Hey American Airlines, where’s the refund for my canceled flight?

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By Christopher Elliott

When Kristen Nordlund’s American Airlines flight is canceled, she’s promised a refund. But it never arrives. What now?

Question

I recently booked a last-minute flight with American Airlines because my father was scheduled to have surgery the following day. American canceled my flight 20 minutes prior to boarding. At the gate, I was told that I could either fly to another city or go to a different gate if I wanted a refund.

I went to the second gate and was told that I would receive an email confirming my refund. The next day I called American because I had not received the confirmation. I was told to look in my spam folder. It was not there.

I called the airline again, and the person I spoke with told me that American didn’t send emails confirming refunds, and didn’t understand why other American employees had told me to expect one.

I never received a refund, and, after calling the airline a couple of more times and being told that it takes a while to be refunded, I initiated a dispute with my credit card company. American now claims that I’m not entitled to a refund because I bought a nonrefundable ticket. Can you help? — Kristen Nordlund, Plano, Texas

Answer

I’m sorry to hear about your father, and I hope his condition has improved. If American Airlines cancels your flight, it owes you an immediate, no-questions-asked refund. Instead, it gave you the runaround, followed by a denial. (Here is our guide on what to do if your flight gets canceled.)

What’s particularly galling is that you bought a last-minute ticket, the kind normally reserved for business travelers who are on an expense account. Those are usually twice as expensive as the advance-purchase tickets bought by everyone else, sometimes much more. Often, they are refundable — not that it makes any difference.

If an airline fails to operate a flight, it must refund your money. No “ifs,” “ands” or “buts.”

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest-growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

A credit card dispute should be a last resort

Instead of filing a credit card dispute, I might have taken it up the chain of command at American first. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of American’s executives on my website.

Even a cursory review of your case by a manager would have shown that American was in the wrong. Had that not worked, you could have appealed your case to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Aviation Consumer Protection Division, which could have helped the airline see the error of its ways. (Related: A reader’s brother passed away and she is hoping for a refund.)

A credit card dispute is a last resort for a refund problem like yours. It’s a process that appears to be fairly automated, and it generally favors the airline. For example, if your ticket is nonrefundable and the flight isn’t canceled, all an airline must do to prevail is show the credit-card-dispute department its fare rules, and it wins.

My advocacy team and I contacted American Airlines on your behalf. A representative investigated your claim and blamed the refund problem on an “agent error.” American refunded your ticket.

Is American Airlines' refund process fair to consumers?

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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 Rio de Janeiro.

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