Tom Suminski allowed $7,662 in American Airlines flight vouchers to expire right in front of his eyes. He says an airline representative gave him faulty redemption instructions that led to the shocking loss of the giant credit.
Now his family’s Hawaiian vacation is in jeopardy, and Suminski is asking for our help reclaiming his flight vouchers. But is this just a lost cause?
Suminski’s case underscores the importance of ensuring that you’ve read and understood the terms of any airline vouchers you possess. That’s especially critical if you have high-value flight vouchers as Suminski did. Confusion over the terms of his credits caused him to ignore visible expiration dates on his vouchers. That proved to be a $7,622 mistake.
Thousands of dollars in American Airlines flight vouchers — the paper kind
In April 2018, Suminski and his family received the flight vouchers in question after a canceled flight. American Airlines issued paper flight vouchers rather than the modern, and much easier to redeem, eVouchers. Suminski had no idea that the physical form of these credits would cause significant problems later.
The family accepted the bundle of eight vouchers and Suminski tucked them safely away. He kept in mind the expiration date, which was clearly marked on each flight voucher: April 8, 2019.
By the end of last year, Suminski’s thoughts turned to his cache of flight vouchers. He knew it was time to make a plan to spend them.
“In December, we booked flights to Hawaii for next August,” Suminski explained to me. “I gave all the information on each flight voucher to the phone agent.”
And this is where things began to go wrong.
The agent told me that because these were paper flight vouchers, I would need to mail them to the airline. She said after American Airlines received the physical vouchers, our tickets would be issued.
Because of the high value of the vouchers I didn’t want to mail them. I asked her what other options I had. Then she told me to bring the vouchers to the airport and exchange them for the tickets. She said I must do this exchange at least two weeks before our trip. Until then our flights would be on hold.
Suminski hung up the phone and he soon received a confirmation of the flights he had placed on hold with his flight vouchers. He believed all was in order for their Hawaiian vacation. It definitely wasn’t, but he wouldn’t find out the truth for several months — after the paper vouchers had already expired.
You can’t exchange expired paper vouchers for a flight to Hawaii
In April of this year, Suminski received an alert of a slight schedule change to his Hawaiian flight. That alert turned his thoughts back to the pile of flight vouchers. He called American Airlines to confirm that he only needed to exchange the flight vouchers two weeks before the flight. This agent didn’t think he should wait.
“The woman I talked to confirmed that the reservation was still in place,” Suminski remembered. “But she suggested that I get in to deliver the flight vouchers as soon as I could ‘just to be safe.’ So I went the following week to the airport.”
Unfortunately, Suminski received terrible news at the airport. He had waited too long to exchange his paper flight vouchers.
“I went to the airport with all those flight vouchers and tried to exchange them for our tickets,” Suminski recalled. “I did exactly what the phone agent told me to do. This employee told me that I couldn’t exchange expired vouchers for those flights!”
Poof! Your flight vouchers are suddenly worth nothing
Suminski says he couldn’t believe his ears. The agent told him that the $7,662 in flight vouchers that he held in his hands were now worthless. He tried to reason with her and explained what the other representative had told him. But he soon realized he was getting nowhere. This representative was not going to budge.
The only advice that the customer service supervisor could offer Suminski was to contact the corporate office.
“She told me to write to Sean Bentel (Vice President of customer relations),” Suminski remembered.
So that’s exactly what Suminski did. He was outraged by the turn of events and the loss of his giant cache of flight vouchers. Using our American Airlines company contacts, he made a plea for a review of his dire situation.
As our publisher Christopher Elliott explains in his article on self-advocacy, it’s never a great idea to go straight to the top of the executive chain. If your request is rejected, there is nowhere else to escalate.
And unfortunately, the top of the American Airlines executive chain did reject Suminski’s request.
Believe the expiration date
Soon Suminski received a written rejection of his request to have his flight vouchers reissued.
Hello Mr. Suminski:
Thank you for contacting us. I did try to reach you by phone but was unsuccessful. I did leave a voicemail I hope you have the opportunity to review.
I’m sorry to learn you didn’t have an opportunity to use the travel voucher you received from American Airlines. However, vouchers are valid for one year and are not eligible for reissue, as noted on the original document.
Expiration dates on vouchers, coupons and similar documents are very common, and we must respectfully decline your request for an extension of your transportation voucher.
Suminski’s plans to celebrate his 20th wedding anniversary in Hawaii were quickly disintegrating. He tried to appeal the decision and once again explained the erroneous information the original phone agent gave him. But the answer was the same. Those flight vouchers expired on their displayed expiration date — all $7,662.
In desperation, Suminski decided that he had one last chance to save his Hawaiian vacation: The Elliott Advocacy team.
Shared confusion over these paper flight vouchers
When I went over Suminski’s troubling tale, I could see that there seemed to be shared confusion over these vouchers. He still had the physical copy of the flight vouchers which he forwarded to me. Clearly visible was an expiration date of April 8, 2019. Suminski attempted to exchange the vouchers at the airport on April 23, 2019. There was no question that they had expired by the time he presented them back to American Airlines.
But, there was more to this case than simply missing an expiration date. Suminski insisted that more than one American Airlines employee told him that his Hawaiian flights were protected. And he was sure that these agents told him all he needed to do was exchange the flight vouchers for the tickets a minimum of two weeks before the flight.
This was not correct information.
American Airlines transportation vouchers and eVouchers expire on the date indicated on the document. Suminski had not presented those flight vouchers to the airline before they expired.
I hoped that Suminski had the name of at least one of the American Airlines agents. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the name of any employee(s) who gave him the incorrect guidance about the expiration date.
Things weren’t looking very hopeful for Suminski’s tropical vacation.
A glimmer of hope to retrieve those flight vouchers
Although I felt awful about Suminski’s loss, I didn’t have high hopes that I could persuade American Airlines to reissue the vouchers. But the sheer value of the loss caused me to look closer for any sliver of evidence that could prove that there was shared confusion here.
And then I found what I believed just might tip the scales in Suminski’s favor.
I took a look at the flight information for Suminski’s Hawaiian flights. The “hold” confirmation noted that it would cancel within 24 hours if payment wasn’t received.
But Suminski told me that the original agent asked him for all of his flight voucher numbers to hold these flights indefinitely.
Because the agent took the flight voucher numbers, he believed he had redeemed the vouchers and that the expiration dates were then irrelevant.
I thought I was done [with the flight vouchers] and that bringing them to the airport was merely a formality. If [American Airlines] had given me even the slightest indication that this would happen, I would have gone to the airport the very next day.
That seemed like a reasonable assumption to me. So I checked to see if the agent had protected Suminski’s itinerary using the transportation vouchers.
Five months after the Hawaiian flights on hold should have expired, they were still valid and awaiting the physical flight vouchers.
I knew it was a long shot, especially since Sean Bentel’s office had already sided against Suminski. But I hoped our executive contact at American Airlines might be able to give the case one more look.
Good news! You’re going to Hawaii
I reached out to our executive contact at American Airlines and asked if the team could review the case despite the glaring problem of the visible expiration dates on the flight vouchers.
The reason I’m bringing this case to you is that it does seem that someone at AA must have given him this incorrect information since I can see that even today his tickets for these flights are still pending (since December 2018). So someone at AA did protect that reservation from being canceled. Is there any chance that these vouchers could be extended until August given this oddity? There is a lot of money at stake here…
Our executive contact wasn’t entirely convinced. But he explained that American Airlines is moving entirely away from the paper transportation voucher system. Until all the paper vouchers are eliminated, the agents can protect pending flights until the passenger presents the paper voucher.
It would seem that the phone agent had no way of checking the expiration date of Suminski’s paper vouchers. For that reason, she might have given him the information as Suminski understood. But he never officially used the vouchers before they expired.
However, there was fabulous news coming Suminski’s way. The executive team decided to reverse the original decision and soon he emailed me about his good news:
Michelle, you are a genius!
I just got a call from [an executive] at AA, and she is re-issuing me new eVouchers. I can’t tell you how happy I am.
Suminski’s next move? He immediately applied the value of his eVouchers to his family’s flights to Hawaii. Their flight voucher nightmare is officially over and their dream vacation is about to begin.
How to avoid finding yourself in a flight voucher nightmare
If you have paper (or electronic) flight vouchers somewhere gathering dust, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
- Read the terms and conditions: Make sure to read the fine print on your vouchers. This is critical to understanding when and how you can use your voucher and will help avoid unpleasant surprises. The terms and conditions of American Airlines paper transportation vouchers are the same as the modern eVouchers. Unfortunately, they are significantly more complicated to redeem. If Suminski had understood that, he might have insisted on eVouchers in the first place.
- Believe the expiration date: Every voucher has an expiration date. Until you officially exchange it for a ticket, the expiration date is enforced. And if you fail to redeem the voucher by that date, the airline is under no obligation to extend the value.
- Ask for employee names: Often, consumers contact our team with tales of unusual conversations with airline employees promising things that aren’t based in the policy of the airline. Without the name of an employee, it’s challenging to mediate those cases. It’s always good to make a note of the name of any company representative who gives you instructions — about flight vouchers or anything else service related. Should a problem arise later, that name will lend strength to your complaint.
- Spend your vouchers as soon as possible: In many ways, flight vouchers are a lot like gift cards. Companies know that a high percentage of these are never used. That’s excellent news for the company — bad news for the consumer. Spending these vouchers as soon as possible is a passenger’s smartest move.