Is American Airlines cheating on the 24-hour rule?

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By Christopher Elliott

Today’s 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.

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.

“Before I gave the agent my credit card, he told me 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, they told me a different story. “They informed me that I could not cancel the ticket and that they would issue a voucher for use within one year.” American usually offers ticket holds to exempt them from post purchase refund,” he says. (Here is our guide on resolving your consumer problems).

Interestingly, my advocacy team and 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:

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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.”

“They never offered me a hold, and instead, they told me 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.

What’s next?

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. (Here’s a remarkable example of how much airlines dislike the 24-hour rule.)

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.

Is American cheating on the 24-hour rule?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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