American Airlines refunded only half of my ticket — where’s the rest?

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By Christopher Elliott

After American Airlines cancels Susan Cohen’s flight, it refunds only half her ticket. The reason? It claims she used the other half. Which is impossible. What now?

Question

I had a roundtrip ticket on American Airlines from Boston to Washington recently. As we prepared to board, the flight was canceled. There were no other flights available and I could not travel.

I requested a refund and received only the Boston-Washington portion, which was $91. When I called, I was told the return flight was marked as used. This is impossible, as I never went anywhere that day.

A customer service representative told me that there was nothing they could do and I had to file a written complaint, which I did. This smacks of the exact issue that affected another passenger you recently reported. That passenger was also denied a refund because their ticket was marked used, when it was not. I sincerely hope this is not the general practice of American Airlines. — Susan Cohen, Brookline, Mass.

Answer

American should have refunded your entire ticket. A careful check of its records would have shown you didn’t use the return ticket. Case closed.

But your problem raises an interesting question. Technically, American Airlines — like all other carriers — only has to refund the ticket for a flight it cancels. And since American didn’t cancel the return flight, did it really have to return your fare? (Related: Why did American reverse course on my compensation?)

This might be a new way for airlines to make even more money. If they cancel a flight, they only have to refund part of your ticket. I know, I know — don’t give them any ideas. (Here’s how to get a refund on a nonrefundable airline ticket.)

Obviously, you weren’t on the return flight. A quick email to American should have cleared that up. If it didn’t, an email to one of the airline’s customer service managers might have helped. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of American Airlines’ customer service managers on my consumer advocacy website.

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American Airlines is no stranger to refund problems. Remember the case of Allison Bilski, whose flight schedule was modified by the airline, rendering her unable to catch the flight and necessitating a refund request? Or Cristina Criado’s problem where she took a trip in vain and tried to get a refund? Additionally, there was an incident involving Linda Brucia, who needed to alter her American Airlines flight due to a family emergency, and she inadvertently selected the wrong airport.

Quite a rap sheet there, American. (Related: It’s been six months — where’s my refund, American Airlines?)

You reached out to me through my nonprofit consumer advocacy site. I contacted American on your behalf, and it says it refunded your entire ticket.

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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. He is based in Panamá City.

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