When Robin Swartz missed her airline connection, Amex Travel should have reimbursed her out-of-pocket costs. But the agency’s delays left her request grounded — until Elliott Advocacy stepped in.
Unfortunately, Swartz made several self-advocacy errors while bringing her reimbursement in for a landing. Her case is a reminder of the importance of the three Ps of self-advocacy: patience, persistence and politeness. Observing the three Ps could have helped Swartz cut through the fog of her missing refund case sooner.
A flight delay caused them to rebook
Swartz and her family booked a European vacation through American Express Travel last year. Their bookings included tickets on American Airlines from Los Angeles to Porto, Portugal, via Madrid. Their return trip was to be from Lisbon via London on British Airways.
But a flight delay caused them to arrive in Madrid over an hour late. The Swartzes missed their connection and contacted American Express Travel, which agreed to reissue their tickets for another flight.
No tickets for the return flight home
The Swartzes had no suspicions that anything was wrong with their tickets when they arrived at the Lisbon airport for their trip home. The check-in agents checked their luggage to Los Angeles. But when they arrived in London, they were in for a shock.
They went to the American Airlines check-in counter at Heathrow Airport to receive boarding passes for their flight to Los Angeles. American Express Travel had reissued Swartz’s husband’s and son’s tickets. But it neglected to reissue tickets for herself and her daughter for their onward flight from London.
Amex Travel promises help when their missed connection left them stranded overnight
Swartz spent nearly two hours at the American Airlines and British Airways customer service counters trying to fix this problem. Then she spent another hour on the phone with Amex Travel about her missed connection. But none of the companies would reissue her missing tickets. And there were no flights to Los Angeles available until the next day.
She paid for two new tickets home for herself and her daughter, as well as a hotel room. The last-minute fares cost Swartz over $20,000, which she charged on her American Express credit card. Amex Travel promised to reimburse her for all these costs. Its staff immediately sent her an email address to which she forwarded the receipts.
Six months later and no reimbursements from Amex Travel for her missed connection
Swartz waited for Amex Travel to reimburse her for the last-minute costs and her unused original airfare associated with her missed connection. Meanwhile, American Express billed Swartz for the additional charges and expected payment. The Swartzes could pay only a portion of the balance due. Eventually, American Express froze the Swartzes’ credit card account.
A series of American Express Travel employees contacted Swartz, each going silent after the initial contact. They told her that her case was “under review” and admitted that the agency had made some errors. But six months after her trip, she had not received the promised reimbursement. And her credit card account was still frozen.
No help for the missed connection from Amex Travel or British Airways
An American Express Travel representative emailed Swartz:
Swartz reached out to British Airways, but its representative responded: “Unfortunately, we’re unable to provide you with the details you need as your ticket was issued by your travel agent. We recommend that you contact them directly and they will be able to help you with your refund.”
Don’t self-advocate in this frame of mind
Unfortunately for Swartz, she took an angry, impatient tone in her emails that possibly delayed her case’s resolution. She sent the following email to American Express Travel’s representatives:
I am still waiting on a response! If I don’t hear back from you or someone else by tomorrow, we will be contacting an attorney and posting on different travel sites not to use Amex Travel.
The Amex card division closed our dispute because BA provided them with proof that we used the tickets we charged at Heathrow on August 5, BECAUSE OF AMEX TRAVEL’S MISTAKE, leaving us stranded without tickets for our flight home!
And when this message didn’t yield a response, she followed up with:
I TRIED TO BUY GROCERIES USING THE CARD TODAY AND IT WAS DECLINED.
WE CAN NO LONGER USE OUR AMEX BECAUSE THE AMOUNT IN QUESTION WAS ALREADY DISPUTED AND BRITISH AIRWAYS VERIFIED WE USED THE TICKETS WE WERE FORCED TO PURCHASE ON AUGUST 4! THIS HAS DRAGGED ON FOR SIX MONTHS, AND NOW MY HUSBAND’S CREDIT IS JEOPARDIZED AND YOU’RE LOSING HIM AS A GOOD CUSTOMER.
WE WILL BE HAVING AN ATTORNEY CONTACT YOU UNLESS WE HEAR BACK AND GET THIS RESOLVED IMMEDIATELY!
Swartz had plenty of reason to be frustrated. She should have received compensation, rather than months of silence, from American Express Travel for her missed connection. And Amex Travel’s representative should never have advised her to contact British Airways. That was Amex Travel’s job as Swartz’s agent.
But we never recommend using all caps (the online equivalent of shouting), issuing threats of legal action or bad publicity, or adding extraneous personal details to complaints. They alienate and waste the time of people you want to help you. Observing the three Ps of self-advocacy — politeness, patience and persistence — is far more likely to yield positive results.
Elliott Advocacy airlifts the reimbursement
Swartz finally contacted Elliott Advocacy for help. Our advocate Dwayne Coward reached out to American Express Travel on Swartz’s behalf.
Even with a nudge from us, it took another month before American Express Travel responded to Swartz’s case. And its initial offer of compensation omitted the cost of her hotel room.
But Swartz’s story has a happy ending: She finally received full reimbursement from American Express Travel for her missed connection costs. And she can fully use her American Express credit card.
When your request for help is somewhere in the clouds
If you’ve been waiting a long time for a travel reimbursement or refund to appear on your radar screen, we recommend the following steps:
- Write to customer service representatives of the appropriate company. If you made your bookings through a travel agent or online booking company, then that’s the first place you should go for help. Airlines, cruise lines and other travel companies will not directly assist travelers who use agents.
- Write to the correct executives of the company. The Contacts section of our website contains executive contact information for many companies, including American Express Travel. After writing to the lowest-ranking customer service executive, give that person a week to respond. If you don’t receive a satisfactory response, write to the next-highest ranking executive. Don’t start with the CEO.
- Include a paper trail of emails, receipts, confirmations and other items that document your interactions with the company. The paper trail establishes the company’s obligations to you. Without it, neither you, the company nor Elliott Advocacy can resolve your case in your favor.
- Keep your communications civil and concise. They should not contain text in all caps, sarcasm, accusations or threats of bad publicity or legal action. And executives are not likely to wade through laundry lists of complaints. Stick to the three Ps of consumer advocacy when writing to the company.
- Stay off the telephone as much as possible. Telephone calls, even recorded ones, often don’t yield usable paper trails. But they do result in much unproductive time on hold or being transferred between company employees.
- Allow the company a reasonable amount of time to resolve your issue. It will take the company’s executives a while to review the facts of your case and supporting documentation. And the coronavirus pandemic is forcing companies to operate with reduced staff and resources. Consumer service matters require longer wait times than normal for resolution.
And if none of these steps results in a happy ending for your case, contact the Elliott Advocacy team. Our advocates stand by to assist you!