Travel companies are slow to return money

05/23/2010 12:05 AM

05/23/2010 12:05 AM

American Airlines agreed to issue a full credit. But a problem arose because I have closed the original Chase credit card account that I paid for their tickets with. When I spoke to American Airlines, they said that if Chase rejected the credit, they would be able to issue a paper check refund.

This is where the fun began. For the last three months, I have been trying to track down my credit with Chase bank. For whatever reason, they do not have any record of my credit card account in their system when I try to call their credit card customer service number.

I finally received a letter saying that they were waiting for a response from American Airlines. I've tried to call and write the American Airlines refunds department to see if they have received the letter, but have heard nothing. I feel like I'm getting the runaround from everyone. Can you help?— Dara Chuang, Houston

A: You are getting the runaround from everyone. American Airlines should have been able to reissue the credit as a check when Chase rejected its payment.

Why didn't it? I can tell you why, in principle: Travel companies, and especially airlines, are fast to take your money but slow to return it. It's just part of their corporate DNA.

In practice, I don't know why this particular refund took so long. I asked American about your case several times (more on that in a moment) and I'm not even sure if it knows.

This was preventable. When you're waiting for a refund back to a credit card, it's best to delay any changes to your account. Some are unavoidable — for example, if your credit card is stolen, you need to cancel the card immediately. But short of that, I'd postpone any kind of upgrade, downgrade or revision to your card. Changing your credit card account can confuse a travel company, causing further delay on top of an existing delay, or in extreme cases, leading to an outright denial of a refund.

I post the names, numbers and e-mail addresses of American Airlines' customer service executives to my website (www.elliott.org/ help/american-airlines). An appeal to one of them might have been helpful. But American isn't the only company to blame for this problem. Your credit card company could have done better. A written appeal to someone higher up at Chase might have helped.

I'm not sure if calling Chase or American helped your case. An e-ail is probably far more efficient and gets you faster results. Phoning may make you feel better, but there's little evidence it accelerates a refund of this type. Here's another thought: In the future, try making a reservation through a travel agent instead of directly with an airline. An agent would be able to help you with a refund, at no extra charge.

I contacted American on your behalf, and after a few more weeks of trying to track down your money, it finally sent you a check for the full amount of your airfare.

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