I thought I was paying for checked luggage, not priority boarding

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By Christopher Elliott

When Mary Lou Hartline buys an American Airlines ticket, she inadvertently pays extra for priority boarding instead of checked bags. Can she undo the mistake?

Question

I recently flew from Tucson, Ariz., to Philadelphia on American Airlines. When I booked the trip, I inadvertently paid $56 for priority boarding instead of two checked bags.

When I got to the airport a check-in person told me that I should contact the company and they would refund the $56. I sent American a letter, but have not heard anything. I did not need priority boarding because I am handicapped and always am allowed to board during pre-boarding. Could you help me get the refund that I feel I am due? — Mary Lou Hartline, Tucson, Ariz.

Answer

I’m sorry you were confused when you were making your flight arrangements. Buying these extras should be easy and intuitive, so even if you didn’t have a case, I needed to be sure to share your frustrations with American Airlines. If you pushed the wrong button, chances are, there are others who have done the same thing.

American is clear about the refundability of these fees. You can only get your money back if you can’t use the service. Unfortunately, even though you didn’t need the service, you were able to use it. Therefore, no refund is due.

Or is there? (Related: Airline passengers are cutting in line when they board. It’s time to stop!)

You spoke with a representative who said you could get a refund, and based on that promise, you sent American Airlines a letter. It should have responded, even if to say “no.” (Next time this happens — and I hope there isn’t a next time for you — try sending an email through American’s web site. (Here is our guide on how to solve your consumer problem).

A promise made by an employee should be sufficient. Always ask for the person’s name. You should have received the money without question — or delay. (Related: Stuck at the airport because of luggage fees.)

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Of course, American shouldn’t be charging for “priority” boarding or checked bags. The ability to board the plane in a timely manner, select a seat and check a bag ought to be included in the ticket price. Taking them out is just a deceptive way of raising the ticket price, and there ought to be a law against it. But I digress.

My advocacy team and I contacted American Airlines and, as a gesture of goodwill, it refunded your $56. I don’t think this is a question of goodwill as much as the company doing what it said it would do. You may want to consider using a travel agent for your next airline booking. A competent travel advisor will ensure you don’t buy a service you don’t need.

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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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