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Last week, my wife and I were traveling to the United States. During the beginning of the trip, the airline agent suggested that we re-route our trip to avoid some visa-related issues in UK because apparently my wife had an expired US visa and we were going to India to get it renewed - she recently got a job and had applied for a H1-B visa. We did have the proper documentation supporting this but the agent convinced us that we cannot take this itinerary. We agreed with him and paid him an additional $1500 to obtain a new set of tickets. Although I am not quite sure what the agent did, our return trip got canceled. After numerous calls to the airlines' customer care line, I understood that the agent did not make the changes properly because of which the outgoing flight marked us as "No Show" even though we completed the first half of the trip and automatically cancelled our return trip.

The call center agent informed us that it was not our mistake that this reservation got cancelled. After some long conversations with the customer care agent, we were offered an to be placed on an alternate route. However, because the total trip time exceeded 36 hours, we requested that we be placed on a different airline at the least. The agent ignored us and hung up on our request. Because we were not left with any other options, we booked another set of tickets to come back to US.

I have been depressed over losing such large amount of money (nearly $1500 for the one-way trip + an additional $3500 that I paid to buy another set of tickets) and am not sure what to do. I would be very grateful if the experts here can help me with the following: I am currently a graduate student in the US soon entering the job market. What is the safest way to seek retribution against what happened to us without affecting my future employment prospects? Should I even bother doing anything about this or is it lost money?

Trip Details:

  • Trip: Flying from United States to India and back
  • Airlines: American Airlines (with part of the trip fulfilled by Emirates)
  • Original Itinerary: Chicago ORD to Manchester, UK to Dubai to India
  • Altered Itinerary: Chicago ORD to Doha to India with an additional charge of $1500

  • Expenditure Breakdown:

    • Original Expected Expenditure: $2909.06 roundtrip for my wife and myself to fly from USA to India
    • Adjusted Expenditure: $2909.06 + $1496.72 (paid to the American Airlines Agent who issued us Qatar tickets at the Chicago airport) = $4405.78
    • Money lost due to boarding being denied: $2909.06/2 = $1454.53 for one-way tickets of two people
    • Money lost due to re-booking tickets for the next earliest flight on Cathay Pacific: $3542.29 (one-way for two people for the next available flight) + $106.26 (foreign transaction fee) = $3648.55
    • Total money lost due to incompetence of American Airlines: $1454.53 + $3648.55 = $5103.08

Edit: If you have time to kill, here's an open letter (blog post) I wrote to AA out of frustration. I don't think I will publicly advertise this anywhere but am putting it here to get an opinion. I thought it might shed more details into the incident. If majority think its my mistake, let me know and I'll back off.

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Welcome to travel.SE. What was the airline? Where did you travel from? And why would there be a visa issue in the UK if you have a US visa? See Related: travel.stackexchange.com/questions/9926/… –  Karlson Jan 15 at 17:43
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The country of registration of the airline, and the country you were travelling from will make a big difference to your rights (along with the country going to, but we know that one!) –  Gagravarr Jan 15 at 18:18
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What was wrong with the alternative you refused, besides that it took 36 hours? –  PERSONA NON GRATA Jan 15 at 19:24
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Your math is broken. You can't claim to have lost BOTH the original airfares AND the replacement airfares. The $5103.08 figure is bogus. –  Doc Jan 15 at 19:48
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Nothing here will affect your employment prospects unless a) you make a huge public thing about this and b) you come over as a jerk in the accounts of it. Even then it probably won't matter. –  DJClayworth Jan 15 at 20:28

1 Answer 1

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Hmmm, this is tricky.

First, there are flights you paid for but didn't take. You may be able to get a refund for that and you should certainly get the (some of) the taxes back for the untaken return flight.

Because your cancelled return flight was due to the fault of an agent working for American it is right that they should have made arrangements to get you back to the US. However, as I understand it, there's no requirement for them to do this in any given time -- they can give you the next flight with seats, although I believe they should pay accommodation / food for the extra stay (although that might vary with country). Unfortunately you turned this down, which probably released them from their obligation -- I'd guess the money for the return ticket is gone -- since you legitimately gave the money to a different airline you're not going to get it back.

What follows assumes that you were correct the original flights were legit and the agent made a mistake forcing you to change. If the agent was right then AA still screwed up when they changed flights, but they tried to make it right as best they could, and I think the best you can hope for is some sort of refund on the return flights you didn't take.

However, if you can definitely prove the initial flight should have been OK then you have a better argument for the initial screw up. They made a mistake and cost you money, then it looks like you have a good argument that you were incorrectly 'upsold' or forced to buy something you didn't need. I would contact local authorities and/or the Better Business Bureau. I would make the argument that you were missold something and explain you want your 1500 back plus compensation (or punitive damages).

Secondly, there is nothing wrong with making a big deal of this -- but, as the comments above say, just don't come off like a jerk. That means you need to accept that you turned down (even accidentally) the valid return offer and concentrate on the misselling. It does sound like much of the staff were friendly too you, so also accept that and highlight those you feel were unprofessional. As long as you're calm and reasonable, and accept where you may have not helped the situation, I wouldn't think it counts against you in the long run.

How to make a big deal? I'd be surprised if AA don't Google themselves, so someone in customer services may find your post or this question but you could post a link to either with a brief note 'very disappointed in AA' to their twitter feed (@AmericanAir). Or their facebook. Or even try and get local news to pick it up, "struggling student loses thousands of dollars" might make the news on a slow day.

If you paid any of this on credit cards check what if they have built in insurance, it's possible that they might be prepared to give you some of the money back.

But the charge for the return flights is legit, and there's no way you can challenge that or get it back from the airline you used. You need AA to stump up compensation.

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I've been considering if there's an argument, if you used a credit card for this, for explaining what happened to the credit card company and seeing if they think it's valid to challenge either the original flight payment or the 1500 as fraudulent. I honestly would not do this as it's likely to go wrong and wreck your credit rating, but if you can find someone at the card company willing to listen to the story then it's an option. –  SpaceDog Jan 16 at 1:44
    
+1 Thank you very much for taking the time to write this. I really appreciate this response and will gladly modify my original post + blog post to reflect your comments. My main task now is that as per your suggestions I will try and see if that original switch in flight was needed. –  Autapsen Jan 16 at 2:14
    
I called up the credit card company and talked with an agent from the dispute team. I told him clearly that I denied the option they provided me and they did not help me further. He heard the entire story and suggested that I open a dispute and that they will take it with the airlines. What he told me was that I paid them for some service that I did not receive and hence I may be able to do a chargeback. Further, he remarked that the worst that could happen is that the chargeback won't go through. –  Autapsen Jan 16 at 2:17
    
Regarding your last paragraph, I'm assuming you meant Cathay Pacific. And no, I am not contesting that. I am glad they had the tickets in the first place. –  Autapsen Jan 16 at 2:28
    
Yes, sorry -- I meant whichever airline you booked the final tickets on, that's a mistake when I edited the answer to try and make it clearer -- I'll edit it again. I seriously hope it goes well with you with the card company, I know I'd me seriously annoyed if that had happened to me. –  SpaceDog Jan 16 at 3:14

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