My AA Payday for a Canceled Flight and Broken Seat

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US airlines are pretty stingy with regard to compensation when things go wrong. Compared to strict EU regulations, US airlines are responsible just for getting you to your destination at some point, and they can use “weather” and “air traffic control” to weasel out of situations where compensation is warranted. Nonetheless, even though airlines aren’t legally obligated to compensate you, many will do so if you’re a loyal customer and if you ask the right way. The following is my story of flying to Brazil on American Airlines, and how I think I came out pretty whole from several annoying situations.

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Getting compensated for cancelled flights can be difficult. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Miami-Recife Off-Peak
When I went to Fernando de Noronha in April, I needed to fly from Miami to Recife. It’s an overnight, 8 hour flight; the business class cabin was pretty much sold out when I booked, and I didn’t want to shell out 100,000 miles each way for a peak award when saver level awards were available for just 20,000 miles in economy (since off-peak US to Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay is March 1 – May 31 and August 16 – November 30). 

You can contact AA through their complain page.
You can contact AA through their complaint page.

I snagged an exit row window and luckily there was no one sitting next to me; however, the set recline function was broken, which made sleeping on an overnight flight even more difficult. I shot an email off to American to let them know to fix it and to voice my disappointment. I didn’t expect any points, but to my delight they gave me 15,000 AAdvantage miles for the trouble. Score! Total cost of flight from Miami to Recife = 5,000 miles (~$90 based on July point valuations).

Return Flight Recife to Miami
The return flight suffered a mechanical failure of some sort, and we sat on the tarmac for two hours only to find out that American Airlines would be canceling the flight. Around 1 am they unloaded the plane and baggage, and then the entire 757 lined up to be re-accommodated by two agents. Each customer took between 5 and 10 minutes to handle, so it was going to be a long, long night. I immediately called the Executive Platinum line, but sadly they couldn’t do anything to rebook me, as the reservation was under airport control. I called back again and got the same answer: “wait in line to rebook, and to get hotel and other vouchers.”

No thanks; my time (and sleep) is way more valuable than waiting for hours in the middle of the night. I decided to book my own hotel in Recife  (Hotel Jangadeiro, which was extremely bare bones with only a thin sheet on the bed) and keep all of the receipts for my taxis and expenses. I then outright cancelled my return itinerary and decided I’d just rebook myself on a SAAver award for 50,000 miles from Recife to Sao Paulo to Miami with a stopover (back in the good old days when AA allowed stopovers at international gateways), and then keep Miami- LAX- Kauai for later in the year.

After arriving back home, I submitted a complaint to AA on April 3rd through their “Email AA Customer Relations” link. I described the situation and explained that I incurred expenses from having to stay an extra night in Recife. The following day I received a response from a Customer Relations representative who was very apologetic and offered to reimburse me for the expenses I had listed in my complaint, as well as award me with 25,000 miles for the inconvenience.

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AA sent me a check reimbursing me for my travel expenses.

On April 7th I submitted a list of expenses along with receipts totaling $476.19, which I used my Sapphire Preferred card to pay for so I could earn double points on the travel charges and avoid foreign transaction fees.

Hotel Jangadeiro: $139.20
Royal American Limousine: $135
Royal American Limousine: $144
Verizon Roaming minutes calling AA, 39 minutes @ $1.49 per minute: $57.99
I hadn’t heard anything back on April 16th, so I sent a follow-up message that again didn’t receive a response until May 27th, when I finally heard from a Claims Analyst. Once I confirmed my expenses and provided an address, I finally received a check for the full amount of $476.19 on June 18th.
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American Airlines deposited 25,000 bonus miles into my account for my cancelled flight and 15,000 for my broken seat.
Although it took about 2 months to get my money back and hours of my time would have been wasted if I had actually waited in the airport for customer service, I think American handled the situation well and was generous in giving me a bonus 25,000 miles. Overall I was able to get from Miami to Recife in economy, Recife to Miami in business class and Miami to Kauai in business class for 30,000 miles total. Once again, the moral of the story is that it never hurts to ask.
Please share your experiences getting appropriate (or inappropriate) compensation on your own travel misadventures!

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