Is American Airlines cheating on the 24-hour rule?

Today’s From The Trenches case is about an airline that may or may not be cheating on a federal regulation that helps consumers.

The regulation: The 24-hour rule.

The airline: American Airlines, which has a policy of either offering a 24-hour hold on a reservation, per the requirement, or selling you a ticket with all the usual restrictions.

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The case comes to us by way of Zach Griff, an experienced air traveler who booked a complex business class ticket to the Middle East in an Admirals Lounge recently. The reason? It was too complex of an itinerary to be booked online, he says. You can read the entire forum thread here.

“Before I gave the agent my credit card, I was told that I would have 24 hours to cancel my itinerary — per usual DOT rules — without a change or cancellation penalty and would receive a full refund to my credit card,” he says.

Then he found a better fare.

“When I called American that evening to cancel my reservation, I was told a different story. I was told that I could not cancel the ticket and would be issued a voucher for use within one year, because American usually offers ticket holds to exempt them from post purchase refund,” he says.

Interestingly, I had a conversation with an American Airlines representative about its 24-hour hold policy, and that’s how he described the airline’s policy, too.

In other words, you can either buy a ticket, and all the normal restrictions apply. Or you can hold a reservation for 24 hours. But you can’t book a ticket and then get a refund.

His experience conflicts with the DOT guidance on verbal disclosures:

Carriers must fully and accurately disclose their cancellation policies, including the 24-hour reservation requirement, through reservation agents or customer service agents upon receiving direct inquiries from consumers by telephone or in person at the ticket counter. We consider any inquiry regarding a carrier’s general cancellation policies or specifically regarding the 24-hour reservation requirement to be a “direct inquiry.”

“I was never offered a hold, and instead was told that I would have 24 hours to cancel for a full refund,” says Griff.

Well, our advocates are struggling with this one. We’ve given Griff our executive contacts at American Airlines and advised him to request a refund in writing.

At this point, I think he also needs to also take his case to the DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Division. I think they’d be very interested in the sleight of hand that American seems to be pulling here.

A nod to advocates Matt Rosenfeld and Grant Ritchie for taking this case. We could use your help on this customer problem and the hundreds of others that have come in since our last update.

Did I say “hundreds”? Yes, I did. We are getting overwhelmed. If you want to help with the advocacy in real time, please join us. It’s fun and exciting. The forum is right here.

Is American cheating on the 24-hour rule?

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In The Trenches is a daily post about a live case from our help forums. It’s raw, unedited and can change at any minute, so please send us any updates — and pardon the typos.