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Travel solutions: With a hurricane on the way, are these tickets now worthless?


Q: I used my U.S. Bank Visa card points to buy three economy tickets on American Airlines to attend a destination wedding in the Dominican Republic. The wedding was relocated to Mexico because of a hurricane.

I’ve communicated with American Airlines, but it is unwilling to reschedule us since our departure date does not fall within their travel alert. We have basic economy class tickets, which can’t be changed. We now need to pay for three more tickets to attend the wedding in Mexico.

I have asked the U.S. Bank Rewards Center what they can do for me about this situation, and they said their only option is to contact American Airlines to see if they would consider other options. And when I ask American Airlines, they just refer me back to U.S. Bank Visa. Can you help? ─ Char Collins, Minneapolis

A: It looks like you’re stuck between your bank, your airline and a hurricane. Not a good place to be.

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Your destination wedding was moved from the Dominican Republic to Cancun, Mexico, after a hurricane took aim at the island. That’s one of the risks of traveling to the Caribbean during hurricane season. It looks like you had travel insurance ─ good call ─ but it wouldn’t cover you because the storm wasn’t imminent.

You already paid for three tickets using your points via U.S. Bank Visa. Typically, that’s a one-way transaction ─ you can’t get the points refunded to your account. It looks like American Airlines had authorized flight ticket changes between Sept. 17 and Sept. 25, but the wedding was happening later that month.

American Airlines should have seen the problem and made an exception to its refund rules. And I think it would have, if you had complained to the right person. Unfortunately, the folks in American’s customer service department could only repeat their policy, which is what they’re trained to do. Escalating this to a higher level, with one of the American Airlines executive contacts I publish on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org, might have helped. A brief, polite email might have allowed you to use your flight credit for the rescheduled wedding in Mexico.

Your case highlights the risks of using credit card miles to book a flight. When you have another party involved (your bank or credit card company), you are often at the mercy of its policies, in addition to the airline rules. And you may also find that your ticket comes with extra restrictions that could render it useless if you need to make a change.

And at the risk of repeating myself, I would urge you to consider travel insurance the next time you have to go abroad. You could have filed a claim and received a full refund for your tickets without having to wade through all of this red tape. Also, consider buying a more expensive economy-class ticket that allows changes.

I contacted American Airlines on your behalf. A manager reviewed your problem and agreed to refund $582 as trip credit, which you can use to pay for flights to the new wedding location in Mexico.

How useful is your passport this year? Veuer’s Keri Lumm reports. 

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at [email protected]

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