Never mind, American Airlines — just send me a refund!

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By Christopher Elliott

Howard Madnick calls it the “disappearing reservation” trick. And it happened to him several times. In just a moment, I’ll let him describe a bizarre series of circumstances that led to several reservations being made for his 12-year-old son, Harrison, and then lost. American has offered a resolution for a refund, but he wants to know: Is it enough?

I’ll let you decide

Madnick recently booked and paid for four tickets for his family to fly from Washington to London. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, American failed to complete the reservation for Harrison and I want a refund.

“I was having trouble checking in online the night before our flight, and that’s when I noticed my son had no record locator,” he remembers. “I called American, and a representative verified that my son’s ticket had never been issued. She was unable to explain why.”

Madnick was forced to buy a last-minute ticket for his son, and again, for reasons that are not entirely clear, American asked him to take the money he’d previously spent as a $708 credit, minus a $200 change fee.

“I’ve tried twice to use the flight credit for recent travel, and the customer service representatives failed both times to do so,” he says. “I do not have travel planned for the foreseeable future to try yet again to use the credit.”

Madnick is frustrated. He called American to try to use his credits, but again, the credits were added but didn’t go through. It isn’t clear why the credits were unusable, but sometimes ticket credits come with restrictions. Somewhere along the way, the tickets apparently became flight vouchers that expire after one year.

It irks me that after I tried to do the right thing, the clock may yet run down on this credit.

Since we usually travel as a family, to use my son’s voucher would require that my wife or I also fly American, which may not offer the best travel arrangements for future flights.

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Frankly, I have absolutely no guarantee that American will honor the flight credit, given that they have in effect failed to do so twice — once by their own fault, once by the fault of whatever error lost my son’s original booking — itself not a glowing recommendation for future travel on American.

Here’s how American responded:

I apologize for any miscommunication that may have occurred when you intended to ticket your entire family for your trip to Newcastle. I was glad to see where a reservations agent was able to get you a comparable price for your son’s ticket.

As a gesture of goodwill, I will reissue his unused ticket into an eVoucher (sent via a separate email) for its original value, minus the change charge. This will give you one year from date of issue to reuse this credit to fly upon American.

Mr. Madnick, I hope this is helpful. We look forward to welcoming all of you aboard in the future.

This case has is similar to another Reader problem involving a canceled flight and two charges from the airline. And some of you are probably asking yourself: How could American lose a reservation and then misplace a ticket credit?

Does he deserve a full refund?

Probably the merger, but does it really matter? American admits it happened, and it’s not blaming Madnick, so we can only assume there was some enormous digital hiccup.

So is issuing the tickets for another year enough of a fix? Or does Madnick deserve a full refund?

Here’s how the advocacy team and I see it: If he paid American for the ticket, and then it didn’t deliver one, he was entitled to a full refund — not a ticket credit. But if he accepted the ticket credit, which he did, then he would have had to accept the terms, including all of the restrictions and the expiration.

(Update: American refunded the ticket, but only after a lengthy and painful series of appeals to its executives.)

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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.

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