Q: I had a flight from Baltimore to Madrid scheduled on American Airlines, then I found out I needed surgery. So I contacted my online travel agency, AirTkt, to ask for a refund.
I filled out the paperwork and sent AirTkt a letter from Johns Hopkins stating that I would be unable to fly. American Airlines refunded AirTkt based on my medical letter. But now I can’t get AirTkt to refund me. I have a credit card that provides travel insurance, but it requires that I first request a refund from the airlines. Can you help me get my airline ticket refund? — Pamela Mazerski, Ellicott City, Maryland
A: I’m sorry to hear that you need surgery. At a time like this, everyone should be sympathetic to your situation. If, indeed, AirTkt took an airline ticket refund from American Airlines and didn’t send the money along, that would be unethical.
Generally, nonrefundable tickets are, as the name would suggest, completely nonrefundable. You can either buy a more expensive, refundable ticket (but those can double or triple the cost of your airfare) or take out a “cancel for any reason” insurance policy (twice as expensive as regular insurance, and you may get only a percentage of your money back). As a result, most people just roll the dice, hoping they don’t get sick or that their plans don’t change.
There has to be a better way. Either airlines need to offer more reasonable fares that are changeable, or they need to loosen their strict ticket change rules. The change fees and fare differentials you have to pay are often more expensive than the ticket. Come on!
By the way, I wouldn’t put too much stock in your credit card coverage. Cards normally cover specific events like lost luggage and missed connections, but you may have some trouble filing a successful claim because of your surgery. It’s still worth a try.
I list the executive contacts for American Airlines on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org. You could have sought some clarification about the status of your refund, and who had it.
It turns out no one had it, because there was no refund. I checked with the airline, and it said it had denied your airline ticket refund. Having surgery — or at least your kind of surgery — isn’t a good enough reason for a ticket refund, according to American Airlines. Normally, airlines refund nonrefundable tickets for serious, life-threatening medical problems or when a passenger dies. And they make few exceptions.
Fortunately, after I brought this case to the airline’s attention, it decided to make an exception for you. You’ve received a full refund of the $585 you had to pay for your ticket to Madrid. I wish you a speedy recovery.
If you need help with a coronavirus-related refund, please contact me. You can send details through my consumer advocacy site or email me at email@example.com.
Christopher Elliott is the chief advocacy officer of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers resolve their problems. Contact him at elliott.org/help or firstname.lastname@example.org.