Now that I don’t need the miles I purchased, can I get a refund?

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Jessica Peterson wants a refund for her American Airlines miles. She bought 17,000 miles to cover the cost of a ticket, but then American Airlines lowered the number of miles needed for the transaction. Now, the airline is balking at helping her undo the transaction.

Her story is another reminder of playing the points game. And, that when it comes to refunds, the money flows in one direction.

Peterson wanted to redeem American Airlines AAdvantage miles for two tickets from Austin to London. She successfully booked her husband’s ticket using 30,000 of his AAdvantage miles. Next, she tried to book her ticket on the same flight, using her AAdvantage miles. But the award redemption level had increased to 47,500. So, Peterson bought an extra 17,000 AAdvantage miles at a cost of $474. When she tried, again, to book the flight with her miles, the redemption level had decreased to 30,000.

Of course, she quickly booked the ticket and redeemed her 30,000 award miles. But now she had 17,000 miles that she didn’t need, or want, at a cost of $474.

Peterson wanted to return the 17,000 extra miles and get a refund of her $474, but American Airlines refused. The American Airlines agent told Peterson that once she input her credit card information for the purchase, she agreed to its terms and conditions. Those terms and conditions clearly provide that “transactions are nonrefundable and nonreversible.”

Peterson posted her dilemma to our help forums, which are staffed by travel industry experts, and often read by company executives. Peterson didn’t know if there was an error on the site, or a temporary glitch that made the price increase, then decrease so quickly. But, she said that she felt that American Airlines had “robbed” her, or engaged in a “bait and switch to make more profit.”

Our forum advocates felt that Peterson was impatient in her purchase. Once the redemption amount fluctuated, Peterson should have waited and watched, before she bought more miles. Our advocates stressed that if someone is also trying to book the same flight, or just testing availability, inventory will fluctuate. Plus, our team pointed out that computers determine seat availability. People working for the airline don’t try to adjust inventory to get more money for a seat.

Playing the mileage game can be tricky. Peterson spent $474 for 17,000 miles because the redemption amount suddenly increased by 17,500 miles. Before she bought the extra miles, she should have asked a few questions. First, what is the redemption of an award mile really worth? Second, she should have compared the actual price of the ticket to the cost of the award ticket. She should have determined if it was worth it to spend $474 for 17,500 miles.

Peterson emailed American Airlines executives, using company contact information we list on our website. Peterson’s emails haven’t changed American Airlines’ position.

Should we try to advocate for Peterson?

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