I agreed to this American mileage award, but now I want a refund

After Patti McGuire books a flight using air miles, she gets a breakdown of how the miles were calculated and isn’t happy. Can we help her retrieve some of her miles?

Question:I’m a longtime American Airlines AAdvantage member and Citi AAdvantage credit card holder and have recently had a very negative experience with booking travel.

I called the AAdvantage customer service desk to inquire about availability and mileage for a trip for two people from San Francisco to Nadi in Fiji. Originally I was looking at a Sunday trip when there are direct flights, and was quoted 80,000 miles round trip per ticket. I did not make a reservation at that time.

In early June, after deciding that my husband and I wanted to spend more time in Fiji, even though we would not be able to take a direct flight home, I called back to inquire about alternate dates.

At that time, I was told the return flight was routing through Los Angeles and flying into San Jose, which was fine since I live in San Jose. When I was then quoted 110,000 miles per ticket I responded saying that it was quite a bit more than when I first inquired. I assumed that different dates had different availability and that maybe the award had gone up since my last call.

I received the confirmation email of my booking on June 6. When the email that outlines the mileage removed from my account came on June 7, I didn’t look at it, since I already knew the details of my trip.

A few days later, I opened the email and was shocked to see that a one-hour, one-way flight from Los Angeles to San Jose would cost 30,000 miles. I tried to call one day and was told by the agent that questions about mileage deductions needed to go to customer service and they were closed.

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I called back after a couple of weeks and after sitting on hold for about 30 minutes, I was connected to an agent who thought I had a valid claim, but needed to transfer me to the international agent.

I asked her for a supervisor and then proceeded to wait another 10 to 15 minutes before an agent, Ann, came on the line. She said there was nothing she could do about it because it had been a month and I was voluntarily making a change. After a somewhat hostile interaction, I asked her to either waive the rebooking fee and end my trip at Los Angeles or credit my account for a reasonable amount of miles and leave the trip as is. She refused to do either.   — Patti McGuire, San Jose,Calif.

Answer:When our advocate looked at what you had told us, she wasn’t sure you had a case and told you so. After all, you had been told how many miles were needed for the flight before you booked and had agreed to using that number of miles.

Your view was that had you known an extra 60,000 miles was needed to cover the last part of the flight, from Los Angeles to San Jose, you wouldn’t have used miles for that part of the journey. Instead you would have booked separate cheap flights for under $100 and saved the 60,000 miles.

“Since the agent didn’t explain this, I am asking that they either credit the 60,000 total miles or rebook the tickets ending at LAX without the rebooking charge,” you told our advocate.

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At Elliott our mission is to help consumers, and that can include helping them when they have made a mistake. What we will not do, however, is to seek to blame a company when it has done nothing wrong.

In this case I can’t see why American Airlines was required to explain how the miles were calculated.  You were happy to “pay” the 110,000 miles per person, and therefore in my view, how the amount was calculated was irrelevant.

Further, American sent you the breakdown of the mileage the day after you got your confirmation of booking. However, you chose not to open the email it until a few days later and, having tried to call American once and being told customer service was closed, you didn’t call back until a few weeks later.

I therefore don’t think American did anything wrong or was obligated to do anything to help.

I also think you went a bit over the top when you said:

All in all, this has been a terrible experience and I’m not likely to continue as a customer unless this is resolved to my satisfaction.

Of course, that didn’t stop our advocate from seeing what she could do. And the number of miles for the last part of the flight did seem high, so we contacted AA to see if it would be willing to help.

American explained to us that because no regular/partner mileage award seats were available, the agent charged you for an AAnytime award, which cost more. Its records also show that the agent did explain that to you at the time of booking.

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For those who are not familiar with how the the American Airlines miles system works, it is worth taking a peek at the award chart.

If your plans are flexible, then you book either a MileSAAver award or, on some routes, a MileSAAver off-peak ticket. If, however, you have to fly at a particular time, then an AAnytime award is the one for you. If there is a seat on the plane, then using an AAnytime award will get you that seat — it will just cost you a lot more miles.

In this case that is exactly what happened — to get the flight you wanted, it had to be booked using an AAnytime award, which cost more miles.

As you weren’t happy with the level of the miles used, AA was generously willing to waive the redeposit fee (normally $150) and allow you to cancel that portion of your trip — so that now your return from Fiji is just 80,000 miles.

You were very happy with this outcome and thanked our advocate for her help and support.

Although I’m pleased that this case was resolved, it’s really important to be clear about the mileage breakdown before you agree to the booking. At the very least, if you get an email with the breakdown of miles used, make sure you are happy with the amount right away.

By checking promptly, you get the opportunity to make any needed changes. You got what you wanted this time, but you might not be so lucky again.

John Galbraith

John is a UK based lawyer and writer. He loves to travel and can be frequently found in remote locations in a suit and cravat. Read more of John's articles here.

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