A 20 percent credit for my American Airlines tickets? That’s insane!

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By Christopher Elliott

What if you cancel your American Airlines tickets and your travel agent hands you a voucher that only covers 20 percent of the cost of a new ticket?

That’s the strange situation in which Michelle Crespo found herself after her ticket credits booked through MilitaryFares.com during the pandemic suddenly got massively devalued. And she wants answers.

Crespo paid her travel agency $2,254 — but now, bizarrely, a representative has told her that her new voucher will only cover 20 percent of the cost of a new fare.

Is that fair?

When our advocacy team got our hands on this case, we immediately thought, “There must be some misunderstanding.” We’d never heard of an airline limiting flight credits in this way. But then we discovered this these were regular airline tickets “protected” by a waiver we rarely talk about here. And in the end, our instincts proved correct. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

First, though, let’s review Crespo’s problem.

Here are your American Airlines tickets!

Crespo booked three tickets from Charlotte, N.C., to Frankfurt on American Airlines from Military Fares, a travel agency owned by tour operator Sky-tours.com.

“I even bought coverage that allowed me to cancel for any reason and receive a refund,” she explains.

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But then COVID struck, and Crespo had to cancel. Since American Airlines was still flying to Frankfurt, it offered her a ticket credit via the travel agency.

So far, so good.

But when she phoned MilitaryFares.com to use her voucher, it gave her some bad news.

“When I tried to use the credit, a MilitaryFares.com representative told me I can only use 20 percent of the future travel credit at a time,” she says. “So, in other words, I have to spend $10,000 to use my $2,000 credit.”

Huh? That doesn’t make sense.

“This is insane,” she says. “I really want my money back or a full flight credit.”

Wait, are these American Airlines tickets refundable?

Let’s take a closer look at Crespo’s itinerary. Her documentation shows she booked three tickets from Charlotte to Frankfurt on American Airlines flight 704, departing on June 27, 2020. The return tickets from Frankfurt to Raleigh/Durham were on an American Airlines code-share flight with British Airways (Flight 6577) and then continuing on American Flight 173 to Raleigh/Durham on July 10.

Total fare: $2,254.

Crespo also paid extra for travel protection for her tickets, called a Gold Travel Waiver. (Related: The travel industry is lying about fees — and now it’s gone too far.)

Here’s what you get with the Gold Travel Waiver:

You can protect your travel order with -No Questions Asked Cancellation Protection- which allows you to cancel all or any portion of your order, for ANY reason, up and until 24 hours before your first travel date and receive [a] refund with absolutely NO questions asked (the price of -No Questions Asked Cancellation Protection- and original issuance fee from Sky-tours are nonrefundable, refund is calculated over the base fare ).

No Questions Asked Cancellation Protection- may only be purchased at the time when placing your booking.

No Questions Asked Cancellation Protection- gives you peace of mind when needing to cancel your trip prior to 24 hours before your intended travel.

To receive a refund, you just have to contact Sky-tours.com Support. Cancellations by voice mail, e-mail, or otherwise not communicated may not qualify and will be subject to the Standard Cancellation Policy.

So she had standard economy class airline tickets protected by a cancellation waiver. And you know the drill — if an airline cancels the flight, you get a full refund. Otherwise, it’s an expiring ticket credit. Here’s our complete guide to airline ticket credits.

Bad news: We have to cancel our American Airlines tickets

Crespo’s paper trail — the correspondence between her and MilitaryFares.com (Sky-tours.com) — shows the agonizing decision that led to her cancellation. On Sunday, June 7, 2020, she inquired about the refundability of her tickets.

Crespo: I purchased the Gold Travel Waiver. If I cancel my reservation due to COVID, how much of a refund would I get?

MilitaryFares.com: We can cancel the reservation and request for refund against a fee of 100 USD per person using the gold cancellation protection. The refund process will take approximately 90 business days due to the high volume of refund requests.

But wait, shouldn’t I get a full refund?

The COVID situation didn’t get any better during the summer of 2020, so on Sunday, June 21, Crespo reached out to MilitaryFares.com again about her American Airlines tickets.

Crespo: I would like to cancel the trip now and rebook at a later date. Can you handle this?

MilitaryFares.com: For the moment some of your flights are impacted, as per checking American airlines is not offering the cash refund, we can cancel the flights as per your request if you no longer need to use them, as your airlines offer to keep the amount as credit for future use, but whether reissue can be done in the future; and if is and how much the reissue cost will be is subject to the airline as the difference on fare and tax might apply according to availability. Please come back to us to confirm the cancellation 24 hours before the original flight time to keep the credit for future use, we will provide the details.

(If I may interject here. That’s quite a mouthful! But let me translate: The representative is saying American Airlines canceled some of her flights during COVID and MilitaryFares.com can cancel the rest if she wants. But she would not be eligible for a cash refund. Curiously, there’s no mention of that Gold Travel Waiver.)

Crespo: American Airlines canceled one of our return flights which they say entitles us to a FULL refund. How do we go about getting a refund and canceling our trip? They canceled flight 6577 FRA-LHR. Can we cancel and rebook at a later date and not have to pay extra if fare is more when we rebook or do we need to cancel and get a refund now?

The terms on these ticket vouchers are a little unusual

Crespo heard nothing from MilitaryFares.com for several weeks. And here’s how it finally responded:

Dear Madam,

We are very sorry for the delay in refunding you for your canceled flight. The pandemic has left a severe impact on many businesses, particularly the travel and hospitality industries, and Sky-tours has not been spared.

While the cash refund is not sent yet by the airlines, we want to offer you an instant refund via a credit voucher valid 1 year to travel at any time, by anyone you want, with any airline, and for any route for the airline-approved amount of your cancelled flight.

The conditions of use are the following:

– Refund Vouchers can be used as part payment towards a future booking up to a maximum amount of 20% of the purchased travel.
– Refund Vouchers are valid for use at www.sky-tours.com and might be used for any service advertised on-page.
– The new trip booked with your voucher must be used (purchased) within the validity date. The travel date can be later!
– When making the new travel booking, we will allow a discount of up to 20% of the total amount due.
– Remaining credit can be used for 365 days as many times until the amount is 0 (zero)
– Cash refunds are not allowed.
– Refund Voucher Validity: 365 days

We seek your understanding and patience during these challenging times and we thank you for your continued support.

And there it is — the refund voucher that “can be used as part payment towards a future booking up to a maximum amount of 20% of the purchased travel.”

As Crespo understood it, she would have to buy $10,000 worth of tickets to get the full value of her tickets.

What’s this Gold Travel Waiver worth, anyway?

A year later, on June 30, 2021, Crespo wrote MilitaryFares.com to let it know American had refunded her ticket directly to the travel agency.

“American Airlines says, ‘We have issued a credit to the travel agency. Please contact the travel agency with any questions regarding your refund’,” she says. “Where is my refund!!!!”

And that’s it. There’s no response from MilitaryFares.com.

Would the Gold Travel Waiver have helped? It should have. She paid for a waiver that allowed her to cancel her flights for any reason, up and until 24 hours before her first travel date and received a refund with “absolutely NO questions asked.”

And now she was getting the silent treatment.

I’m not a big fan of cancellation waivers. Lawyers add so much fine print that they become almost impossible to use. A company can do whatever it wants with its waivers. They don’t have to worry about state regulations or underwriters. Consumers don’t have much recourse other than small claims court or arbitration, neither of which is practical for a customer like Crespo.

How to avoid a problem with your American Airlines ticket credit

If you’re thinking of buying tickets on an American Airlines flight, here’s how to avoid a problem like Crespo’s:

Book direct

If Crespo had booked her tickets directly on the American Airlines site, the airline would have refunded her tickets directly. But when you use an intermediary like a travel agency, the agency gets your refund and then passes it along to you. Yes, there are benefits to having an intermediary. But when it comes to the speed of a refund, it’s always better to work directly with the airline.

Get travel insurance

Travel insurance isn’t a solution to all of your problems, as some might suggest. But a “cancel for any reason” policy would have given Crespo 50 to 75 percent of her prepaid, nonrefundable expenses back. A travel agency waiver, on the other hand, might not be worth much.

Fly the flexible skies

Crespo had booked American Airlines’ “basic” economy class tickets, which are about as rigid as a reinforced flight deck door. She couldn’t make any changes to the ticket and had to pay extra for all checked luggage. In exchange, of course, she got a lower fare. But it might have made sense to spend a little more and upgrade to “main cabin” for added flexibility or flying on another airline, which offers a fully refundable fare option.

If you’ve already booked a ticket and are in trouble, don’t worry. We receive a lot of complaints about American Airlines. I also publish the names, numbers and email addresses of the American Airlines executives and a how-to guide for resolving your consumer complaint.

No, you’re not getting a ticket credit. But …

But my advocacy team was on the case. Dwayne checked with Mo Ahmed, the senior vice president for sales and operations at Sky-tours International. Did Crespo only have access to 20 percent of the value of her vouchers?

“It seems that there was confusion in reference to the usage of the voucher,” he told Dwayne. “All our customers at Militaryfares.com can use any vouchers for their full value amounts and not 20 percent.”

Ahmed said MilitaryFares.com wouldn’t give Crespo the American Airlines ticket voucher she wanted. (Related: No hope for an airline ticket refund, or is there?)

“As Ms. Crespo is asking for a refund, that request was submitted, and the refund process has started. Our customer support team will be reaching out to Ms. Crespo to advise about the refund process,” he says. “Thank you for bringing this situation to my attention as we strive to provide the best customer service to our customers across all our brands.”

Crespo received a call from John Hunt, the president of MilitaryFares.com. He was “very apologetic” and promised to work on securing a full refund for her. And he did.

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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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