American Airlines Voids a Bump Voucher. Did They Do It For Spite – or Worse?

One Mile at a Time relays a passenger’s story about being denied boarding on American Airlines.

  • The passenger, Spencer, was booked to fly Philadelphia – Phoenix – Palm Springs on August 17.
  • He flew Philadelphia – Phoenix. He arrived in Phoenix and learned that his plane was swapped for a smaller aircraft and about 20 people would have to take a later flight.
  • American offered him a $600 voucher to voluntarily take a later flight. He accepted.
  • The original flight was delayed by several hours. Bumped passengers were rebooked onto that original flights.

The passenger complained about the bad experience. Personally I wouldn’t have, thinking I already had $600 in hand. American offered him 3000 miles. He complained further, and American responded with 7500 miles and to let him know his $600 voucher was cancelled because he traveled on his original flight number.

Please let me clarify about the $600 voucher. This is part of the DOT as denied boarding when we cannot get our passengers accommodated on a flight. I see the airport issued one but then had to void it since we were able to get you on flight AA3085.

First of all, American’s reference to the Department of Transportation (DOT) is inapposite. Under this circumstance American was never required to offer any compensation.

Department of Transportation involuntary denied boarding compensation rules contain an exception for aircraft swaps to a plane with fewer seats. That’s why JetBlue, which doesn’t intentionally overbook flights, has had so many involuntary denied boardings — aircraft swaps can be a bigger cause than overbooking.

American offered compensation so that the rebooking would be listed as voluntary rather than involuntary, not because DOT requirements were at play here at all.

Second of all, the passenger agreed to give up their seat for compensation and American agreed to book the passenger onto the next available flight. Due to the delay the next available flight happened to be the original one.

At the point this agreement was reached, he gave up his seat voluntarily and American gave him compensation. Whatever flight was first available — same flight number hours later, different flight number — is immaterial.

This isn’t the same thing as soliciting for volunteers in case they are needed, American gave a voucher and then chose to inform the passenger when he complained further that they had cancelled the voucher. It is not clear if they did this in retribution for the complaint, although if you take American’s message at their word the voucher was voided by the airport which is even worse because it means he was given a voucher and then the airline never even bothered to tell him it was invalid, something he would only have otherwise learned when he went to spend it.

It appears to me that the airline reneged on its contract. The appropriate venue for recourse is the Department of Transportation. Serial complainer Ben Edelman outlines how to do this.

Perhaps you disagree — maybe you feel the voucher should be cancelled for all of his complaints? Or perhaps that since he traveled on the flight he was originally supposed to take (albeit several hours later) he shouldn’t also receive a denied boarding (bump) voucher?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. DL once gave me $600 for an involuntary downgrade to Y. When I went to board, they gave me the seat back.

    DL didn’t cancel the voucher. They could have, but didn’t.

  2. Too many customers are just plain greedy and unreasonable.. No matter what you have already done, any little thing is an excuse to ask for more. If you do something extra that you did not have to do, it only raises expectations. American’s mistake was in giving him any points at all.

  3. Id walk (run) and not look back. My gut says if he pursues AA via DOT or Court, AA will simply send him a letter how he no longer a AA member his accthas been closed and hes no longer allowed to fly on AA

  4. You can manufacture outrage over anything, but the reality is this guy wanted more than $600 (which is certainly a fair payout for his inconvenience) and he got unlucky because he wound up on his same (delayed) flight and thereby forfeited his $600 voucher. You have to be an Airline Hater to think AA is evil here. In the real world, things like this sometimes happen when you’re greedy. There’s no reason for others “to care.”

  5. if I add someone (my wife or adult child) as an authorized user to get an extra point bonus will that count against them as a credit card 5/24 etc. when they go to get their own card bonus’ in the future?

  6. Spencer should have called it quits. Complaining is one thing. But three times about the same incident and they have given you compensation twice?

    The company I work for (who shall remain nameless) does this as well. After a point they say ‘sorry obviously we cannot meet your unique service needs and it is best you find another __________to work with who can meet your needs. Please close your account within 30 days’

    At some point you are wasting more time than it is worth

  7. no doubt passenger is a douchebag, 100%, since the moment you agree to compensation, you basically agree that this is it..
    That said, it seems that AA would have cancelled his voucher regardless, even if he had not complained, simply because he boarded the same numbered flight, and if that is the case, DoUIg Parker and his slaves are even bigger douches, and would not be the first or last time…
    AA sucks and that is why I left them after 10 years of being PLA and EXPLA
    0 miles flown with them this year

  8. Hello readers!

    This is Spencer Bachus, the person (d-bag according to whom you ask) whose real life experience is the basis for this article. Thanks again to Lucky from OMAAT for taking an interest!

    I was surprised to see such varied opinions about me and my possible evil motivations so I just thought I would try my best to clarify what happened.

    For starters I never asked American Airlines for anything.
    I literally arrived at my gate in PHX around 1230 PM and was told I no longer had a seat and if I did not sign for the $600 voucher and take the last seat available on flight AA3058 (which would have departed 7 hours later) I would be forced to spend the night in PHX. I signed and took my voucher and sat down to wait for my boarding pass. I had been out of town for work all week and was exhausted. I wanted to get home. Some of the comments mention my lack of intelligence for not demanding cash over the voucher. I did ask if that was an option several times but was told it would not be in my best interests as my payout might only be $7 (that was the literal figure she gave me)because it was a short flight. I don’t know the rules on cash payouts so I took the gate agent at her word. I was thinking I could just rent a car and drive home as its only a 4 hour drive compared to the 9 hour alternative if I were to stay and board the flight after 0800 PM. So I was left with the two choices of possibly getting a $7 check and probably having to spend $100 on a rental car and gasoline or the “guaranteed” $600 travel voucher. With the information given before me, I made the best call I could and chose to leave with the 0800 PM flight.

    Several of you have criticized me for complaining to American Airlines in the first place going so far as to call me “greedy.”
    OK. Who decides what is too far to be greedy? Is there some secret tribunal I don’t know about?

    To be honest, if I had just sat in my seat for the next 7 hours and boarded the flight, I would never have complained to American. I understand things happen and I honestly felt the $600 travel voucher was more than fair. However, that is not what happened.

    To say the situation around the gate and ticket counter was a complete shit show would be putting it very kindly. There were three gate agents there and their explanations for why we didn’t have the original aircraft varied wildly. It needed maintenance, the pilot thought it unsafe, the wrong plane was sent on accident, etc. This frustrated me but it INFURIATED a good number of other passengers. The agents were dismissive and generally just not empathetic to say the least. Then the agents announced over the speaker that the first class passengers who were previously given a”first class upgrade voucher?” or something like that would need to now hand it back. I wasn’t entirely sure what they were talking about but the reaction was immediate and not good. Several older men jumped up and started screaming at the gate agents, even more moved toward the counter protesting loudly (my happy ass was seated on the floor stuffing my greedy mouth with McDonalds) and within moments the agent was back on the speaker backpedaling. The first class passengers were allowed to keep this upgrade voucher things. Another hour passed and I was still waiting to be called for my boarding pass and those who had seats on the plane (the one I was supposed to be on) were getting very agitated as the flight kept getting pushed back without explanation. Another hour passes and the situation is nearing a riot at which point an American agent wheeled over a refreshment cart. That seemed to quell the loudest of the potential rioters for a few minutes and then it was announced that all of us were getting rebooked on a new plane, six gates down for a 0400 PM departure. I took off down there quick to get a seat (my ass was extremely sore from sitting on the floor for three hours) and it was only while waiting in line down there that I discovered that no one else (that I know of) got their travel voucher. These passengers were FURIOUS but after 5 minutes of fighting, gave it up as a bad job. Everyone just wanted to get on the plane and go home.

    We landed a little after 0630PM and while on the tarmac for 30 minutes I decided to write to American Airlines to tell them what happened. I was honestly disappointed at how badly the situation was handled and felt bad for all the people whom seemingly got screwed out of a voucher so I sent them that in an email on their site.

    Did I honestly know they might offer me something? Of course I did! I am not a moron. And of course I would have accepted it as obviously I love my miles. (What site are we on?)

    Their response boiled my blood. It wasn’t the offer of 3,000 miles. It was the cold and indifferent way the response was written which was so insulting.
    In fact, I doubt they even read my complaint the first time around. I even asked them straight out if they even read my complaint. Their response was essentially “sorry we let you down, here is 3,000 miles.”
    There was no acknowledgement of any of the many failures I laid out in my lengthy email. Just “Here is $35 now go away.” That is how I took the email. I told them that was an insulting offer and that I would be going further up the chain (I didn’t as it has been a very busy few weeks for me) and that was the end of it.

    Bottom Line: It was a shitty experience and I felt that a lot of people really got screwed over. I was angry and wrote an email. That is my right as a customer just like it is everyone’s right to have their own opinion. I am no saint nor did I ever pretend to be but I was angry and wrote an email and expected some type of legitimate acknowledgement.

    Flash forward to Friday and I get the email offering me 7,500 miles while throwing in the bit that my voucher was voided at the airport (which was news to me) without even speaking to me.

    I thought you had to consult with the other party when voiding a signed contract???

    I took to Twitter (just like an entitled millennial would) and voiced my frustrations. I tagged Lucky and gave him the lowdown on what happened and yeah, I was pissed.

    Did I deserve the voucher? Who decides who is deserving of anything? God? You people? Maybe the secret Tribunal we spoke about earlier?

    All I know is that they gave it to me for what I thought was a legitimate reason.

    Its not my fault that the gate agents were potentially inept and should not have given me a voucher. This is their field and chosen profession and I can’t even pretend to know all of their policies and procedures.

    They voided a voucher they gave me without even consulting with me and after stealing a day of my life for me. As strange as it may sound, it was not my deepest desire to spend all day in an airport terminal.

    As many of you noted, what they did is not illegal and I obviously know that but bottom line:
    It was seriously shitty customer service and it makes me, an AA loyalist seriously apprehensive about continuing to do business with them and that is my right as a customer just as it your right to think of me as greedy, entitled, swine like, etc.

    We are all entitled to our own thoughts and opinions.

    Perhaps it might be better if we were to withhold judgement until the entire story is told?

    Whatever. What do I know anyway?

    D-Bag out.

  9. I agree with your points but what I truly don’t understand is why he still had to complain? From my perspective, he was in a win-win situation. Sure the whole process was probably inconvenient but why the need to complain that much when he was compensated initially with voucher and miles?

  10. The customer complained, and AA satisfied the complaint by giving him what he originally bargained for. Unless the customer can prove AA intentionally delayed the flight, AA may be correct. AA needs to formalize this process. Customers are stuck wtg for next available flight anyway, just give volunteers one or two hundred$ guaranteed with a chance to make $500 more if they are actually bumped to an alternate flight.
    But do not make phone or gate agents renegotiate or sweeten a done deal…there are too many real customers on hold or in line that may have legitimate urgent matters and may miss a connection because a clown wants to optimize his result.

  11. On what flight was he booked? On what flight did he fly? What is AA’s policy or requirement for when one flies on their scheduled flight but is delayed?

    Seems like we get to our answer w/ those three questions…perhaps fewer. Should have kept his mouth shut.

  12. In my experience with AA vouchers that you get for complaining, they end up being worthless either intentionally or due to incompetence (I am leaning toward incompetence). I was once given a $500 voucher due to a disastrous customer service failure that resulted in sitting in DFW on a paid first class ticket while 24 flights from DFW to my destination left and AA did not pay for my hotel.

    When I went to use the voucher, it turned out to be for $50. When I complained about that they sent me a new one for $450 which turned out to be for about $20 when I tried to use it. At that point, the message was received – AA is going to suck and no amount of complaining changes it. So I voted with my feet and moved to Delta.

  13. When you fly with AA, you need to know that you are going to get less customer service than you would with Spirit Airlines. AA recently tried to screw me out of being able to use the value of a $2000 ticket, after closed security checkpoints at the airport had made it impossible for me to get to the gate and catch the flight.
    When things go wrong on AA, as they frequently do (they have surpassed UA as the most unreliable US airline), you are faced with the choice of either suing them, or taking the loss. Or take a few miles of ‘compensation’, which after many mishaps you might be able to spend on a flight with a decent airline – Cathay.
    I would assume that the $600 voucher was never valid to begin with, or was canceled still by the airport agents. Given that AA still use paper vouchers, I do not think that the online customer service even have the competence to void them, which makes it very likely that the airport agents are responsible.
    Of course this is not acceptable if that is what happened – once given the voucher, the deal is done – that is, unless the voucher was promised but not actually given yet to the passenger – if it has not yet been given, then the agreement can still be changed by the airline.

  14. Once the voucher is given to pax, it should be a done deal. A few weeks ago, I saw a man traveling with his wife (in a different record), involuntarily downgraded due to an equipment swap. He was given a $400.00 travel voucher. Just before closing the door, AA agent boarded the plane looking for this guy and said a seat opened up (not next to his wife). The guy asked if he could keep his Y seat and the voucher. The agent said, you wanted an F seat and now you have it…and then went on to say, it’s an hour flight, deal with it and literally snatched the voucher from the pax. It doesn’t make sense why AA would upset a person once with a downgrade and then again by making a grab for the voucher. Now, I don’t know if it was a paid F or upgrade, but to me, it matters not. Once the pax has the voucher, it should belong to the pax.

  15. This is why I don’t fly American anymore. That $600 voucher is a contract. I suggest you sue in small claims court. Despite what Gary says, you can still go to court. What has happened to family, friends and I, is that a staff attorney will call you and ask what happened and what you want. Just make sure that you cover your court costs, etc. with an amount the airline and you agree to settle on. No company wants to go to court. Judges can and do, all the time, find other things to fine companies on, initiate other actions, etc.

    You may want to complain to Parker first, but I think doing that is a waste of time.

    And, I don’t think the complainer is a douchebag. He bought transportation, he is entitled to be transported. He was given a voucher, it is supposed to be honored. American is horrible airline to fly. The rest of his story corroborates that thesis. When an airline does this stuff, passengers at that time, need to band together and make demands.

  16. Sounds like all his whining cost him a $600 voucher if so i am glad. The people who are out there to get as much as they can by complaining deserve to get shafted. If they really did give him a voucher and voided it before he complained then that would be complete BS because. They didnt tell him that. His sheer greed though rubs me the wrong way sobi dont feel bad for him.

  17. @johnB i dont have one of these travel vouchers but i would assume the airline mandates arbitration or sets a particular jurisdiction for kegal actions. I doubt you can just walk into your local small claims court, because then the airline would be in thousands of courtrooms.

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