Are “expedite” fees for award tickets refundable?

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By Christopher Elliott

Josh Banta and his wife cashed in some of their hard-earned American Airlines miles to fly from New York to Miami for a funeral. But the tickets weren’t free; they paid $125 for the privilege of using their miles within 21 days. That’s a fee someone has yet to explain to me.

“Our flight was canceled because of thunderstorms,” explains Banta. “There were no more flights that night, and all the flights the next day were booked, and even most flights the day after that were booked. We would not have been able to get to Miami until late Saturday night, more than 48 hours later than originally scheduled.”

The Bantas would have missed the funeral, so they asked American Airlines for their miles back. The carrier obliged, but kept the $125.

And American representatives argued that the expedite fee is charged solely for the privilege of booking a flight within 21 days of travel, and so cannot be refunded, regardless of the outcome.

But I argued you cannot charge someone for the privilege of booking a flight that they are not able to honor. Bottom line, American was not able to re-book us on something even remotely near the time of our original departure. Therefore, the morally right thing for them to do is to refund the expedite fee for a service they were not able to live up to.

I made many calls to American to get this resolved, and at one point some agent offered me a partial refund of $100, which I foolishly declined on principle. I should be entitled the full amount, I thought. Now, I have spent more than $25 of my time on this and I cannot get anyone at American to honor even this partial refund request.

What is your advice for how to proceed?

Well, apart from not being able to understand why a 21-day advance-purchase ticket commands an additional $125, now I’m equally baffled by American’s refusal to refund this absurd fee. (Related: Are airlines profiting at your expense?)

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The flight was canceled. If he’d paid American in cash for the ticket, he’d be entitled to a full refund. Why not for miles and the booking fee? After all, as a frequent flier, Banta is presumably among American’s best customers. Right?

My advocacy team and I suggested he send a brief, polite email to someone higher up at American, explaining his request. He did. (Here’s our guide to resolving your consumer problem.)

After sending some more emails to American Airlines, I was able to get the expedite fee mostly refunded — $100 of the $125. They even emailed me back today (a Sunday) to tell me!

I strongly suspect that the reason American Airlines settled with me is because I forwarded them a copy of the email I sent to you.

You keep the industry honest. I am very, very grateful you do what you do.

I don’t know about that. I think the honest thing to do would be to not charge an “expedite” fee at all. But airlines love their ancillary revenues. Who am I to deny them?

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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. He is based in Panamá City.

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