If American Airlines can deceive this passenger, imagine what it can do to you

I’m not one to beat a dead horse, and after writing about American Airlines’ deceptive hold policy and following up with a convincing rebuttal to my critics, I could have sworn I saw that equine cadaver lying belly-up near a DFW cargo terminal.

But no.

Now, you know that after the slew of toxic comments from American Airlines automatons, I would probably be reluctant to wade back into these muddy waters. And I was — until I heard from Anna Eppink.

“I’ve found myself suckered in on American Airlines’ hold fare policy, rather than 24-hour cancellation,” she says. “Of course, they refuse to refund my ticket value. Nor does it seem they even read my complaints about how poor the hold option is implemented on their website.”

To recap, American is the only legacy carrier that doesn’t refund your ticket purchase within 24 hours. Instead, it offers a series of exotic “hold” options — which it’s allowed to do under Transportation Department regulations — designed, some say, to confuse passengers into believing they have a day to get a full refund. Instead, these passengers have made a nonrefundable purchase.

The arguments for American’s policy include:

  • It’s superior than offering a refund, since no money changes hands.
  • It existed before the DOT got involved in regulating this issue, and therefore represents the free market at its best.
  • The people who feel deceived by it deserve to have their money taken, because they don’t bother to do their research and are inexperienced gate lice.

I have my own opinions, of course. If it’s so superior, then why not offer both a hold and a 24-hour refund, and let’s find out how great customers think it is? What does the world’s largest and one of its most profitable carriers have to lose? The existing policy means absolutely nothing except that some of my critics don’t have anything better to do than study and memorize airline policies.

But the one that really makes my blood boil is this notion that Ma and Pa Kettle somehow deserve to be taken by this policy because they aren’t careful readers. It’s the assumption that only inexperienced and stupid occasional fliers would get suckered by American Airlines’ “hold” policy.

And that’s simply wrong.

“I was booking flights from San Diego to Jacksonville,” says Eppink. “I did not know American had a hold option. Now I realize it’s on the far-right side of the screen on the payment page. I often split my screen, so I’m not even sure I would have seen the option. If the options are to pay or to hold, I would expect the hold option to be separate from payment options. Reading other articles online, it appears I’m not the only one.”

Eppink changed her mind on the flight, tried to cancel and discovered she’d paid for a nonrefundable ticket. Sorry, no 24 hours for you.

So why am I telling you about this? Because Eppink is no kettle. In fact, she’s a former airline customer service agent.

She’s also been long-time US Airways frequent flier, since before the airline acquired American Airlines and changed its reservation policies without so much as a notification. “I guess this is how they treat long time US Airways customers who have now converted to American,” she says.

So if you can dupe a former employee and a loyal customer, I wonder: Who else is being hoodwinked by American’s “hold” policy?

It’s time for the DOT to close the American Airlines loophole, when it comes to “hold” policies. It’s the right thing to do. Apparently, American doesn’t know right from wrong, so now the government has to tell it. What’s this world coming to?

Should the DOT end American's 24 hour "hold" loophole?

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