Hey, where's the rest of my refund?
Q: I'm having a problem with a refund for American Airlines tickets I booked through CheapOair.com.
We were flying from Kansas City to the Virgin Islands for my brother's wedding, and our total fare was $1,643. When we arrived at the airport, an American Airlines representative told us our flight was canceled and handed us a slip of paper with a phone number and a message that said American "regretted" the inconvenience.
Since we knew we had to catch two different connecting flights that day, we rushed to call the number. After about five hours of trying to get a flight that would get us to the Virgin Islands in time for the wedding, we were left with one option: to arrive two days later than expected on the island, miss the wedding and two days of our five-day vacation. Plus we were going to be charged about $1,000 extra for airline tickets because American Airlines would not cover the flight that we would have to take -- it was going to be with an airline that they said they did not cover. And we would have had to find a place to stay in Puerto Rico for the night, another extra expense. None of the options were in our budget, so we decided to cancel our trip and miss the wedding.
American Airlines would only refund $1,313, which they said is the value of the tickets. That left $330. I sent e-mail messages to the customer relations department for CheapOair. I received one call back that was left on my answering machine from CheapOair that said they were looking into the matter and that they would get back to me in the next six to eight weeks. That was eight months ago. Can you help? -- Ronnee Schweizer, New York
A: CheapOair should have promptly refunded your entire ticket. But there were so many things that should have been done differently -- by you and by your online travel agency -- that I'm not sure I have the space to cover everything.
Let's begin with CheapOair. American Airlines would have notified the agency of a flight schedule change, and it should have contacted you quickly to let you know that your flight wasn't leaving as scheduled. The only exception is a last-minute cancellation, which CheapOair couldn't have known about.
When you decided to cancel your flight, American was required by federal regulation to refund the entire ticket within seven days. That money would have gone to CheapOair, and it should have passed the money along to you quickly -- not in six to eight weeks, and definitely not in eight months.
You might have done things a little differently, too. First, always call to confirm your flights. It's possible you could have found out about this cancellation earlier, which might have allowed you to reschedule the flight and still make the wedding.
When you learned of your cancellation, your first call should have been to CheapOair, which is your online travel agent. One of its helpful representatives might have had other options for getting you to the Virgin Islands on schedule. I'm not saying you shouldn't have phoned American Airlines, too -- only that CheapOair might have been able to save your trip.
I contacted CheapOair on your behalf. A company representative called you and said they were waiting to hear back from American Airlines about the $330. Even so, the company agreed to send you a check for the balance of your refund.
Christopher Elliott is the author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, and though he answers them as quickly as possible, your story may not be published for several months because of a backlog of cases.