American Airlines refunded only half of my ticket — where’s the rest?


After American Airlines cancels Susan Cohen’s flight, it refunds only half her ticket. The reason? It claims she used the other half. Which is impossible. What now?

Question: I had a roundtrip ticket on American Airlines from Boston to Washington recently. As we prepared to board, the flight was canceled. There were no other flights available and I could not travel.

I requested a refund and received only the Boston-Washington portion, which was $91. When I called, I was told the return flight was marked as used. This is impossible, as I never went anywhere that day.

A customer service representative told me that there was nothing they could do and I had to file a written complaint, which I did. This smacks of the exact issue that affected another passenger you recently reported. That passenger was also denied a refund because their ticket was marked used, when it was not. I sincerely hope this is not the general practice of American Airlines. — Susan Cohen, Brookline, Mass.


Answer: American should have refunded your entire ticket. A careful check of its records would have shown you didn’t use the return ticket. Case closed.

But your problem raises an interesting question. Technically, American Airlines — like all other carriers — only has to refund the ticket for a flight it cancels. And since American didn’t cancel the return flight, did it really have to return your fare?

This might be a new way for airlines to make even more money. If they cancel a flight, they only have to refund part of your ticket. I know, I know — don’t give them any ideas.

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Obviously, you weren’t on the return flight. A quick email to American should have cleared that up. If it didn’t, an email to one of the airline’s customer service managers might have helped. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of American Airlines’ customer service managers on my consumer advocacy website.

I contacted American on your behalf, and it says it refunded your entire ticket.


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.

  • Alan Gore

    For every flight segment you actually take, keep the boarding pass. You may need them if a dispute arises over mileage credit. If you are due a refund for a canceled flight, keep any receipts for everyday purchases you make during the time you would have been at the destination – this time, to prove you weren’t there.

  • Reporter1

    OK, my head hurts from this one!

  • LDVinVA

    Another awful example of a provider trying to get away with keeping money they did not earn. When will it end?

  • Pegtoo

    So if I don’t show up for the outbound flight, the airline cancels the return flight. But if the airline cancels the outbound flight, they want me to cancel the return flight. This will be #2,439 on my “things to remember when flying” list.

  • Attention All Passengers

    Not sure it was a deliberate move on the part of AA……..there are an awful lot of stupid people answering phones at call centers. Just ask them to repeat what you said or want and it’s pretty much guaranteed someone will get it wrong on the first go-around. (from experience x many)

  • Steve Rabin

    Chris–DON’T GIVE THE AIRLINES ANY IDEAS!!!! They may just end up listening to you! :-)

  • LonnieC

    In other words, American made it impossible for the OP to take the return flight by cancelling the outbound flight. And then AA tried to penalize the OP for not being on the flight they made impossible…. Wow! That’s a whole new level of stupid! and greed.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    If this keeps happening, I think some state Attorney General should investigate because how many people just eat the loss because they don’t know better?

  • jm71

    “Technically, American Airlines — like all other carriers — only has to refund the ticket for a flight it cancels. And since American didn’t cancel the return flight, did it really have to return your fare?” Well that’s just not true by any reasonable standard of consumer fairness, and likely law.

    If the flights are on one roundtrip ticket, the airline can’t deny a refund on the return when they cancel the outbound and you choose not to travel, anymore than they can insist that if they cancel the first leg of a connecting flight that you somehow aren’t entitled to a refund of the second leg.

    Even if on separate one-way tickets (with the same airline) it would be a strong small-claims type case that if the airline’s own actions prevented you from taking their own next flight, that they aren’t entitled to keep the “no-show” money for that next flight.

    And AA didn’t try to argue that ridiculous position — clearly the issue here was a technical failure that marked the LW as being on the return flight. Not acceptable especially when the agent wouldn’t initiate the investigation to fix it right away, but not as bad as if they had tried to argue some “right” to keep the money for an unused return in this case.

  • sheldan

    If they paid for it, they should get it back. End of story.

    Maybe this is why American is at the top of the most complained companies list. When they start to lie about tickets being used when the person did not fly the first leg because of the flight being cancelled, this is when they should be told that they have gone too far, and there should be consequences under the law for them.

  • AJPeabody

    Another example where the only “penalty” for wrongdoing is doing what should have been done promptly in the first place. There is absolutely no incentive to act justly and a strong monetary incentive to cheat. This structure calls for governmental action, fat chance these days with a government that can’t even tie its own shoes (figuratively).

  • Michael__K

    Only the DOT has jurisdiction. And they usually investigate only when they are deluged with passenger complaints. Airlines are mostly exempt from state & local laws, per the Airline Deregulation Act.

  • kimber

    Happened to me years ago on Delta. Finally got a ticket credit that I used to book another flight – when I arrived at the airport, for some reason, they were showing that I had cancelled my ticket on that flight and I had to buy one at the gate (back when you could waltz through to the gate before checking in). By the time I was done complaining, they issued me a refund and a voucher for a first-class upgrade. Of course, this was also back in the day when you could eventually talk to a human in customer service.

  • Carchar

    I had the opposite happen to me. The airline had canceled my connector for mechanical reasons while I was on my first leg. They had a hotel, food vouchers and another flight reservation for the next day waiting for me when I got to the gate. When I went to check in for my return flight, I couldn’t because it my ticket had been canceled for not taking my original (canceled) connector. Luckily, a call to the airline straightened things out and I was reinstated.

  • rothsteg

    I wonder if the first AA agent just wasn’t listening carefully to what the OP said. My experience with call center personnel (not just those at AA, but virtually all call center people) is that they usually only get the gist of what you’re calling about and don’t listen to details before responding with the most common response to the general issue you’ve raised. Only repeated, patient explanations usually get them to understand the actual issue you’re calling about.

  • Lindabator

    IF you choose not to travel out on the outbound, cancel the return, or let them know you are taking another option out and still need the return flight

  • PsyGuy

    That would be an interesting approach cancel your flight but keep the money for the return portion since the airline didn’t cancel that portion of the flight. That’s exactly what would happen if you booked the itinerary as two separate OW TX.

  • PsyGuy

    Isn’t that excessive?

  • PsyGuy

    When they have all the money.

  • PsyGuy

    Yeah, but someone in the airlines management department got a bonus for that one.

  • PsyGuy

    What’s not to get they write the rules?

  • PsyGuy

    But what if it was deliberate?

  • PsyGuy

    Well greed, but not stupid, not from their POV.

  • PsyGuy

    What would be the crime here if a States Attorney did investigate?

  • PsyGuy

    The airline can deny anything they want to. They wrote the rules and the contract I’m sure they have a legal team that can draft any contract they want.

  • Attention All Passengers

    If deliberate then of course it is a bad thing. Trust me, having been in this business over 35 years, there are enough stupid, lazy, inept, uninformed, uneducated employees (sometimes even vindictive) that “deliberate” is possible. Most of my coworkers are well-meaning and caring. Others are just lazy or with no conscience and will lie to get out of dealing with a situation or responsibility. Prove it?, most times not possible. “Next.”

  • Shirley G

    Why do people bother you with stuff like this instead of trying your contacts first? Interesting story (and, yes, don’t give them any ideas, Chris!) but what a waste of your time that could be spent for another reader who actually went through all of the hoops and got nowhere.

  • Shirley G

    Yes!

  • Shirley G

    Or they won’t repeat it. I’ve had that happen. They think you are being a smartass.

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