I thought I was paying for checked luggage, not priority boarding


When Mary Lou Hartline buys an American Airlines ticket, she inadvertently pays extra for priority boarding instead of checked bags. Can she undo the mistake?

Question: I recently flew from Tucson, Ariz., to Philadelphia on American Airlines. When I booked the trip, I inadvertently paid $56 for priority boarding instead of two checked bags.

When I got to the airport a check-in person told me that I should contact the company and they would refund the $56. I sent American a letter, but have not heard anything. I did not need priority boarding because I am handicapped and always am allowed to board during pre-boarding. Could you help me get the refund that I feel I am due? — Mary Lou Hartline, Tucson, Ariz.

Answer: I’m sorry you were confused when you were making your flight arrangements. Buying these extras should be easy and intuitive, so even if you didn’t have a case, I needed to be sure to share your frustrations with American Airlines. If you pushed the wrong button, chances are, there are others who have done the same thing.

American is clear about the refundability of these fees. You can only get your money back if you can’t use the service. Unfortunately, even though you didn’t need the service, you were able to use it. Therefore, no refund is due.


Or is there?

You spoke with a representative who said you could get a refund, and based on that promise, you sent American Airlines a letter. It should have responded, even if to say “no.” (Next time this happens — and I hope there isn’t a next time for you — try sending an email through American’s web site.

Related story:   Why won't US Airways refund my change fees?

A promise made by an employee should be sufficient. Always ask for the person’s name. You should have received the money without question — or delay.

Of course, American shouldn’t be charging for “priority” boarding or checked bags. The ability to board the plane in a timely manner, select a seat and check a bag ought to be included in the ticket price. Taking them out is just a deceptive way of raising the ticket price, and there ought to be a law against it. But I digress.

I contacted American Airlines and, as a gesture of goodwill, it refunded your $56. I don’t think this is a question of goodwill as much as the company doing what it said it would do. You may want to consider using a travel agent for your next airline booking. A competent travel advisor will ensure you don’t buy a service you don’t need.


Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

  • SirWIred

    “Of course, American shouldn’t be charging for “priority” boarding or checked bags. The ability to board the plane in a timely manner, select a seat and check a bag ought to be included in the ticket price. Taking them out is just a deceptive way of raising the ticket price, and there ought to be a law against it.”

    Somebody’s gotta board first and some seats are indubitably better than others, so why should they not be allowed to charge for those things? (I can think of reasons why it might be a poor business decision, but that’s not a job for legislation.)

    I don’t have any problem with bag fees either, though the way they were introduced (pretending they were needed to pay for the gas) was stupid, and the fees are clearly higher than they need to be to recover costs and a normal margin. (But, again, this is more a business decision than a matter for the law.)

  • BubbaJoe123

    Agreed. The real advantage of priority boarding is being able to ensure there’s space for your bag in the overhead bin. If you board late, you might have to check it, and wait for it on arrival at your destination, which is a hassle many people would like to avoid. If you don’t need overhead bin space (i.e. you just have a bag which fits under the seat in front of you), there’s no real benefit to priority boarding. If I don’t need bin space, my goal is to be pretty close to the last person on the airplane. Otherwise, I’ll have spent more time at the airport than necessary.

  • The Original Joe S

    coonsider whipping out your phone and making a video of the guy who promised to refund your money.

  • The Original Joe S

    When they rape the consumer, it’s time for the gubmint to step in. However, we have the BEST legislators money can buy……………………

  • Chris_In_NC

    Priority boarding = access to overhead bins. Thats it. Otherwise I’d rather wait in the terminal than be cooped up on the airplane. Any time the gate agent offers complementary bag check for carry on bags, I jump at the opportunity. Less stuff to carry, less stuff to schlep around. Ironically, last 2 times I checked in my carry on bag at first call, I was given “priority boarding” aka SKY priority as a “reward” for volunteering.

    Priority boarding seems to be important to many travelers, or else there wouldn’t be a market for it. Heck, even Southwest offers Business select and Early Bird check-in, so there must be value in it from a business standpoint. As sirwired said, someone has to go to be on first and people are willing to pay it.

    As for baggage fees, I disagree with them. But, then again, there is an airline that offers 2 free checked bags (under 50 pounds and no oversized of course), but rumor keeps circulating that they will do away with this policy sometime in the future. So obviously from a business decision standpoint, it is bringing in revenue.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    “Buying these extras should be easy and intuitive…”

    How about posting a screen shot of the AA website showing these items instead of implying that the website isn’t easy and intuitive? Maybe the AA website is confusing? Or maybe the OP should be using the service of a travel agent as suggested by Chris?

    “Of course, American shouldn’t be charging for “priority” boarding or checked bags. The ability to board the plane in a timely manner, select a seat and check a bag ought to be included in the ticket price. Taking them out is just a deceptive way of raising the ticket price, and there ought to be a law against it.”

    First, the public wants low fares. These items are a reflection of the market. If the market wants a fare that includes everything then the existing airlines will offer that or new airlines will start up. There are a lot of people that will point to Southwest Airlines but that fact is that Southwest doesn’t fly to small markets because they are not profitable

    Second, these items are optional. There are some passengers that do not need to board early (priority) as well as you can’t have the whole plane to board at once. There are some passengers that do not need to check bags as well as there are some passengers that will bring their kitchen sink with them. I can remember carrying five ‘bags’ (three bags were company bags) with me back in the 90s. There are some passengers that doesn’t care about their seat selection.

  • Noah Kimmel

    Given that most people check <1 bag, I don't agree with Chris that it should be included.
    And priority boarding is a service people clearly value, I think it is fine to sell it. Everyone gets on the plane eventually, so if someone values paying for it, why not sell it? Especially if handicap and other special needs are still accommodated without charge

  • BubbaJoe123

    For Southwest, there’s a big benefit to priority boarding: choosing your seat. Even if you don’t need bin space, boarding first has huge benefits there. For airlines with assigned seats, I agree, bin space is the only real benefit.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Southwest also sells, in effect, priority seating, by selling priority boarding, which means you get the better seats in a first-come first served system like they have.

  • jae1

    Other than access to the overhead bins, I think the main thing people get out of priority boarding/Business select/etc. is a feeling of being more important that the other travelers. “I paid more, so I get to go first.” It’s a childish, playground approach to personal worth.

  • James

    Seems to me that there are an awful lot of airline apologists on this site. I suspect they are paid to post comments on this site. Dear readers, keep that in mind as you read these comments…

  • susan kandell

    First, I’m not an airline apologist. Not being paid to post. But I personally like boarding early, for several reasons – yes, available bin space is one of them, but there are other reasons. The later you board, the longer you wait in the line that is snaking down the jetway. Even though I’ll be seated for the next few hours, I’d rather be in my seat quicker, prepping for the flight; getting out my headphones, water bottle and whatever else I need and attempt to squash my remaining carry-on stuff in the ever-smaller space beneath the seat in front.

    Also, my preference is a window seat and if you board later, chances are the aisle person is already seated (with their seat belt engaged) and act like they’re doing you a favor when you motion that you need to get into the window seat.

    When boarding with kids, it gives them a moment to settle in & check out all the buttons and dials before it gets annoying to those around them.

    And studies have shown that airplanes are breeding grounds for bacteria. Boarding early has given me a few extra moments to sanitize my tray tables and other things I come in contact with. Invariably, the person next to me asks if they can have a sanitizer sheet to use on their little area too.

    Also, occasionally, little differences come up. On a flight this week, the person sitting in the bulkhead seat in front of me claimed the space under her seat was her domain, leaving me no place to put my stuff which belonged under her seat. She was adamant about the space “belonging to her stuff” and threatened me by calling the flight attendant. Knowing I was right, I welcomed the attendant telling her where to place her stuff. Of course, this all took place when the fight attendants are very busy and it would have been much, much worse if we had left this issue to the end of boarding process, instead of the beginning.

  • Lindabator

    No there are a lot of realists here – I am travelling out later this week for a 2 day conference, and do not need to check a bag, as can carry a backpack on board with what I need – single traveller, so not too picky on where I sit on a short flight, so do not need to buy a seat, do not need to check bags, so no need to pay for it, and as I do not need the overhead bin, no need to be priority (so no pay there, either). But when I flew to Japan, paid for a seat upgrade, so I could bring bags, have a better seat, etc. So a lot of people prefer making the choiec as to what is important to them on each flight, so why should they not have the lowest price, and just pay for what thy deem important to them?

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