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

  • Ben

    You need to do a story on those taxi vouchers. Cab drivers hate them, so just finding a driver willing to take them is a hassle and those that do provide really poor service. I see a time in the very near future when an airline contracts with Uber or Lyft to provide this service at a much better value to the airline with better service to the passenger.

  • Mel65

    I’m happy it worked out for them, but I’m confused why they were stuck on Marriott properties. When I was delayed at Dulles, I was told there were no hotels available, I got on the computer and had a room for $132 a night 2 miles from the airport and I was reimbursed within two weeks of filing my claim with the airline. IF they had looked beyond Marriott, I’m sure they could have found something cheaper. . I can’t believe anyone would think that an airline would reimburse them $465 for a hotel room!

  • LDVinVA

    HATE the picture of an aircraft flying low over NY.

  • Alan Gore

    Wouldn’t it be easier to use the hotel’s own shuttle? All hotels near the airport have them, and there’s a,ways Suoershuttke as a backup.

  • Flyonpa

    Just a reminder ACE was not born yet when 9/11 happened, Chris need to watch/edit the great stuff Aren comes up with.

  • Ben

    Definitely in the case of a nearby hotel, but there are situations when you’re stuck using the voucher. For example, I was once delayed due to a mechanical issue and public transport in my home city was closed when I arrived, so I asked for a received a taxi voucher.

  • BubbaJoe123

    “I can’t believe anyone would think that an airline would reimburse them $465 for a hotel room!”
    Well, since the airline’s rep TOLD them the airline would reimburse them for the room, and noted the higher price in the system, it’s not unreasonable for them to believe that the airline actually would reimburse them.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Supershuttle is only a backup to the extent that walking is a backup.

  • Alan Gore

    I used Supershuttle all the time when I lived in the city, and never a problem. What’s your city?

  • AAGK

    But Marriott is their loyalty program so they had no choice:)

  • Kerr

    Good idea on hotel shuttles, but not all of them run late (in this case, the OP arrived well after 11 PM).

  • BubbaJoe123

    New York. If you define “never a problem” as taking 2x as long as a taxi, and having to book way ahead of time. That’s for Chicago. NYC is completely impossible – they want to pick up three hours ahead of time for a domestic flight from a location that’s 45 minutes to the airport at most.

  • Jessica Monsell

    LDVinVA – I hadn’t noticed the similarities until you raised the issue. I think the image is the Ritz Carlton in Singapore and any similarity to NYC was surely unintended. Nevertheless we value your input and thank you for sharing this.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Didn’t bother me in the slightest. I see aircraft flying low over NYC routinely. 9/11 was nearly 15 years ago.

  • Joe Blasi

    and then airline gets sued when something happens in an unlicensed taxi?

  • LDVinVA

    Right. Ancient history. Forget about it.

  • Mel65

    We’re forever reading stories here about “the agent noted XYZ in the computer and said we’d get reimbursed” etc… I always wonder what the specifics of those notations are though. Perhaps it simply said, “Customer will make own accomodations and seek reimbursement post-trip” or something similar. I simply can’t believe the agent wrote “customer found a $465 room and I assured him we’d pay for it”. But I’m pretty skeptical in general of most things, I guess :)

  • disqus_wK5MCy17IP

    The license for the original image also says must attribute. The only attributon is a watermark after the image was edited, and no credit to the original copyright holder.,_The_Ritz-Carlton_Millenia_Singapore_-_20110722.jpg

  • Ben

    That would be covered by the car company’s liability insurance.

  • CasaAlux

    Sounds fishy to me. In cases like these, doesn’t the airline usually tell them where to stay? And if not, why did it HAVE to be a Marriott property?

  • AAGK

    I don’t think that’s what he meant. I live in NY too and dad has a house in Long Island where low flying planes come by every 15 minutes. You kind of just become immune to the sound. I live in downtown NY and of course can’t forget that. I thought the picture above was quite brilliant.

  • cscasi

    Well, as long as the airline customer service agent put in their PNR (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) that should have been the end od the story and American should have reimbursed them right up front without argument. The documentation doesn’t lie and it’s good that they got her to put that in their PNR! Maybe the customer service agent will suffer for it in some way, but American needed to stand by what they were told and it finally did.

  • cscasi

    What? Just because they belong to Marriott Rewards they HAVE to stay in one of its properties? The airline was reimbursing their one night stay and they could stay at any hotel with a “reasonable” price. But, the agent did them a favor and entered that hotel and amount for them int heir PNR, so they got reimbursed.

  • cscasi

    “We checked with Marriott since we were told there were several Marriott properties in Crystal City very close to Reagan Airport”.
    The airline did NOT tell them to stay there. It does not say who told them or if they just knew there were several in the area because they use Marriot Hotels frequently.

  • Travelnut

    You may not have noticed the sarcasm font…

  • AAGK

    Huh? The question was why did they only look at Marriott properties. My reply was a joke. Obviously they don’t only have to look at Marriott properties but chose to bc I’m assuming that t was their loyalty program. I said exactly what you are saying. I’m sorry. We are are on the same page.

  • AAGK

    . The airline owed him for the hotel bc when he asked the agent- she said yes. Maybe she was overwhelmed by the requests and didn’t have time to research the issue. I get it but that’s a business decision by the airline that it needed it’s employee to focus on something else at the time.. The airline does not get to revisit this issue later when it has the time to price it out. In the same way that if I book a walk up ticket bc I missed my flight then later I regret overpaying . The airline wouldn’t refund me either.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Fifteen years. If an image that innocuous causes you distress, I would recommend counseling. I live in NYC, and see planes over Manhattan every day.

  • scoosdad

    Not defending the actions of the taxi driver, but I’m sure it’s just as difficult for the taxi company or driver to get reimbursed for the voucher, as it is for us travelers to get an airline to pay for anything that they promised to us.

  • AAGK

    Do you watch a show called Arrested Development? There is a running joke about blaming things on 9/11 that are totally unrelated. It’s very funny.

  • AAGK

    Yes, they picked it bc it’s their hotel of choice. You are right- no logical reason. There are billion hotels there and I’m sure they could’ve found something cheaper. The Ritz in Pentagon City is actually a good value. The agent approved his choice though, either way. They should either book the room or give out the cash towards the room. I don’t like this approval and then taking it back thing.

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