One year later, our refund is MIA

After American Airlines makes a data-entry error on Elaine Stokols’ airline tickets, it promises a refund. One year later, it still has her money. Now what?

Question: American Airlines made a data-entry error when my husband and I booked our airline tickets by phone. An agent entered our return dates as January 2016 — a full year after our planned dates of travel.

The airline agreed to refund the tickets, but we’ve had no luck with getting the money back. Our original tickets were purchased in April 2014. Since then, we’ve been back and forth with the airline.

Every piece of required documentation was enclosed with our letter. We meticulously followed the directions on its website for obtaining a refund.

Finally, in desperation, we turned to American Airlines’ AAdvantage desk. A representative informed us that despite what was stated on the website, the refunds department does not handle this type of refund request, and instead we should submit our documents to the customer-relations department.

We were dismayed that after we had exhaustively followed the directions, the airline completely disregarded our refund request. Apparently, American Airlines had no intention of informing us that we needed to resubmit our claim, and had we not called, our inquiry never would have been reviewed.

The utter lack of customer regard, professionalism and attention to detail on the part of the airline baffles us. We have been flying with American Airlines for as long as we can remember, and we are shocked to have been treated in this manner. — Elaine Stokols, Alexandria, Virginia

Answer: If an airline agent erred when entering your dates, the airline should have offered you an immediate, no-questions-asked refund. A one-year delay is unconscionable. At the very least, it needed to send you an answer of some kind, even if the answer was “no.”

Related story:   You call this consumer advocacy?

It looks as if you initially tried to take this up with American Airlines in writing, and it seems there was some confusion about who should process the refund.
It’s unclear if the problem was related to American’s merger with US Airways, as I see some of the correspondence suggests, or if you just went to the wrong department. But what is clear to me is that someone should have responded to you and offered some guidance. In reviewing your correspondence, it appears that no one did.

When an airline takes your money and doesn’t return it, don’t wait a year to ask for help. Do something right away. You could have escalated this to one of the executives at American Airlines. I list their contact information on my site.

I contacted American on your behalf. It promptly refunded your airfare.

This story first appeared May 8, 2015.

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

  • Recently we have seen a flurry of stories that point to a total mess at American Airlines. Since the reason for every merger is to get rid of personnel, has American now reached the point where is now, as on so many of those online business websites, simply nobody home? And not enough personnel to make anything work right if it wanted to?

  • LostInMidwest

    Possibly. Whatever the reason, we have to continue to remember that no company would go through a costly and exhausting merger while dealing with hot air balloons in our Government if it weren’t hugely profitable.

    Since making money out of the thin air is reserved to companies with 10005 ZIP code, everybody else has to get money from only one place left – customers. So, those large profits guaranteed by mergers? Let’s just keep in mind who is paying for them.

  • Jeff W.

    American/US Airways merger was not a total mess. For that, you need to refer to United/Continental.

    Not saying the AA/US merger was good, but it was certainly peaches and cream compared to the UA/CO fiasco. Bumps aside, lessons were learned and applied to this recent merger.

  • Fishplate

    And all of these posts are six months old or more. I wonder if things have got any better? Were I a PR person at AA, I’d be upset at rehashing old news if there had been improvement…

  • Michael__K

    Don’t worry. We have more threads on this site in the American Airlines forum (139) then in the United (83), Delta (38), Frontier (2), and Spirit (9) forums combined.

    And this is fairly consistent with the complaint statistics compiled by the US DOT (2015 YTD). And in the DOT’s breakdown of complaints by category (Table 3), complaints about refunds represent about twice as large a share of the complaints against AA as compared to other airlines.

  • MF

    TNAG, in other words – our faith in AA as a business is ‘misplaced’?

  • Bill___A

    I’m not sure why all of the “old” stories are published as “new” stories with the notation of where they first appeared. I hope the site has begun doing proper backups by now.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I initially thought that the reprints were simply intended to give them some fresh-looking content while people were taking time off over the holidays. But Christopher is posting new stories now and we’re still getting this old stuff. I don’t understand it at all.

  • Kairho

    Something strange in this story because all the airline reservation systems (to my knowledge) only enter month and date for flights. There is no place to indicate year. (This is also why bookings can only be made generally 11 months in advance, to avoid ambiguity with that last month.)

    Considering that I can see AA dragging their feet although I would have expected a firm rejection earlier on.

  • Bob Davis

    One should always base their actions on assuming no one will respond to email submitted through their web site. I’ve had so many responses over the years I’ve wondered why corporations even offer a “Contact Us” email address.

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