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

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, but he wants to know: Is it enough?

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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.

“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.

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.

I’m at a loss as to why they did not reissue his unused ticket from last year as it was and is still valid.

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.

Some of you are probably asking yourself: How could American lose a reservation and then misplace a ticket credit?

Answer: 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 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, which you can read on our forums.)

17 thoughts on “Never mind, American Airlines — just send me a refund!

  1. There’s more to this than written in the story. Why would Mr. Madnick have multiple record locators for one trip for his family? Why isn’t everyone on a single reservation/record locator? If his son is 12 and the only one flying on the itinerary, AA would ask for $150 for an unaccompanied minor fee…and, AA will not allow you to book a single minor on their website, you must call reservations (I just went through this for my 14 year old daughter).

  2. According to the LW, he already got a refund. You can read what he said on the forum.

    We issued a USD379.30 refund on 2015-11-19 to your credit card ending in 7597. Please allow 1-2 billing cycles for this refund to appear on your credit card statement.

    What else is there to contest? The amount of the refund?

  3. When you book a flight, always, always, print the confirmation to bring with you to the airport. Don’t rely on just recording the locator number, because as a form of electronic shorthand called a “hash” it is not necessarily unique. If a dispute arises, or you can’t even check in, you need the confirmation in which the code was printed.

  4. Hashing isn’t the core issue. At 6 number/letters, there are over 1.8 billion combinations available.

    The bigger concern I would see is that airlines use PNR or record locator numbers to house a reservation. But a reservation is not enough to board a flight or get a boarding pass, you need a ticket which is validated by payment with an e-ticket number (usually done behind the scenes). Using a voucher to try to apply old flight credit to a new flight can result in no ticket being issued, even if you have a reservation number. Not all printed confirmations show both the e-ticket number and the PNR. So printing just the PNR is not any better than just recording the locator. This is a surprisingly frequent tech glitch that is extremely frustrating as you usually don’t know until you can’t check in.

    Good on the OP for trying to do online check-in and calling when there was an issue. Had he waited until he got to the airport to try and fix it, he might have missed the flight.

  5. But he didn’t get ALL of it back.

    AA admitted they made an error, yet still charged him $200. That is just not right.

  6. A printed confirmation is proof that the carrier’s system said you had a valid reservation, so that if any behind-the-scenes problem occurs with the ticket issuance the onus is still firmly on them to make it right. If you show up with just a locator, they can always claim you didn’t transcribe it properly when you made your smartphone calendar entry.

    Bear in mind also that when a GUID is hashed into a visible record locator, you’re dealing with a special contracted alphabet, increasing the probability of a duplication. Vowels are often omitted to avoid accidentally creating bad words, and sometimes you will see 1’s and 5’s and zeroes left out to minimize confusion.

  7. Don’t you think we need to see the kid’s original ticket to make a good or reasonable opinion? We don’t even know what that ticket was all about.

  8. Sorry but you are just confusing the general public with statements like these above.

    The 2 most important things you need are:
    #1) The operating airline’s own record locator.
    #2) The (13 digit) e-ticket number for that flight.

    Your reservation needs to be located when you check in. If you do not have a reservation, then you have a big problem.
    And if your e-ticket coupon is good then a boarding pass can be issued.
    You e-ticket is actually your proof of payment for that flight.

    Therefore, the single best thing a passenger can do is the print the airline’s own e-ticket receipt after buying a ticket (from anyone).

  9. Because they were using ticket credits they already had to buy this flight, which required a $200 change fee. That was left out of this retelling of the story. You can make your own guesses as to why.

  10. I should add that booking direct, or through a flesh-and-blood TA, is also a good way of assuring that your reservation is a real one.

  11. Why would he agree to a $200 change fee? He didn’t change anything the airline made an error. Am I interpereting this wrong?

  12. I am glad they issued this refund. It was well-deserved. People shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to use a credit they have already paid for in the first place.

  13. He was using a ticket credit to pay for the original flight, which required a change fee. It’s explained that way in the forum post. Also, he was booking the ticket hours before they were leaving, and figured he could get the credit applied retroactively after the trip. But the change fee was because the the original unticketed reservation was purchased with unused ticket credits.

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