When you search the American Airlines website you may want the lowest fare, or you may want a refundable ticket. Most tickets that aren’t basic economy are changeable now without a fee, but you might not want to retain a credit with American Airlines (including because that credit will expire if unused).
Say, for instance, you were trying to get a seat on a flight to Australia when these flights were selling out. It’s business class, and expensive, and if you had to cancel (possible in uncertain Covid times) you didn’t want a huge travel credit to parcel out over cheap domestic flights you might take in the next year. American Airlines sells refundable tickets. And they even have a filter for that called flexible – or so they’d have you believe.
When you select a ‘business flexible’ fare here’s what they tell you about it:
You might buy a $10,000 airline ticket, thinking if you need to cancel you can get all of your money back. But that may not be true. The flexible search will bring up full fare business class if that’s all that’s available, but it’ll also bring up fares that will refund only most of your money and there’s no flag to tell you this before you buy.
After you’ve selected your fare, and gone to check out, underneath payment options is a box called fare rules with bullets and a link to ‘detailed fare rules’. If you click on it there’ll be long boxes of text and inside there may be something like:
CHARGE USD 500.00/CAD 500.00 FOR CANCEL/REFUND.”
Even though you are explicitly searching for “flexible” and are assured you can refund, there’s a $500 charge for that refund. In airline speak it’s refundable but I do think it is deceptive to a layperson.
I can even point to a page on American’s website that says “business flexible” (what you’re searching for!) is *fully* refundable. They aren’t really describing this fare but there’s no reason you’d know that. Customers are searching for business flexible, and this page says business flexible is fully refundable.
Technically $500 refund fees are “disclosed” in fine print that you can find if you know where to look, only prior to actually hitting submit on payment. Ultimately though I think that airlines have made buying tickets too complicated, and do too poor a job of letting consumers know what they’re buying.