American Airlines canceled my flight three days in a row. What does it owe me?

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When Andre Yavetsky tried to fly from Chicago to Madrid on American Airlines, his flight was diverted to JFK, and he unexpectedly spent three days in New York. American initially offered him 15,000 miles in compensation, but Yavetsky wants more.

Yavetsky’s flight was originally scheduled to fly from Chicago to Paris, but was diverted to JFK because of a maintenance issue. For three days he tried to schedule another flight that would get him to Madrid, but each one was canceled. On the morning of his fourth day in the New York area, he was able to board a flight to Madrid.

He later reached out to American Airlines, claiming that an agent told him he could receive $1,200 for his trouble.

“I demand a maximum compensation for such a terrible experience,” he says.

In an email, he noted:

The last agent I rebooked the flight with contacted her supervisor and explained to me that I’m entitled $1,200 [sic] for such a sever [sic] case of flight delay/cancellation.”

He also asked to be refunded the $163 he paid to upgrade his seat on the flight, since he did not get an upgraded seat on the flight he was finally able to take.

The U.S. does not have a consumer protection law like EU261, and American refused to give him a $1,200 refund. Instead, it apologized for not getting him to his destination on time, credited his AAdvantage account with 15,000 miles and promised to look into the amount he paid for the seat. Yavetsky didn’t think this was sufficient compensation and wrote to American again. The airline then increased its offer to 40,000 miles.

Yavetsky still wasn’t happy:

Unfortunately, I still don’t consider this compensation satisfying because of my previous experience with AAdvantage Miles redemption. I know for a fact that 40,000 miles are pretty useless for travel during peak time, as in my case, especially after recent devaluation of American miles rewards (from March 2016).

Because of this reason, last year I canceled my AAdvantage Citi Card after many years of enjoying its benefits after I realized that it was impossible to redeem my accumulated miles for flying during peak times. I have been a frequent flyer with AA and Iberia (especially to Spain) for the last 25 years, and it is frustrating to see deterioration in AA customer care.

I understand Yavetsky’s frustration with being delayed for several days, but as we regularly point out on this site, airlines do not guarantee their schedules and can change or cancel flights at their discretion. And a quick flight search on American’s website does indicate that a one-way flight between Chicago and Madrid can be “purchased” with as little as 30,000 miles, which is only 5,000 more than the last miles ticket I booked to Europe in economy class five years ago.

Rule 80 of American’s International General Rules Tariff does indicate that American will either place a passenger on the next available American flight or book a passenger on another airline, or combination of other airlines. It isn’t clear why Yavetsky didn’t have — or didn’t accept — this option. In one of his emails to American, he refers to other people in his group. If they all insisted on traveling together, already crowded flights are likely the reason for the extended delay in New York.

In the end, American got Yavetsky to his destination, fulfilling its contract. No airline compensates its passengers for lost time or missed events. When questioned about his expenses during the delay, Yavetsky admitted that American paid for his hotel nights and gave him a daily allowance for food and necessities.

American also promised a refund of the amount he paid for his upgraded seat:

Furthermore in light of the details you provided, we are reviewing your record to determine the applicable refund amount for your unused seat. Once the adjustment is processed, a credit will be issued to the original form of payment you used when purchasing the ticket.

Our advocate advised Yavetsky that the seat refund and 40,000 miles is fair compensation. Do you agree?

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