American Airlines Flight Delayed: Can You Get A Refund?

Filed Under: American

Update: I got one thing completely wrong here, which is that American actually lets you cancel within 24 hours up until two days before departure, rather than seven days. I assumed and was told otherwise, but that’s not the case. The advice otherwise still stands, though.

I’d like to think I’m familiar with most American Airlines policies, though I learned something new today, and it saved me $300.

Canceling a delayed American Airlines flight same day

On the day of travel, how long does your American Airlines flight have to be delayed before you can get a full refund on the ticket? I wasn’t sure what the policy was, though today I found out the answer is one hour.

If your American Airlines flight is scheduled to be delayed by at least one hour, then you can get a full refund to your original form of payment.

I booked my dad on the wrong day (accidentally)

I handle booking all the travel for my family, and last weekend my dad asked me to book him a trip to New York for an event he had to go to.

I booked him the outbound flight on American Airlines, as they have a new Saturday only service nonstop from Tampa to New York. I decided to just pay for him to fly first class, as the fare was $300 one-way, only about $80 more than economy. I didn’t even tell him I booked him in first class, but rather figured it would be a nice surprise.

He had repeatedly told me that he needed to fly to New York on Saturday. I ticketed the reservation at 9:13PM on Sunday (right before going to bed) the weekend before, and on Monday morning I woke up to the following text from my dad:

As you can see, he really needed to fly on Friday, and not Saturday.

While you usually have 24 hours to cancel a reservation, that doesn’t apply within seven days of departure. I had booked just five days before departure, and even though I booked late the night before and the flight was still wide open (meaning that American almost certainly didn’t lose any revenue as a result of this mistake), the American Airlines agent said there was nothing that could be done to refund the ticket.

It would be a $200 fee to change the ticket, and then I could apply the remaining ~$100 towards a future ticket for him.

Airline change fees are incredibly punitive, especially that they’re the same no matter when you cancel. It’s not logical that the fee to cancel is the same hours after booking on a wide open flight, as it is when canceling last minute on a fully booked out flight.

But of course the rules are clearly published, so I don’t fault them for enforcing the rules…

…but that works both ways.

How I saved $300 and got the ticket refunded

I knew I’d be paying the same change fee no matter when I canceled his ticket, so I did what I always recommend doing — wait until the day of departure and see if there’s a schedule change, if there’s a travel waiver, or if the flight is delayed or canceled.

If airlines don’t want to incentivize us to cancel early, then you might as well wait.

As luck would have it, his flight from Tampa to New York was delayed by just over an hour due to a late inbound aircraft.

I phoned up American Airlines, and the agent issued a refund for the entire ticket cost without batting an eyelid, since he was delayed by over an hour.

Bottom line

I was trying to be a good son (and just paid for a ticket outright for my dad in first class), but of course no good deed goes unpunished, because nine hours after booking he realized that he had mixed up dates.

Airlines often lack compassion (even when you explain “my 75 year old dad got his dates mixed up and we just ticketed this last night…”), though at the end of the day we can’t really fault them for enforcing policies.

But that works both ways, because sometimes those policies work in our favor.

In those situations where I have a non-refundable ticket and no incentive to cancel sooner rather than later I always wait, because you never know if there will be a way to get that fee waived last minute.

Usually it doesn’t work out, but in this case it did…

Anyone else wait until the day of departure to cancel non-refundable tickets, given that airlines don’t incentivize us to cancel early?

  1. Hey Lucky, AA 24 hour policy applies as long as booked at least 2 days out. Not 7. Why didn’t you try to phone in?

    You gotta re-study your policies!

  2. @ Ben — This is where American really alienates its high-level elite customers. I guarantee you if I booked the same on Delta, they would have made the change without hesitation.

  3. @ Travel_Pharaoh — Now I feel like a total idiot, oops! For some reason I thought it was seven days, but guess I was confused (as was agent I spoke with). Post updated to reflect that.

  4. @ Ethan — And I certainly hope no one thinks this is abusive in many ways. Airlines in the US have a ridiculous amount of latitude with how they can have customer unfriendly policies. We are always subjected to their policies with very little mercy. At the same time, when those policies (rarely) benefit consumers, we’d be idiots not to take advantage of it.

  5. Great so they refund your money for the ticket after holding you up for an hour or more
    Good luck getting your luggage back from these criminal thugs called American
    Been there done that
    One way they keep you a hostage and your money

  6. Similar situation with AA. Booked a trip with points and cash. Outbound with points, inbound on a separate ticket with cash. Plans changed and I had to cancel the trip. As an EXP my points got reinstated without problems but the cash flight would have occured the $200 change fee (on a $260 ticket). Followed your advice and waited til the last day. Got lucky and they had a winter weather alert. Flight was eligible for fee waived changes so I called right away and got the full $260 as a flight credit.

  7. Or everyone has the cash to buy the 2nd ticket. Many people can’t gamble like that and want to apply the $100 towards the new ticket right away, especially if you don’t fly American a lot.

  8. @ Ryan — Right, except in this case I wasn’t going to rebook my dad on American (or else I would have rebooked right away). They don’t have any other nonstop flights from Tampa to New York.

  9. So your dad flew on Friday and nobody checked in for the Saturday flight. So you can still get a refund for a delayed flight you didn’t show up for? That’s good to know.

  10. @Lucky. I believe that a lot depends on the agent. A year ago I booked my son on a Saturday United flight. A week later I realized that I should have booked him for the flight a week later. I called United (I am a simple Silver member), and told them that I know that it is entirely my fault, and I know there is nothing they could do, but…… Told them he would need to fly a week later on the same flight. She waived the change fee and rebooked my son for the same price. Was very happy with United (the agent)!

  11. Important also to CHECK – IN for the flight the day before if you intend to hope for a departure delay and refund. I learned this the hard way – we paid $150 for a ticket for my mother-in-law that she couldn’t end up using – so not worth paying a $200 change fee of course – and sure enough the flight was delayed over 2 hours. When I called in for a refund, the agent said “you didn’t even check-in – why are you wanting a refund?”

  12. Booked a basic economy UA one way return ticket to be with my Mom for hip replacement surgery and recovery. The day before surgery it was delayed a week. Had no choice but to bite the bullet and just buy a new one way ticket. Checked original return flight and it was delayed. UA refunded basic economy ticket in full. Always worth it to double check!

  13. The same rule applies to schedule changes. I had a situation last year where the whole family (6 people) were traveling to Mexico for Thanksgiving. We had booked the tickets 6 months in advance. A month before travel, we had to cancel. I thought we would have about $8,000 tied up in travel credits and of course have to deal with the cancellation fees. I scoured the AA website and found the “1 hour schedule change/delay refund rule”. As luck would have it, at least one of our flights had changed departure times by at least one hour in the time since the original booking. Was able to get fully refunded for everything.

  14. Did you try to refund the ticket via the website? May have been better than talking to an agent. If your within 24 hours after you purchase you ticket the website allows you to cancel for full refund. I bought a ticket recently and made a mistake , then clicked cancel button on website and my ticket was 100 percent refunded back to my credit card with 3 days

  15. @Daniel B: United has been pretty good to me lately as well. I’m also Premier Silver (which involves a surprising amount of spend compared to when I was A-List on Southwest). They comp stuff for me all the time – change fees, name changes, same-day flight changes… not sure if they’re really trying to save face after the Dao incident still, or if this is just how they generally treat their loyalty members. If so, it’s a good way to do it. But I’m sure at some point, their generosity will run out.

  16. I booked my sons return flight to college from Christmas break for one week earlier than he needed to be back. Didn’t realize this until several weeks after ticket purchased. Was hoping a delay or travel waiver might happen and I’d be able to retain some of the value of the mistaken ticket. He didn’t check in for the flight. Sure enough the flight was delayed by one hour and 10 minutes however AA would not refund the entire value of the ticket as the delay was not long enough for him to miss his connection and he would still reach his destination as originally scheduled. This was over 5 weeks ago- any chance to go back and see if something can be done at this point?

  17. It’s unclear what you did. So you just bought another ticket and waited until the day of departure for the first mistakenly bought ticket to see if it was a schedule change so you could get the full refund for free?

  18. Good story – one I will remember. But unclear regarding the one detail:

    Did you do the check in prior to the delay being posted?

    If you’d done nothing (no check-in, no request for refund), would anything have been refunded or credited, or just a default of all value lost?


  19. I recently mistakenly booked a flight on a wrong day and didn’t realize quick enough. They then changed the schedule by a lot of hours and put me on a different flight so I got a refund that way in the end even though there were alternative flights the same day I could have switched to.

  20. Uh, hello? Southwest has two nonstops TPA-LGA on Saturday. Plus a one stop or two. No change fees. I notice all you “Points Guys” and other travel gurus rarely admit that Southwest might be a better option.

  21. @lamhere. Yes. That is what I did. I bought a one way ticket for my son to return back to college for the correct date. I called AA twice prior to Buying the correct date ticket to inquire about waiving the change fee on the existing incorrect ticket – hoping that we’d be given some leniency given the 4 hour non weather related delay on his inbound flight but alas this was denied. I had no choice but to buy a new ticket. Ironically the two weekends prior to the mistakenly booked flight and the weekend after had weather waivers. LOL

  22. @Josh: I am only Silver with United because of my Marriott Titanium status. I hardly ever spend money on United :-)))

  23. @Lucky (and everyone): In my experience with AA (not to even mention as an EXP), we actually get a bit MORE than 24 hours, as follows: In fact, as long as you bought the ticket 2 calendar days prior to the flight, you actually get until around 11:59pm OF THE NEXT CALENDAR DAY to cancel for a complete refund. Hence if you bought your ticket in the mid-morning, you have closer to 36 hours to get your full refund. I’ve found this very valuable for times when I didn’t find out about a needed change till the next evening… and I have been able to make these occasional cancellations both by phone and online. Thus this does help a bit with the loyalty factor.

  24. As far as my experience goes u can cancel a ticket up to 24 hours even if it was booked on day of travel

  25. This is why booking on OTAs such as Expedia/Orbitz or Priceline is better (for free cancellation). They give you a free cancellation until the end of the next business day (Pacific Time) regardless of when the departure is. So if you book on Friday, you have until Monday midnight to cancel for free

  26. @ Tom – the problem with booking through an OTA is usually they cost much more than airline direct or other sources.

  27. Just back from Saint Croix UsVI.
    And our AA flight had a hydraulic leak issue had to fix it then fly out another mechanic from Maimi to test it and Check it off so we could fly out 10 hrs. Later.
    Do you think passengers will be compensated?

  28. Just to share a data point, I tried to use a schedule change to my advantage to get a refund on United since their published policy is a 2 hour change in arrival/departure time. They told me their new policy is now 25 hours (!!) but after some push back and escalation to a supervisor, I got a one time exception.

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