Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Travel Troubleshooter: Getting the runaround instead of a refund

Question: I read your columns and appreciate what you have done to help especially the less fortunate among us who are being wronged with financial penalties because we did not receive a promised refund. For someone like me, nearly 67, with a pacemaker, heart and liver disease, and arthritis, this $371 loss is a nightmare.

American Airlines canceled my flight from New York to Palm Springs, Calif., and agreed to refund my fare. When the amount did not appear on my account, I disputed the charge on my American Airlines-branded credit card. My card offered a provisional credit, and the next day American issued a second $371 credit.

All was well until a few months later, when another $371 charge was placed on my account.

Despite a dozen phone calls to American Airlines customer service, e-mails, and three written disputes faxed to the airline, the charge has stuck, and I have also been charged $6 in interest on this unpaid balance.

When I call American customer service, they refer me to American Airlines' credit card; when I call American Airlines' credit card, they refer me to American customer service. No one takes responsibility for this error. I am getting nowhere.

- Russell Higley,
Elmsford, N.Y.
Answer: American should have promptly refunded your ticket, and the refund should have stuck. According to American's conditions of carriage - the legal agreement between you and the airline - refunds will be provided within seven business days of receipt of the required refund information.

Here's what went wrong: When the refund didn't appear as promised, you contacted your credit card to place the amount in dispute. Even though you have a cobranded American Airlines card, it is offered through a bank, so the airline has no control over what happens to your dispute. The bank sided with you.

American's billing system appears to have crossed its own wires between your initial charge, which was initially valid, and your subsequent refund request. It looks as though it incorrectly tagged your dispute as in error, probably because it was already in the process of refunding your ticket.

This case underscores the importance of being patient when you're waiting for a refund from an airline, or any travel company. Of course, there's no excuse for American's dragging its feet on a refund, but by jumping ahead of it and disputing the charge, you ended up confusing the matter.

How long should you wait for a refund? Four to six weeks. After that, you need to bother the company for the money (I list the names and numbers of their managers on my website: http://elliott.org/contacts/american-airlines-2/). A credit card dispute is only a last resort.

I contacted American, and it apologized, refunded your $371, and offered you a $125 voucher for a future flight.


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