American Airlines Hoses Me, Again


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You think I’d learn.

I’d been scheduled to go on an embark aboard the USS Stennis this week, on a trip similar to this one taken by Guy Kawasaki and others.  (Thank you, again, USNavy for the invitation, and Andy Sernovitz for facilitating.)  However, the storms hammering the West Coast changed the plans, and the embark was cancelled.  No problem, these things happen.  Totally understand.

I’d split my flights so the outbound to San Diego was on American Airlines, and the return was on Southwest in order to get the best fare.  When I found out the trip was canceled, I pulled up the two respective emails to try to see what could be salvaged from the trips.  Here’s what happened.


  • Opened email.
  • Clicked on “Refund Information” right there in the email.  This took me to the refund web page.
  • Clicked on “Cancel your flight reservation.”
  • The ticked was non-refundable, so was given a dialog box that said “Hold funds for future use,” and I clicked through.
  • Done. Flight cancelled, flight funds banked, and I can use them for another flight within the next year.


  • Opened email.
  • Clicked on “Refunds” right there in the email.  So far so good.
  • Went to the web site, entered my ticket number.
  • Uh oh. Big red error message: “The refund
    request you submitted is for a non-refundable ticket. In some cases,
    you may be able to apply this value towards the purchase of another
    non-refundable ticket. Certain restrictions and fees apply. Please call
    American Airlines Reservations at 1-800-433-7300 for further assistance.
  • Fine.  I’ll fail over to the call center.  I call the number.
  • The CSR was pleasant.  I give her my info.  Then we have The Conversation.

CSR: That’s a non-refundable ticket.

Me: Yes, I understand.  Can I apply to fees to a future flight?

CSR:  Yes, as long as you take it within a year.

Me: Cool.  Thanks.

CSR: The change fee to do that will be $150.00.

Me: ‘Scuse me?

CSR: The change fee is $150.00.

Me: Um…but the ticket was only $98.

CSR: Yes.  It’s not worth it.

Me: So…you’re saying I’m hosed?

CSR (verbatim): Yup.  Pretty much.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Christopher Carfi
Ant's Eye View
Social Business strategist advising clients such as Google, HP, Cisco, P&G and others.


  1. Chris, your post is an excellent reminder of why Southwest succeeds in a brutal industry where very few airlines make money.

    I fly SW whenever I can (Western US, mostly) because I know it will be a fair deal and a good experience. Granted, there are some shortcomings, such as standing in line to get a seat. But the people are nice and you get a good deal for the money, with no “gotchas” if your plans change.

    If I book late I still get a decent price, and as you noted, the process to make changes is also fair and simple.

    Now, I like AA for the most part (my favorite of the majors US airlines), but like other majors they approach cost as a bolt-on. Sure you can get a cheap fare, but you pay extra for bags, can’t change without huge fees, etc. So the deal is only good if nothing goes wrong.

    I worked with airlines for many years in my IBM days, and have a lot of empathy for their business challenges. Consumers want low prices and great service and competition is relentless. Any missteps in managing the costs of people, aircraft or fuel and it’s impossible to turn a profit.

    To compete with SW in the age of the enlightened consumer, where the “gotcha” issues get vented on blogs like this, AA and others need to think through the entire experience, not just the one when nothing goes wrong. Because it’s how companies respond when things don’t go as expected that leaves a lasting impression.


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