A hotel reimbursement from American Airlines? Get it in writing

When John Thompson lands in Washington D.C., he discovers that he’s missed the last connecting flight home to Boston. A gate agent assures him not to worry. She will be put him on a flight the next morning and he will receive a hotel reimbursement from American Airlines. But will he?

Question

I was traveling on American Airlines from Las Vegas to Boston with a connection at Washington National. There was a 15-minute delay in Las Vegas because of a problem with the inbound plane.

During the flight, the flight attendant told us we had plenty of time to make the connection from Washington to Boston. But on arrival, the plane stopped on the taxiway, and the pilot informed us that there was no gate available for our plane. The flight attendant said she would work to make sure I along with two other passengers would make the Boston flight. We didn’t.

When I got off the plane, I met a gate agent named Andrea. She was helping passengers who had missed their connections. She put me on a flight the next day. Andrea said she had no more hotel vouchers to give out. But she told me that she had permission to give me a $125 credit toward a hotel room. She said she would note it in my file and I just needed to send in my hotel receipt through the American Airlines website.

After I got home, I began searching the American Airlines site for how to submit my receipts. I could find no information on the site as to how I could get the hotel reimbursement from American Airlines.  So I attached my hotel receipt and sent my request to an AA executive that I found on your site.

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The airline sent me an email explaining that since weather caused the delay, I wouldn’t be eligible for a hotel reimbursement from American Airlines. I don’t think this is fair. Could you ask American Airlines to reimburse me for my hotel, as they promised? — John Thompson, Chelmsford, Mass.

Answer

I agree with your premise. If Andrea told you that you would receive a hotel reimbursement from American Airlines, then you should. However, there were several stumbling blocks on your road to a resolution.

First, despite your assertion that this missed flight was not due to the weather, it was.

Our advocacy team frequently receives complaints from travelers who tell us about delayed flights when the sky was clear with no bad weather in sight.

But the current state of the sky above your head is not the measure of whether your flight is being delayed by the weather. Disruptive weather in one region can have a nationwide ripple effect.

And unfortunately for air travelers in the United States, airlines are not required to compensate passengers for flight delays and cancellations that are the result of the weather and Air Traffic Control orders.

Your flight was delayed because of the late arrival of an incoming aircraft.

That flight experienced a weather delay. And so that means that your flight was delayed because of that same weather.

The rejection of your request for a hotel reimbursement from American Airlines was based on that fact.

Why you didn’t qualify for hotel reimbursement from American Airlines

Taking a look at American Airlines’ contract of carriage, you can see that Americans’ policy, which is in line with those of all other airlines operating in the United States, makes it clear that:

American may, in the event of a force majeure event, without notice, cancel, terminate, divert, postpone or delay any flight or the right of carriage or reservation of traffic accommodations without liability except to issue an involuntary refund. The involuntary refund will be made in the original form of payment in accordance with involuntary refund rules for any unused portion of the ticket. American will also reserve the right to determine if any departure or landing should be made without any liability except the aforementioned involuntary refund.

A force majeure event is an event that is beyond the airline’s control — such as the weather.

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But your story took a different turn when you met up with Andrea, a sympathetic American Airlines representative. She told you that you could receive reimbursement for up to $125 for your hotel stay that night.

The problem? She failed to document her atypical offer in your record.

In the future, if an airline representative offers you some extra amenity, make sure to get it in writing.

The good news

I reached out to the airline on your behalf and submitted your hotel receipts. Our executive contact looked at your record and noted that your delays were the result of Air Traffic Control orders.

But because Andrea had extended this offer, he agreed to issue you the $125 hotel reimbursement.

Almost daily we receive requests for help from travelers who want compensation for their extra expenses, missed events, disrupted plans and distress because of airline delays and cancellations.

In these situations, the airlines all have their contract of carriage on their side. Their responsibility is to refund or reroute, not reimburse. So if you are offered something extra for your troubles — get it in writing. Because if you don’t, you may be out of luck.

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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