American Airlines changed my flight. Can I get my money back?

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By Christopher Elliott

American Airlines changes Allison Bilski’s flight time from 11:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., which is impossible for her to make. Can she get a refund — or at least a credit?

Question

We are taking a cruise next month from Miami. I booked an 11:30 a.m. return flight from Miami to Chicago on American Airlines.

A few months before our cruise, American Airlines canceled our 11:30 a.m. flight and moved us to a 9 a.m. flight. We will still be on the ship at 9 a.m.

I called the airline and asked for a flight later in the afternoon. An agent advised me that all flights were full and they could not move my party to any other flights, even out of Fort Lauderdale.

I waited a few weeks and called again, hoping availability would open up, but it did not. An agent told me to cancel my tickets and that I would get a refund. So I did.

I have had an email conversation spanning weeks with American Airlines. They only process refunds via email and no phone option. They keep denying my refund. So I asked for an extension on my ticket credit. American Airlines denied that, too. Can you help? —  Allison Bilski, Munster, Ind.

Answer

American Airlines shouldn’t have canceled your flight, but I understand why it did. The airline, like many others, had scheduled more flights than it could reasonably operate, so it was downsizing its flight plans, which is the responsible thing to do.

American Airlines also shares the common practice among airlines of overbooking flights, which occasionally leads to passengers being involuntarily bumped from their intended flights.

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What’s not responsible is telling you to take it or leave it. After all, American Airlines created this problem by moving your flight. It should show some flexibility — something the agent who promised you a refund understood.

Too bad you didn’t get that promise in writing. If you had, then this case would be easy to resolve. You just show the airline the email, and it issues the refund. Case closed. (Related: Is it too hard to get an airline ticket refund?)

American Airlines saw it differently. It has a four-hour rule, when it comes to ticket changes. Its policy says that if it cancels or changes your flight, but can reschedule you to arrive within four hours of your original arrival, it would not be required to refund your ticket. You were well within that window. (Related: “Easily the worst airline experience I’ve ever had” — but can American Airlines fix this code-share problem?)

But your circumstances were special because you were coming off a cruise. Someone at the airline should have seen that and either offered you a later flight or extended your ticket credit. If you ever get stuck in a situation like this again (and I hope you don’t), try reaching out to one of the American Airlines executives whose names I publish on this site. They may be able to review the problem and figure out a solution. (Related: Hey American Airlines, where’s my ticket refund?)

You ended up booking a flight home on a different airline. I contacted American Airlines on your behalf. It offered to convert the $1,462 you spent on your flight into credits you can use any time next year. You are happy with that resolution.

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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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