth? Second, she should have compared the actual price of the ticket to the cost of the award ticket. She should have determined if it was worth it to spend $474 for 17,500 miles.

Peterson emailed American Airlines executives, using company contact information we list on our website. Peterson’s emails haven’t changed American Airlines’ position.

Should we try to advocate for Peterson?

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Diane Perera

Diane and her family love to travel, and they do so as much as they can. Having experienced the downside of travel, and having learned so much from, led Diane to become an advocate and to help fight the good fight.

  • Jeff W.

    Everything is automated. The article and forums are correct, the inventory fluctuated. The “cheaper” seats could have been released because of a refund or someone moved to higher class.

    Purchasing miles outright is almost always a bad deal for the consumer. $474 for a mere 17K miles is not even good enough to redeem for a US domestic flight. She paid 2.7 cents per mile. Most people place the value slightly above a penny a mile.

  • DReid

    Buying separate tickets from 2 different accounts is fraught with problems. I learned first hand when I purchased a ticket from my FF account, then changed to my husbands account to purchase his. Within 10 seconds, there were no other FF seats available. We ended up having to fly 2 separate airlines and meet up at the final destination. Now we simultaneously book them on 2 separate computers to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

    When you’re using points, you’re at the airlines mercy. Not a complaint, just a fact. To me, it’s worth it. As far as paying $474 for 17K miles, it’s too expensive. Buying miles from the airline rarely is cost effective.

    The bottom line is that she purchased those miles and would have been happy to use them for the ticket. Now that it’s less miles it’s just part of playing the points game. No refund is warranted.

  • Bill___A

    There is a good explanation for why she bought the miles. Although I don’t think American has to refund them, this is one of those cases where they should “take another look”.

  • AMA

    I use AA points often, but I book the awards tickets as far in advance as possible. Waiting til even a month before is guaranteed to double the amount they will charge. I’ve also figured out an alternative: if you don’t have enough points for two r/t tickets, you may have enough for one r/t and another one-way. Buy a separate one-way ticket with cash on a cheaper airline for one leg, and you’re still saving money. Do NOT waste your money buying points, under any circumstances.
    I got a r/t LAX>SXM ticket and a one-way SXM>BDL ticket with points, and only paid about $200 cash for a one-way BDL>SXM on JetBlue going down.

  • AAGK

    Buying miles is a terrible idea. She should’ve bought the ticket in cash and just earned more miles on it. She wasn’t impatient. She wanted to make sure she had a ticket with her spouse. However, the airline understood this and adjusted accordingly bc it knew she would pay more for a seat on that flight than someone else.

    I wouldn’t advocate this. The price dropped post purchase. This happens all the time. She could have used the 24 hr cancellation but she would still be stuck with the 17k miles she decided to purchase.

  • AAGK

    The mileage purchase is a seperate purchase anyway. There would be 2 issues to overcome: refunding nonrefundable miles and wanting money back for a post purchase fare decrease. Those issues are most difficult to overcome.

  • AAGK

    Also, she has the miles. We all have overpaid for things and regretted it. I like JetBlue family pooling bc it avoids these scenarios.

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