American Airlines told me the fare was $169. Then it charged me $1069

Dale Allen and his girlfriend are looking forward to a tropical vacation in Cancún. Unfortunately, they arrive at the airport too late and miss their flight. Wanting to leave immediately, they buy one-way tickets at the American Airlines counter. Allen is sure the agent said that the tickets cost $169 each — so why is his credit card charged $2,400?

Question

My girlfriend and I had tickets on Spirit Airlines to fly from Los Angeles to Cancún. We were running late and missed our flight. I then purchased new tickets from American Airlines at the counter. During the purchasing process, the agent quoted us the price of $169 per ticket. Her exact words were, “one sixty-nine.” She did not say “one thousand sixty-nine.” She did not say, “one, zero, six, nine.” She said, “one sixty-nine.”

All of the evidence in this situation indicates that the agent misquoted the ticket price, that I was misinformed by the American Airline’s employee, and that I had no intention of purchasing a ticket at the price of $1,210 per person to go to Cancún. Can you assist me in getting my money back? Dale Allen, Santa Monica, Calif.

Answer

Of course, we would like to help you, Dale. But as you know, your case was a tough one. Because you had failed to check your receipt for your airfare before leaving the counter, you had virtually no proof of your claim. I was not confident that this was a case that would end up in the “positive resolution file.”

However, I am not easily deterred in my advocacy efforts, so I began to review your lengthy paper trail.

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Right away, I noticed that you had likely alienated any executive who might have otherwise been sympathetic to your plight. Your complaint letters were filled with accusations of trickery and deception and demands for a full refund. Additionally, you had used your caps lock in many portions of your letter, which is generally recognized as yelling at the reader.

The wrong way to approach America Airlines with your problem

I know from the many complaints that we handle every day that this approach never works — and I do mean never. If you are attempting to appeal to a company’s empathetic side, yelling and threatening is not going to do the trick.

When you took your case to our Forum, you seemed to have already come to that conclusion on your own. You expressed your regret for the tone of the original emails.

Despite your assertions in your original letter that the evidence shows that you are right, the opposite is true. The evidence shows that you walked up to the American Airlines counter and requested an immediate flight to Cancún for yourself and your girlfriend — during spring break, no less.

Walk-up fares are some of the most expensive fares available. The airlines know that if you have had no advance notice of your need to travel, you must be in a hurry and will probably be willing to pay a high price for the convenience of an immediate flight.

In the confusion of missing your flight, we don’t know if you misheard the agent or if she misspoke. But the fact remains that your confirmation did have the price visible. You thought that the agent had deliberately put the confirmation behind your ticket so you could not see the actual price.

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Contacting America Airlines on your behalf

I contacted American Airlines on your behalf. In a short and polite inquiry, I explained your confusion and dismay. I left out all of your original contentions, and I asked if it was possible for American Airlines to review fares for the day of your flight and see if there was a $169 one-way fare.

As I suspected, there was not.

A price of $169 for a one-way, no advance purchase ticket from Los Angeles to Cancún over spring break sounded very unlikely. American’s research department was able to see that the lowest one-way fare on your day of flight was $390 plus tax. That fare was only available as an advance purchase ticket. American confirmed that the price you paid was the valid price for a walk-up rate on your day of travel.

But there was good news for you.

Because of the uncertainty of how you came to understand your fare was $169, American agreed to extend a goodwill gesture and will honor your tickets at the advance purchase rate of $390 per person plus tax. You are pleased with this outcome and so are we.

In the future, when you purchase airline tickets make sure that you review your ticket confirmation immediately — even if you are in a hurry. As you now know, this can save you a lot of aggravation later.

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is the executive director of Elliott.org. She is a consumer advocate, SEO-lady, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Friedman Read more of Michelle's articles here.

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