I just received a question from a reader and since I was facing the same dilemma, and I know many others are too, I wrote this story in the hopes of saving people some money.
“Hi! I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to get American Airlines to refund us for flights we had to cancel in 2020. They’ve given us a credit that expires in 2021. We will not use it. Any advice? Thank you from a longtime fan, Kathleen”
Hi Kathleen, Thank you for the kind words. I actually had this same dilemma last week since I had six American Airlines (AA) flight credits from flights I ended up cancelling in 2020. The short answer is AA won’t outright refund the money but there are ways you can extend the life of your credits and possibly even get the cash back.
Here are my tips for dealing with American Airlines flight credits.
1. Try and Get Cash
For starters, try to avoid getting a flight credit because it’s much better to have a refund. So, in hindsight, if you know you’re not going to take a flight for whatever reason, wait until a few hours before the flight to see if it ends up getting severely delayed or canceled. If either of those things happen, you’re entitled to a full refund. Note: Just be sure to know the airline’s rules beforehand and make sure you can cancel the ticket online since some call centers are ridiculously busy. Typically, most flights have to be cancelled before the plane departs but some airlines, like Air Canada (I believe), require you to cancel two hours before scheduled departure.
2. Keep Track of Credits
If you do get a flight credit from an airline, I recommend taking a photo of it so you have a digital record. In addition to filing the email away somewhere safe, I also either forward the whole email or at least a portion of it without the secure information, to a free reminder service I use. The message will remind me that I have X amount of credit on X airline, which needs to be spent by X. Here’s the free reminder email service I use every day to manage my inbox.
3. Call The Airline
These days, it’s usually okay if you don’t have the pertinent information concerning your credits, since it should be saved in the notes of your frequent flier account. I called American Airlines last week to ask about my credits (how many I had, what the value of each one was and when they would expire). I did this for me and my family so it took a while. I’m fortunate to have Executive Platinum status with American Airlines so I can usually get right through to an agent and they’re the best of the best (though not always). When I originally called, I had a great agent. She spent the necessary time looking for all of my credits and went over them with me. I took notes so I had the value and expiration dates and but also gained some knowledge on how to use them.
4. International Credits
For example, the agent informed me that I had six credits. Two of them were from international flights (Los Angeles to Toronto). What’s significant about those is that international credits can only be applied one at a time. So let’s say I had two credits of $100 each. I couldn’t use them both to book another ticket. I could only use one international credit at time regardless of whether I would be flying international or domestic.
5. Domestic Credits
The agent then informed me that I had four domestic credits and that they could be used towards any flight but only two credits at a time. So, let’s say each one was worth $100, totaling $400. Well, I couldn’t put them all together towards a $500 ticket. I would only be able to use two of them so it would be $200 off my next ticket.
6. Not All Agents Are Created Equal
As I mentioned above, my agent was great but not all of them are as I was reminded when I called back the next day to use my credits. I could tell right away the first agent wasn’t very friendly or knowledgeable. I asked her to look up my credits and she said she needed the ticket numbers. I knew that wasn’t true because my original agent assured me I didn’t need to have them. So I politely said I had another phone call coming in and would call back. I hung up, waited a minute, called back and got another great agent.
7. Book One-Ways
If you have multiple credits, then instead of booking a roundtrip ticket, which would only allow you to use one or two credits, book two one-ways. That way you can use double the amount.
8. Book a Flight in Advance, Then Cancel
If you know that you aren’t traveling anytime soon but have to use your credit before it expires, then either book a flight for some time next year that you think you might take or book one for the immediate future and cancel it. I just booked one-way tickets between LAX and JFK for today to go see my dad. But I just canceled them. But before I canceled them online I called AA just to reconfirm I won’t get penalized with any change fees and to find out when they will expire.
9. Book a Flight in Hopes it Cancels
The trick to getting your cash back is to book a flight that will get canceled or delayed severely. I just spoke to another AA agent to double check: If I book a flight using a credit and it gets cancelled, will I get refunded in cash or get another credit? She said that if the flight gets canceled, you will get cash and the money put back on a credit card. You could figure out which flights get canceled the most and hope it gets canceled. A good website to track cancelations is flightaware.com.
10. Avoid Basic Economy Tickets
The agent assured me there are no change fees unless you book a Basic Economy ticket. I didn’t and never have and probably never will since “Basic Economy fares bought on or after April 1, 2021, are non-refundable and non-changeable.”
11. Trip Credits
The agent told me that American is doing away with “Flight Credits” and replacing them with “Trip Credits.” This is actually a good thing because instead of having a heavily restricted Flight Credit, which has to be used by the person it’s issued to and you can only use one or two at a time, there’s now a Trip Credit, which can be combined with eight other Trip Credits, can be used to book travel for anyone and needs to be used within a year of when the ticket is issued (not day of departure).
So Kathleen, I’m sure this is a lot more information than you asked for but I hope it helps you extend the life of your American Airlines credit.
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Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.