What Compensation To Expect After Bad Flight On American?

Filed Under: American

Reader Luis asked the following question in the “Ask Lucky” forum:

Hey Ben, I just got back from a trip to Europe flying “first class” on American both ways. I was able to luckily snag a first class seat for two both ways from LAX to LHR connecting in JFK on the way out and direct on the way back. So I was pretty excited to finally try American’s flagship product.

Well, after we had checked in at LAX, when we got to the Admiral lounge, they notified us that the flight to JFK was cancelled due to weather (huh? it was sunny and clear in NY) so we would miss our connecting flight to LHR. Best they could do was rebook us through Miami but my wife and I got separated as they only had 1 first class seat left, so I had to take the last seat remaining in business class (mind you, this is the old business class and I was stuck in the middle seat of 3). Quite the difference from first class.

On our trip back home, we boarded the 777-300 in first class and about 30 minutes into the flight, my seat controls stopped working and no matter what the purser tried to do, the seats did not work. So the purser had to manually recline my seat (never got into the fully flat bed position) and I had to fly the whole way home in that position. Even ate my meals in the recline position.

To add insult to injury, they lost one of our luggage and have yet to find it 2 days later.

I called American when I got home to complain but they told me that I had to file the complain via their website to customer relations. Does AA really not have a phone number that I can call for complains like this? I sent out an email and waiting for a response. I requested a full refund for 135k miles and I think that’s reasonable. I don’t have my hopes up though. Anything else I can do other than just shooting out an email via their website so that I get some attention from AA?

It’s a long question, but I do think it raises an interesting point. So let’s dissect the situation a bit.

When it rains, it pours

I think we’ve all had trips where just about everything seems to go wrong. I’ve had more of them than I can count. And when it happens it’s hard not to think the airline sucks.

I’d certainly be frustrated in Luis’ situation. But how many of the issues were connected?

  • The original flight was supposedly canceled due to weather. We don’t know whether that’s true or not. Do keep in mind it could very well be the case even if the weather seemed nice in New York. All it takes is some low cloud coverage above the airport to limit arrivals & departures, and that could have a ripple effect.
  • From there it sounds like Luis was rebooked on the next best option, which clearly wasn’t good at all. This is a case where it helps to be your own advocate and try to find availability on an acceptable routing, so you don’t end up in a situation where you’re split from your spouse and in a middle seat in business class.
  • The broken seat on the way back sucks, and is of course unrelated to the above.

What could have been done differently?

When it comes to situations like this, I think it’s useful to look back and think of what could have been done differently. Not that Luis is at all at fault for any of this, but if we want the best options it helps to advocate for yourself as much as possible. So what would I have done in Luis’ situation?

  • I would have verified whether the cancellation was actually weather or mechanical. This could be done by looking at delay patterns for that airport — if lots of flights were significantly delayed and many were canceled, then it’s probably safe to assume it was weather. If it was mechanical, that’s useful to know, since it’s within the airline’s control.
  • I wouldn’t have accepted the option through Miami. Admittedly everyone has different priorities, but it sounds like the agent was trying to rebook you on the next available option, even though it wasn’t great. This is a case where it pays to hop online and try to find availability for yourself. Maybe there was a later option with first class availability, or if you specifically requested it, they may have even rebooked you on British Airways. You didn’t have to accept the option they gave you, though at the same time they also can’t “create” space in a booked out cabin.


What compensation does American owe?

Generally speaking when you complain to an airline, compensation doesn’t “stack.” That’s to say that they have a “chart” to follow to decide what someone is owed, and they issue compensation based on that. If you have one issue vs. four issues, you may very well get the same compensation.

So while I don’t think the request for 135,000 miles is completely unreasonably, in practice I’d be willing to bet they won’t comply. What would I expect instead, based on American’s patterns for issuing gestures of goodwill?

  • The one-way refund for the mileage difference between first & business class, since you were downgraded; that would be 12,500 miles.
  • Some sort of gesture of goodwill for the broken seat — realistically probably about 20,000 miles or so, at most.

I agree that’s not ideal and ultimately this was a pretty bad trip, but nowadays we kind of have to fend for ourselves when it comes to air travel, especially during irregular operations.

Bottom line

Trips like this happen, and it sucks when they do. Especially when you have compounding problems. Ultimately American clearly wasn’t their best with this trip, so I do think Luis deserves some sort of gesture of goodwill. That being said, there are certainly also a few things I would have done differently to give myself the best possible result.

What kind of compensation do you think Luis deserves in the above situation?

  1. Hey Lucky, when you say to look for other availability options, what is the best tool/website for doing this?

  2. There is also A LOT of inconsistency with what AA decides to give you. If many people experience the same thing (delay, baggage, IFE, etc) you can expect AA to dole out different compensation to each person — regardless of status. Depending on the agent handling your case, you may get 2000 miles or 20,000 miles. Once the decision has been made, not matter how unfair, it appears that there is little that can be done. Unless Ben has another tip besides the EXP Line.

  3. I agree that I wouldn’t have accepted the re-route through Miami, although it does sound like Luis was “lucky” and was on the 777-200 flight AA operates between LAX-MIA. Normally that flight would be a 737 or something of that sort. I’m a little perplexed why the agent didn’t rebook Luis on a direct LAX-LHR flight, even if it was in Business. The new Business Class on the 777-330ER is superb, at least in my opinion. Plus he would get the difference in miles from First to Business credited back to him. My guess would be the time of day Luis was flying as the 2 AA and 2 BA LAX-LHR leave in the late afternoon and evening only. Luis could have also specified he only wanted to be in First Class and the 8 seats were full on the direct flights. As you stated, the gate agents usually won’t rebook onto BA unless specifically asked, especially for a First Class seat. No way Luis will get a full refund of his miles. Last time I had a broken seat in First Class, I got 10,000 miles and was satisfied with that.

  4. Back in 2012, I flew AA first from LAX to BOS on the Red Eye and my seat wouldn’t recline at all. I was comped 10K miles. Not sure if I had much room for negotiations.

  5. @Lucky,

    While I understand that there can be weather delays even though the weather at the origin and destination may be fine, is there a way to independently verify if a flight delay or cancellation is really due to weather or is a mechanical?

  6. Would it ever make sense to make two separate claims since it was two separate incidents? Having a broken first class seat should be a full refund of that leg or at least a refund to the coach price.

  7. I fly BA business to St lucia and my seat didn’t go into the Z position. I emailed them and was comped 50,000 avios. (The total cost of the flight)

  8. Base on eu law, they can claim up to 1220 euro for luggage delay and if miami- heathrow leg is downgraded you cant get 75% refund on that leg.

  9. But it seems tgat their tickets were purchased by mile….. It is hard to say what can they get with not enough detail

  10. In 2013, my wife and I flew on United award tickets from Portland to Newark (UA) to Lisbon (TAP). The return flight was from Porto to London (TAP) to SFO (United). We were looking forward to flying upstairs in business class on a 380 and I had researched and chosen seats 6 months in advance. We had never been upstairs in an airplane before. When we got to Heathrow Airport, the counter agent said that my wife did not have a return ticket. After about 30 minutes of research and getting passed around, they came back and said that we’d cancelled just my wife’s return ticket on the date of our outbound flight. Huh? Luckily, after some more discussion, they found us two business class seats together downstairs next to the galley for the long haul leg to SFO, then standby coach to PDX. Not the end of the world, but still a little disappointing plus the stress of not knowing if my wife would return with me at all. For compensation, they gave her 20,000 miles and me 10,000 miles. Totally worth it.

  11. Ben, thanks for addressing this. A few points regarding your post. I did immediately jump online to find an alternative flight that I can be booked on. There were no more available seats (first or business) on a direct route to LHR from LAX. The only option was on BA later that evening (our original outbound flight was at 8am) but the agent was very adamant that they will not rebook us on a partner flight given that we were on a award ticket and not a revenue ticket. So yeah, outside of flying coach, the flight through Miami was our next best option.

    After emailing customer relations back and forth a few times, getting it escalated to supervisors, and even getting a call from them, what they were able to offer me was 25k miles and a $300 voucher for my infant. It’s just very frustrating that as a consumer, there isn’t much we can do in these situations. Basically just have to accept what they offer. It’s one thing if I fly in premium cabins a lot for work and I can just chalk this up as a bad flight, but like many people, I have to save miles for years to take one really nice trip in first class, so when everything seems to go wrong, it’s very frustrating.

  12. I had a very similar situation to Luis with regard to broken seat and just overall bad trip. I was given like 15-20k miles as compensation and requested full refund of my miles. Got the standard letter back and very little compensation. This was JFK to lax en route to Hawaii all first class. The hard product was on the old planes and was awful for first class.

  13. ” I requested a full refund for 135k miles and I think that’s reasonable.” LOL

  14. GringoLoco, good catch. I was confused, since I have since flown upstairs on the 380. It was a 747 on United.

  15. Since I just got the final adjudication letter recently, I would like to know if I should escalate this further.

    Back in January, took USair NYC-LAS on Friday, to return Monday LAS-JFK, storm of the century hitting Monday afternoon, return flight cxl, NYC airports close for at least 2 days per weather report on Monday morning. Had another booking for Wednesday JFK-SFO on AA. Seems logical to request a cancellation of JFK-SFO and a refund, then took LAS-SFO(Monday), SFO-JFK(Friday). USair would not refund tickets, tickets still good for future use (within 1yr) but would be accessed $200 change fee. I’m EXP but wife have no status.

    @Lucky, any thoughts?

  16. I’m amazed that so many people think 10K or 20K is reasonable, as that’s basically saying that the difference between first class and business class is $100-200, or that being able to adjust the seat is only $100-200 of the total value of what is likely a many thousand dollar ticket at retail price.

    You wouldn’t go to a store, buy a MacBook Pro for $3000, and expect them to say, “sorry, there was a weather delay in shipping, so instead you get a $1000 MacBook and $200 in store credit”, and find that acceptable.

  17. hard not to feel sympathy for Luis….he saves up a ton of miles to do a first class experience, has a terrible experience, gets crap compensation (relative to the sheer # of miles he burned), and has virtually zero recourse.

    I cannot see how 25k miles is even close to proper compensation. Not everyone spends their hobbying around with miles whereby the miles are easy come, easy go. For average folks, the miles take years to accumulate. What a joke.

  18. Logically, if you end up in business class when you “paid” for 1st class, you should be compensated the difference in mileage points. That’s only fair. Asking for all your miles back is sort of ridiculous, because you went on the trip. A broken seat, well that’s just bad luck, be happy to get anything.

    I went on a trip on Jan 6 2013 to Tenerife. It was the day of the blizzard in the Chicago area. All the flights were cancelled into Chicago and pretty much everywhere else in the US (I live in Wisconsin). But the flights to Europe were still going. So we drove 2 hours to Chicago in -20 degree F weather, had to pay to park the car for 2 weeks and inconvenienced to hell. However, we did get on the flight and went on the trip. Changing the itinerary would have been difficult, since the flight to Madrid and then Tenerife didn’t go every day.

    I was just happy to get to the destination. It was also nice and warm there. Couldn’t get a refund. Oh well.

  19. @ Hank — That unfortunately is tricky, since it was presumably on separate reservations. Was there also a travel waiver for Wednesday? If not, it really comes down to the agent you get, unfortunately. That’s tricky, sorry. 🙁

  20. @ Luis — Very frustrating indeed. Thanks for the update. For what it’s worth, next time I’d try talking to a different agent while at the airport — they should have been able to rebook you on BA. Here’s to hoping the next trip goes more smoothly!

  21. @ Tom — Since it’s for different directions of travel, that’s certainly not a bad idea in this case, in my opinion.

  22. @ travel4b — Yep, if you look at flightstats.com you can see the “recorded” reason for a delay, so that’s usually the first tool I jump onto to see the real problem.

  23. @ GJ — You can use ExpertFlyer, or just look at the airline’s site directly to see on which flights they have space.

  24. I filed a complaint with AA a couple of days ago. I was re routed from my BA first class to Iberia business class. Hoping I can get my BA fuel surcharge of $450 refunded.

  25. I live in Asia and fly backwards and forwards to Europe and the US. Like someone else said, I avoid US airlines like the plague as, no matter which one you fly, when you have a problem the recourse is nowhere near as good as with an EU airline. For me, it’s EU all the way, with an occasional airline flown in.

  26. I had purchased American Airline Tickets from Priceline for $780.00. I had to cancel the flight because of a family emergency and did so within their 24 hour cancellation period. The AA rep told me that the flight was cancelled and to expect a refund in 7-10 days. I called back on the 11th day and then was informed that I could not get a refund back because I did not call Priceline directly. Can anyone suggest what I can do?

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