An Aeromexico refund runaround with a surprise ending

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By Christopher Elliott

Extracting a promised refund from an airline can be hard work. At times, it can even be impossible — or close to it.

All of which makes Michael Levin’s case so remarkable. He and two friends were scheduled to fly from Sacramento, Calif., to Mexico late last year, and their flight was overbooked. Aeromexico offered them a ticket voucher or a refund, and they chose the refund.

What happened next may help you if you ever need to get a refund from an intransigent airline.

Persistence pays off

Levin was told it would take six weeks to get his money back, which is a ridiculously long time. The Transportation Department gives airlines seven days to process a refund. I’ve seen refunds take minutes, if not seconds, when a business wants to move quickly.

But when he contacted me nearly three months after his scheduled flight, Levin had nothing. What’s more, the site he’d booked the ticket through, Orbitz, had been unable to help him secure a refund.

He thought he was out of options. But he wasn’t.

My advocacy team and I contacted Aeromexico on his behalf, hoping the airline would quickly process the refund it had promised him. But several weeks later, Levin hadn’t heard anything. (Related: I wanted to go surfing. Now I just want a baggage refund, dude.)

Now I was out of options, too. (Related: A missed connection and a $300 bill — did Aeromexico offer him enough compensation?)

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But Levin didn’t give up. Here’s what happened next:

I was at the airport a few weeks ago for an afternoon flight and had a few extra minutes, so I went up to the administrative offices for the airport.

Sacramento airport is owned by the county, so they are all county employees. I think I may have been the first person to ever come up and ask for assistance.

Within minutes, I had two receptionists, an administrative assistant, an administrator, and the acting airport director all trying to help me. They gave me the name and email of the local manager for Aeromexico, and they emailed him as well and copied it to me.

I think they embarrassed him because he emailed me immediately, and I responded and copied it to the airport director. In his reply email, he asked me not to send any of my emails to the airport since they were not involved.

After a few weeks of emails and reminders, they finally sent the $1,500 by money order and it arrived yesterday.

I suspect I am one of very few people who have been able to get a refund from Aeromexico.

I love this story, because it underscores the value of what I call the three “Ps” of complaint resolution: politeness, patience and persistence. (Here’s our guide to resolving your consumer problem.)

In-person visits are rarely used by travelers because it’s travel. Returning to the hotel you stayed at while your were on vacation isn’t always practical. The travel industry uses distance to its advantage. They also invoke language barriers, which is surely something Aeromexico has done a time or two. (“Did we say ‘refund’? We meant ‘rebook’.”)

I wish I could have secured a promised refund for Levin, but I’m not alone in my failure. Aeromexico and Orbitz also didn’t do what they were supposed to.

Levin wasn’t out of options, though. He still had a credit card dispute and a visit to small-claims court in his arsenal. Good thing he didn’t have to use them.

Do airlines drag their feet on refunds, hoping to eventually keep the money?

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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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