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Be wary of Refundable Tickets on American Airlines

Last month, I bought biz class tickets from LA to Tokyo. (Yes, I splurged on myself.) The tickets stated they were refundable and I read the fine print to see if there were any discrepancies. There were none.

Today, I had to cancel the tickets. As is everything these days, the process is done online. I entered my ticket number and it stated the tickets were refundable. I went to the payment page and it showed that there is a $500 fee to get a refund. But twice on that page it also said the tickets were refundable.

I called AA. It took 90 minutes of being on hold and then called back to get to someone. I told him the problem. He went to check with the refund department. He came back and said the tickets were non-refundable tickets. I protested and said they were refundable.....and if they are non-refundable why am I getting a refund. He said they were non-refundable but you could get a refund for a fee.

Huh?

I then told him the refund page says the tickets are refundable. He said it meant they are refundable for a fee. No where when I booked the tickets nor in anything I received did they say there was a fee for a refund. The agent said those are the rules for that ticket. At that point I could not only hear little caring in his voice but I actually heard him yawning.

Unfortunately, it's my word against AA at this point and since they have my money, they don't care.

But I can tell you, it's not over.

Posted by
5687 posts

Let's hope you already called your credit card company to dispute the charge, including a copy of the text clearly showing "refundable." Could be they won't take any action until you have initiated the refund and gotten the unfounded change fee - but you probably know all of this.

Good luck!

Posted by
2212 posts

Frank - You might look at elliott.org, a consumer advocate.

Posted by
15532 posts

I already sent out a tweet and included Chris Elliott.

I reallly don't think I'll ever see the money. It's possible that in the wee, wee small print they could have inserted a line that states something about a refund fee but there was no warning abou it anywhere else. (Even the discount carriers are up front about their fees.)

AA may legally be right, but their business practices are deceptive.

Posted by
7647 posts

I can not speak to AA, but sometimes the difference between refundable and nonrefundable is that for a re-booking fee ($250/ticket is typical) you can get cash back, where as for non refundable you only get a credit on future travel. As you mentioned, maybe in the fine print they state that, maybe what you bought was not what you thought, maybe they are grossly mistaken. Get your original purchase paperwork and read through it.

Posted by
5687 posts

I'd dispute the charge anyway if it was a credit card purchase. Make someone spell it out to you at very least why a "refundable" ticket wasn't really refundable.

Posted by
6788 posts

No airline works harder to screw its customers, none.
It's a very competitive landscape in the Race To The Bottom, but American Airlines is the winner. This is just one example.

Posted by
503 posts

Hi Frank, I feel your pain. NEVER take no as a final word from the first person you speak to. They have absolutely no power or authority to do anything above just answering basic questions and helping you with seat selection etc. You always have to escalate to supervisor and sometimes beyond that. I have twice been able to exchange/refund tickets after initially been told "No" by the first person I spoke with and then asked for a supervisor. Good luck.

Posted by
3521 posts

A card dispute may be one option, but it always should be the last option. Make sure you work through every other option first, including the elliott.org option if you want. Why? You will get labeled a "problem" customer and may even be refused service in the future if you do a charge back. Some companies even send the amount to a collection agency, dinging your credit, if they lose the charge back.

With that said ...

Yes, the tickets are refundable, otherwise the refund page would not offer you anything back. How much percentage wise is the fee compared to the total price of the tickets? While I would not be happy in this situation either, getting most of my money back is still better than getting none of my money back. I would just refuse to do business with AA ever again while being careful to never actually say that or put it in writing to them since they will have absolutely no reason to try to work with you if you are not planning to ever use them again.

Good luck.

Posted by
15532 posts

What I'm going to do is wait for the refund to actually take place. Once I have that money, I will write to the airline and see what I can do..

I have a lot of AA miles and plan to use them up. After that AA will not be my first choice. I've also learned in the future to take a screen shot or download every page I get when booking. This way I can prove my case rather than having nothing.

It was an expensive learning experience. At least the discount carriers are up front about their fees. American hid theirs inside the gobbledy goop known as terms and conditions.

One thing I have learned, for the domestic routes I fly on American, Jet Blue is also available. I have never flown them--being loyal to American--but I think it's time.

Posted by
5687 posts

My disenchantment with AA happened more than 10 years ago. I switched mostly to SW and have never looked back. I still use AA to fly overseas - mostly with Alaska partner award miles. I too have a bunch of AA miles to use up, but I can never commit with their no-free-change policy (unlike Alaska), and they charge more for non-peak award travel for the same tickes than Alaska charges to book the same AA flight (20K vs. 30K miles).

Posted by
4060 posts

Chris Elliott's forum may direct you to the official airline links it carries for raising disputes with personnel who can actually do something about problems. In your shoes, I would not be waiting around. Contact the credit card company now. They likely will require considerable documentation to back up your claim. Ditto for the contacts provided by Elliott. In my experience, fortunately not extensive or frequent, I have found quicker action from written communication than via telephone, and quicker still when I wrote by old-fashioned postal letters (although I may be outdated on that point by now.) The real challenge is getting to someone with real authority to take action.

Posted by
3175 posts

If you just booked the tickets last month, the policies stated on the website should still be the same. You can go through a "dummy booking" of new refundable tickets (up to the payment part) and take screenshots this time.

But I am curious why you did not use miles for this, since you have a ton of them.

Posted by
3175 posts

Another thing to do is post on Flyertalk in the American Airlines forum. The people there are experts on airline policies and procedures. They can help you figure it out.

Posted by
2767 posts

What Sasha said at 10:30, was about to add that myself. And since all these tix are supposed to be fully cancel-able within 24 hours, no charge, you could if necessary do that and cancel it, just so you can see the full provisions.

Posted by
3175 posts

OK, I I just went through the booking and here is what I found. The business class ticket offered for LAX to Tokyo is $$3577 RT. it is a "Business Flexible" ticket. That was the only kind offered. On the Trip Summary"page, it says "no change fee" ( fare difference applies).". Nothing at all about "refundable". No such ticket was offered.

Below the trip summary, in a blue clickable link, it says Baggage and optional service fees. Click on that, and on the next screen choose "Ticketing and other fees.". Scroll own to "voluntary change to ticket before dayof travel" and across to the Buiness Class column. It says "up to $750 - international travel." Then "charge varies dependingon type of ticket purchased.".

Apparently you neglected to open this section and read it through.

So you got hit with $500 instead of the full $750 because your ticket was Flexible. no cause for a complaint at all.

Posted by
15532 posts

I didn't neglect to do anything. I also did a dummy booking and it looked completely different than the day I booked my ticket. The price was different, of course, but so was the rest. My fare stated in the box displaying fares saying this fare is refundable. It no longer says that. (The booking was made a month ago.) Just as airlines occasionally mess up and offer ridiculously low fares only to change them when found, I think the dispaly I got was a mistake. I should have either printed it out or taken a screen shot. Lesson learned.

I went on Flyertalk and got attacked by the AA mafia for not being an expert in knowing all booking codes. I should have "known" what they were offering even though it stated differently.

I didn't use miles because almost all of my miles are earmarked for future trips. This was an add on and one way. The fare was very reasonable for a one way business class fare.

After Japan, I was going to London. I had to cancel that flight as well. I knew when I booked it exactly how much it would cost to cancel. It was on BA. It cost $55 to cancel.

I learned a few lessons. From now on, make a copy of the booking page so I have proof if there is a problem. I have been flying since I was six years old--and that's over half a century ago--and I have never had a problem like this. I would read carefully any fees associated with changes or cancellations. I admit I don't read every word of the tiny legalese but I guess I have to from now on.

Posted by
4010 posts

One thing I have learned, for the domestic routes I fly on American,
Jet Blue is also available. I have never flown them--being loyal to
American--but I think it's time.

I agree. And thank YOU for sharing your experience. It's a good heads-up.

Posted by
16679 posts

I took a look at the booking process and the Flyertalk discussion as well ( not necessarily yours, just whatever came up when I googled "refundable ticket on AA". I have only flown them once and have no knowledge of their policies, but from the current page and the discussions I found on various websites, it appears that AA has gone from using the term "refundable fare" to "flexible fare". Maybe changing over New Years.

But there has always been a difference between "refundable" ( now flexible) and "fully refundable". It appears that "fully flexible" tickets are offered in Economy. But in Business they are simply Flexible ( aka Refundable).

Looks like your ticket was indeed refundable, just not "fully" refundable.

Posted by
3175 posts

Frank, are you saying that when you made your original booking, you actually clicked on the "Baggage and other service fees" link and checked the chart under Ticketing and other Service fees? The one that now shows the "up to $750" fee to change a business class ticket?

Or we're you simply relying on the word "refundable"?

If you did look at the service fee chart, was it different then?

Posted by
5837 posts

We're victims of the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act. Prior to deregulation air travel, even in coach, was pretty comfortable and pretty much any ticket could be rescheduled and/or refundable. Those printed tickets were like cash.

Posted by
3175 posts

OK, so I looked at the Flyertalk discussion on your complaint. It looks like you never opened the link to the fare rules on the payment page. This would have clearly and unequivocally informed you that cancellation would incur a $500 fee ( and the rest would be refunded). You can call it small print if you like, but a prudent buyer would have opened that link, rather than rely on the single word "refundable" without questioning what that means.

Posted by
4010 posts

but a prudent buyer would have opened that link, rather than rely on
the single word "refundable" without questioning what that means.

How is it logical to think that refundable doesn't mean refundable? The definition of "refundable" from Merriam-Webster : "to return (money) in restitution, repayment, or balancing of accounts"

Are we back to the Bill Cllinton 1990s and redefining the word "is"?

Posted by
3175 posts

Continental, it WAS refundable. Just not " fully refundable". He paid $3k-$4k for the business class ticket, and got that refunded, less the cancellation fee which was clearly started in the fare rules.

Often, whether with airfares, hotel reservations, or others, there is a fee for cancellation, even with a refundable booking. One needs to read and understand the terms before assuming. The fee was there one the website.

Posted by
996 posts

I saw this over on the FlyerTalk forums! I felt sorry for you there and here as well. I try really hard to be aware of the small print when I book something. Sometimes you miss a detail. It happens, and I look at the experience as an educational opportunity. But the odds are weighted in favor of the airlines, not the consumer.

I am sorry that you have had so much difficulty over this.

Posted by
3175 posts

It helps to be humble on Flyertalk.

Once Frank said he had earned over a million Frequent Flyer miles with American, he was seen as pulling the DYKWIA card and told that with that much experience he should have known what kind of ticket he was getting.

Posted by
5837 posts

A good warning about the definition of refundable not being what we want to think. Lesson learned by Frank II who was kind enough to share is read the "fine print" (Contract of Carriage). Good to know the next time I need to buy a Business Class ticket to an overseas destination.

What happened to "the customer is away right"? We are in the era of deregulation allowing businesses to operate in ways that maximize their profit. One would hope that businesses such as airlines would seek to maximize their long term profit and not just quarter to quarter profits. We as customers can always be right if we vote our consumer dollars to encourage customer friendly long term behavior.

With respect to Frank II's refund fee of $500, canceling a "refundable" ticket and rebating the fare costs American in two ways. First they now have an empty seat to fill. Second, there is an administrative cost of cancelling the booking and refunding the fare. American could just eat those costs by passing those costs on to other customers. But then American reduces their cost competitiveness.

Posted by
4010 posts

So deregulation is the culprit? Government regulated industries have nothing to do what is best for the customer. Don't believe that? One of the most regulated industries is the utility sector. Gas and power companies are as money hungry and oblivious to customer service as American Airlines is with the OP. At least AA has competition; for the OP, that's Jetblue. Who is PSE&G's competition for those whose homes rely on them for power?

Posted by
15532 posts

What happened to "the customer is away right"? We are in the era of deregulation allowing businesses to operate in ways that maximize their profit. One would hope that businesses such as airlines would seek to maximize their long term profit and not just quarter to quarter profits. We as customers can always be right if we vote our consumer dollars to encourage customer friendly long term behavior.

Long term planning would be more beneficial to business but public corporations have to answer first and foremost to their owners, the stockholders. Analysts and the media look at quarterly earnings and compare them to prior years. If a company's quarterly earnings look weak, the stock could either be downgraded or given a poor outlook. When that happens, shareholders start to sell and the price of the stock goes down. If the price drops too much, the CEO and the Board of Directors will not only hear about it but possibly be replaced.

Yes, it was a lesson learned. But it is also a loss to American Airlines. I just started booking some domestic flights that were usually on American. Now they are on Jet Blue. And after looking at seatguru it seems the seats on JetBlue on the route I fly most are bigger than American's. I have two American Airlines credit cards and one will go bye bye when the year is up.

Posted by
393 posts

I have two American Airlines credit cards and one will go bye bye when the year is up.

Way to go. American Airlines would take note and feel the pain.

Posted by
15532 posts

Actually, American airlines will feel the pain. I get mileage for every dollar I charge. The credit card company pays American for the miles. So, if I don't charge, those miles are not bought. And considering I charge everything, it's not exactly pennies.

Posted by
3521 posts

Edgar,

Yes, it was great before deregulation. Everyone sipped champagne and ate filet mignon cooked to order even on short domestic flights.

But the ticket for a seat in coach for a flight from New York to LA cost more than what most people made in a month. I am happier now that I can afford to fly several times a month if I want to visiting family members and it is more cost effective than driving or taking the bus. I have lowered my expectations so that flying now is like what taking a bus was way back then and, except in cases like this one, it doesn't bother me.