American Airlines promised me a night at the Ritz, but now it won’t pay

When Martin Goldman’s American Airlines flight is canceled, the airline offers him a night at the Ritz. Or does it?

Question: Please help in resolving a lodging reimbursement issue with American Airlines. My wife and I recently flew from Palm Springs, Calif., to Albany, via Phoenix and Washington. When we arrived in Washington after traveling all day, we received a text on our cell phones that the American Airlines flight to Albany was delayed and now would depart at 11:09 p.m.

We went to the departure gate and a short while later, we were informed that the flight to Albany, via American Eagle, was now canceled. Needless to say, we were not happy after a long day of traveling. I am not sure if it was a mechanical problem that caused the flight to be canceled. It certainly was not weather-related because the weather that evening in Washington and throughout the northeast was beautiful and spring-like. As a matter of fact, flights were departing that evening to all other northeast destinations.

We then went to the American Airlines customer service desk and, after waiting in line for a while, received information on securing lodging and she also gave us vouchers for taxis to and from the airport and for meals. We checked with Marriott since we were told there were several Marriott properties in Crystal City very close to Reagan Airport. We learned from their centralized reservations number that all were booked and that the only one available under the Marriott brand was a Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City about three miles from Reagan Airport.

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We then returned to the American Airlines customer service desk and asked if we could go ahead and book this. At this point we were tired and it was getting late. A representative said we could and she noted in her computer screen that we would be entitled to reimbursement even though this hotel had higher nightly room rates.

When we went outside to get a taxi, the driver of the taxi to which we were directed was at first reluctant to accept the voucher. He finally took it but seemed very disgruntled and did not even help us with our luggage when we arrived at the Ritz-Carlton. Other than a cup of coffee, we did not eat dinner that night since we were very tired and also since the hotel would not accept the meal vouchers. The next morning we checked out, paying $464 for one night’s accommodation.

The next morning the driver of the taxi to which I was directed by the hotel said he would not accept the American Airlines taxi voucher. I then said I wanted a receipt once I paid him to submit to American Airlines for reimbursement. When we arrived at Reagan Airport after a short three mile ride, I started to swipe my Visa credit card at which point he announced that “the credit card machine was broken” which I believe was a lie. He said he would only take cash so I paid him the $10 and he gave me a card as a receipt.

To my amazement, American Airlines now refuses to reimburse me the $464 that I had to pay for lodging since their “corporate rate” for lodging for American Airlines is approximately $109 in the Washington, D.C. area. How do I get American Airlines to keep its promise? — Martin Goldman, Albany, NY

Answer: American Airlines should keep its promise without being asked. If a representative made a notation in the system, this case should have been a slam dunk. I’m not sure what happened.

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I’ve dealt with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cases just like yours. It’s even happened to me. My advice? Verbal promises are meaningless. Even the vouchers are iffy. Worse, unless you have something in writing, your chances of reimbursement are not good.

Our advocacy team asked you to send us the paper trail, including American Airlines’ answer to you. You didn’t have one from the airline, so we furnished you with some American Airlines executive contacts.

Your documentation was extensive. You saved your hotel folio and taxi receipts and you documented the name of the employee who made you the promise.

You received a call from an American Airlines representative who agreed to fully reimburse you for the hotel and taxi. Although the employee you spoke in Washington had violated American’s policy by offering to pay for your hotel, a promise is still a promise. I’m pleased the airline did the right thing.

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 Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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