Betty Barrett cancels her flight from Fort Myers, Florida, to Birmingham, Alabama, at the start of the pandemic. Why won’t American Airlines refund her ticket?

Q: I recently used part of a $721 ticket credit on American Airlines to book a flight from Fort Myers, Florida, to Birmingham, Alabama, to see my grandson perform with the Alabama Ballet. I used $616 in credit and paid a $200 change fee. 

Unfortunately, that was one of the first weekends of the pandemic, so the Alabama Ballet canceled its performances. I canceled the flight, fearful of the virus. This left me with a credit of $616, which is good until early 2021.

I am turning 86 in a couple of weeks. The pandemic has grown since then, and since I am in the most vulnerable age group, I am not going anywhere, and am unlikely to travel for a long time, if at all.  That is a lot of money to throw away and not be able to use. I am therefore requesting a refund, or an alternative, if there is one, to receive a credit I can allow someone else to use. 

American Airlines won’t offer a refund or a voucher that I can let someone else use. Can you help me? — Betty Barrett, Huntington, West Virginia

A: American Airlines should help you use your credit — but technically, it doesn’t have to.

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The terms of your ticket purchase were clear. You had a nonrefundable ticket, which allowed you to cancel your flight and receive a credit. Back then, American also charged a $200 change fee (it has since stopped the practice for most tickets).

Your case is a little complicated. You canceled your first ticket and received a $721 credit. Then you rebooked a new flight, paying a change fee, and canceled your second ticket. That left you with another credit. But you can’t use that credit now because of the pandemic.

Airlines are not in a good place. They insist that flying is safe, but the risks of travel during the pandemic are undeniable. If you’re in an at-risk group, staying home is a sensible move, even if you lose the value of your ticket credit.

American Airlines should have shown some compassion since you are in a high-risk age group. But as I already mentioned, it didn’t have to. It was following the rules of your original ticket purchase. And you agreed to those rules when you booked your original flight.  

In a situation like this, you’re better off sending a direct appeal to a manager at the airline. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of all the American Airlines customer service managers on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org. You reached out to American by email. A representative responded quickly, granting your request for a transferable voucher. You’ll be able to give the voucher to another family member, so the money won’t go to waste.