This refund request should have been easy. Why did American make it so hard?

By | December 18th, 2016

When Eileen Swindling books two American Airlines tickets, the airline sends her a confirmation. When she’s charged more than the amount in the email, she expects a fast refund. But she doesn’t get one. Can our advocates help?

Question: After spending considerable time researching airfares, I purchased two round-trip tickets from Miami to Quito, Ecuador, for $419 through American Airlines’ website for myself and my husband. The base cost of each ticket was $295, and “taxes and carrier-imposed fees” were $124 each, totaling $838. American Airlines listed these amounts in the “eTicket Itinerary & Receipt Confirmation” email it sent me.

But the actual charge for the tickets that appeared on my credit card statement was $858 – a difference of $20. While this is not a huge amount, it is clearly a bait-and-switch technique that could affect countless travelers.

I called American Airlines to request a refund of the $20. Two representatives of American told me that the extra $10 per ticket was for an international fee, over which they had no control. They referred me to American Airlines’ customer relations department without providing me with a telephone number for the department.

I then emailed the department to ask for the refund. Its only response was an automated acknowledgment of my email, providing a reference number and “letting you know that we received your comments and will be responding shortly.”

I’m still waiting for my refund. Can you help me get American Airlines to issue it to my credit card? — Eileen Swindling, Highland Beach, Fla.

Answer: You were clearly frustrated by American Airlines’ charging you an extra amount for your tickets after confirming the price to you. The confirmation should have listed all taxes and fees – including the additional amount, which turned out to be taxes that were omitted because of a computer glitch.

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The representatives you dealt with should have resolved your issue when you spoke to them, or alternatively, provided you with a working telephone number for the Customer Relations department. And they definitely should not have kept you waiting so long for your refund.

That said, your case did have some problems. You didn’t help matters by using all caps in your emails to American, which is the online equivalent of shouting, and accusing the airline of a “scam” and “bait-and-switch” tactics.


You might have escalated your complaint using our company contacts for American Airlines. You turned instead to our advocacy team for help in getting your refund.

American Airlines’ conditions of carriage contain the following provision regarding fare changes and erroneous fares:

AA reserves the right to cancel tickets issued with an erroneously quoted fare due to a technical failure or mistake, including but not limited to a fare filing error, computer error or third party error (either human or mechanical), prior to the erroneous fare being detected and corrected. AA, as a policy, does not intend to file fares that are erroneous or are reasonably apparent as erroneous. Where an erroneous fare has been published and a ticket issued at the erroneous fare, AA will void such ticket and notify the passenger that the ticket has been cancelled (i) within 72 hours of becoming aware of the publishing of an erroneous fare, or (ii) at least 24 hours prior to the passenger’s scheduled departure time in cases where the ticket is purchased less than 72 hours before the scheduled departure from the point of origin. AA will provide a refund of the total cost of a ticket purchased at the erroneous fare price to passengers so notified.

According to this provision, American will void tickets with erroneous fares and issue refunds of the total ticket costs. But you didn’t want your tickets voided – only the refund of the price differential.

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Our advocates reached out to American Airlines on your behalf. After we contacted American, an agent of American called you, but unfortunately, she was resistant to discussing the problem with you or offering you anything other than 5,000 frequent flier points. You told her that you would “accept that as her effort to make some progress, but that [you] did not consider this to be an acceptable resolution.” The agent did agree not to cancel your tickets.

But our advocates heard from another agent of American Airlines that the additional charges of $10 per ticket were for taxes that had been omitted from your confirmation. The agent agreed to refund the additional charges to you.



  • Bill___A

    Once the OP received a reasonable explanation for what the extra money was for, she should have accepted it. That’s what dialogue and discussion are for. Being reasonable is an important part of business dealings with any company. Although it is likely true that American should have displayed this fee the fact that they did not (it is not part of the airfare) does not make it a scam or illegitimate. It seems like American paid out of their shareholders’ pockets for her fees that went to a foreign entity. This is a whole big deal made out of nothing as far as I am concerned. If it were me, I would have asked them what it was for, and when they told me, I would tell them that they “should” have it on their website. However, people asking them what it is and using up support time should be sufficient incentive for them to fix it.

    This is what “making a mountain out of a molehill” is.

  • MarkKelling

    I was thinking that it could have been because the OP used a credit card issued from Ecuador and it was foreign exchange fluctuation between the time the tickets were reserved and when the payment posted that threw off the total.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    If it is really a fee charged to American, it was still their error. Just because an agent makes up a plausible excuse doesn’t mean that the excuse is true (Though I agree that I might not even have bothered to call for $20).

  • Except that DOT requires “all in” price quotes for tickets advertised from the US. Failure to disclose any taxes or fees would violate that regulation.
    I’m not sympathetic to a “computer glitch” when handling it correctly is required in order to do business in the US.
    AA should eat this one and updated their procedures and software to comply with regulations.

  • Scott Fagen

    Why not just dispute the overage with the credit card company? The OP had documentation of the “all-in costs,” it would seem to be a violation of the credit card’s merchant agreement (not to mention the law) to charge something more to the credit card.

  • PsyGuy

    This would have been easy, after flying and returning dispute the amount with the bank card. The LW has a receipt they were charged in error.

  • PsyGuy

    Agreed

  • PsyGuy

    The explanation isn’t reasonable however. The cost quoted included all applicable taxes, the airline claims it’s a computer glitch, that’s there fault not the LW, and that’s not reasonable.

  • PsyGuy

    Agreed this is all AA’s fault, they are responsible for compliance with the law and maintaining their software.

  • PsyGuy

    I would have argued with them over $20, it’s cheaper than therapy.

  • Bill___A

    I’d pick my battles, this would not be one of them. I get treated reasonably well by most if not all travel suppliers I deal with and although American appeared to have dropped the ball on this one, it is not something I would “go to the mats” for.

  • While AA reserves the right to cancel tickets, they are still on the hook for any expenses the traveler incurred as a result of the cancellation. That’s federal law. If the traveler had any change or cancellation fees as a result of the airfare cancellation it would quickly wipe out the $20 difference.
    AA also failed to disclose this part of the regulation to the traveler.
    Really – I think this merits a DOT complaint. I doubt they are doing this to just one person. The DOT can’t act without evidence.

  • Annie M

    I might be reporting this to the DOT if I were the writer.

  • PsyGuy

    I’d just make an issue out of it to use the airline and the CSR as a punching bag to get out my frustration for the week, as I wrote, cheaper than therapy.

  • Rebecca

    Once when I had a particularly bad week, a cashier refused to take a completely valid coupon. I’m normally very nice, I swear. But she wanted to be the $8/hour coupon police. So I proceeded to take my entire $135 order, one item at a time, out of the bags and place every single item back on her belt. By then the manager came up front and told her to take the coupon. I said no thanks, hope she has fun putting it all back, and walked out.

  • cscasi

    While your thoughts have some merit, I am not certain that it is necessary to use vulgar language here in order to express yourself.

  • joycexyz

    I like your style!

  • joycexyz

    Frankly, I rarely believe “computer glitch.” Very handy excuse for just about anything.

  • PsyGuy

    Computers don’t make mistakes, they execute the code they are provided.

  • jah6

    I would not have gone to this much trouble for $20.

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