Help! American Airlines changed my flight, but it won’t give me a refund!

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By Christopher Elliott

When American Airlines changes Neil Gupta’s flight from Seattle to Miami, he asks for a refund. The airline suggests it will give him his money back but then backtracks. Now what?

Question

Last year, I booked a flight from Seattle to Miami on American Airlines. The flight was a redeye, leaving at 12:39 a.m. This itinerary was ideal for me because I work late some nights and didn’t want my trip to interfere with my schedule.

Before my flight, I received an email saying my flight time had changed and was departing at 10:15 p.m. I couldn’t make this flight because I was working late that night.

I called American Airlines and a representative told me she could not refund me because it was less than a four-hour schedule change. She said I would have to apply for a refund online and canceled my ticket.

I applied for a refund online and received an email a week later stating that my refund was denied because of American’s policy and that I had purchased a cheap ticket.

I called American again and spoke to a supervisor. She would not even give me a flight credit for future use. She did give me an option to book another flight at that time and possibly give me money back. When I said I didn’t have any known plans to travel, she suggested I call back when ready and someone could possibly help me but she could not promise anything.

American Airlines told me to cancel my ticket and apply for a refund. Then it denied my request for a refund. I think that’s a deceptive business practice. Can you help me get a refund? — Neil Gupta, Seattle

Answer

If an airline changes your flight, it should offer you a full, no-questions-asked refund. But American Airlines is correct: It gives itself the right to change its schedule by up to four hours without offering your money back. 

AirAdvisor is a claims management company. We fight for air passenger rights in cases of flight disruptions all over the world. Our mission is to ensure that air passengers are fairly compensated for the inconvenience and frustration caused by delays, cancellations, or overbooking.

The amount of delay required for a refund varies by airline. If you’re flying in the European Union, it is standardized at two hours under EC 261, the European airline consumer protection regulations. (Related: Is American Airlines cheating on the 24-hour rule?)

Your situation was a little different. You had spoken to an American Airlines representative who led you to believe you just needed to apply for a refund and canceled your ticket. The representative should have told you that there was no way you could get your money back even if you applied for a refund.

Need a refund for a changed flight? Here’s how to get a promise in writing from American Airlines

Getting a refund promise in writing is critical. But before you do that, you need to know if you qualify for a refund. Here’s my guide to getting a refund on a nonrefundable ticket. Also, check out the Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations on airline refunds. Understanding your rights strengthens your position. (Related: Why merging American Airlines with US Airways is a terrible idea.)

Ask for a refund online

Go to the American Airlines Refunds page to initiate your refund request. You’ll have to provide information about your refund request, including your name, email address, reason for your refund request, ticket number and date of travel. If approved, this will generate an automatic receipt verifying you will receive a refund.

If you’re in person, improvise

Face it, most ticket agents are ill-prepared to issue an IOU. I get this question often from air travelers, and especially from American customers. How do you extract a written promise from an employee when there’s no way of doing it? To which I say: improvise. If there’s no way of generating a written promise, ask for a handwritten note on the back of a business card. I’ve seen this work. (Related: Will this American Airlines error ever get fixed?)

Try the executive contacts

Often, the best shortcut to a written promise is a direct, polite email sent to an American Airlines executive. These higher-ups have the authority to authorize a ticket refund, and they often do. So if the normal channels don’t work, appeal to a manager.

Be persistent

In the end, getting a refund from American Airlines is not so much a matter of getting what you deserve but of what you negotiate. The refund rules are strict and unbending. But, as is so often the case, the squeaky wheel gets the ticket refund.

Will you get a ticket refund after this changed flight from American Airlines?

I think this one’s on American. If a representative suggested you might get a refund, you should reasonably expect to get your money back. And, on top of that, a supervisor then also suggested you could get a credit. Even if it’s a misunderstanding, American could give you a ticket credit as a goodwill gesture.

By the way, how much you spent on your ticket is irrelevant. The refund rules govern all tickets, no matter how much you paid. 

I contacted American on your behalf. To be clear, American wasn’t required to do anything under its policy. But I think a refund would have been the right thing to do under your circumstances.

American Airlines agreed to refund your 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.

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