Why American’s New Rule Against Reimbursing Hotel Stays Is Such A Problem

There’s debate over whether changes to the American Airlines Contract of Carriage (the adhesion contract you’re agreeing to when you buy a ticket) matter or not. The airline says they’re not obligated to put you on another airline when they cancel your flight, and won’t reimburse your hotel if you submit a receipt unless they’re legally required to do so.

It’s this system of providing hotel stays I want to touch on for a moment. The airline has been saying that the only way they will cover your hotel is if they provide you with a voucher.

The system that then makes a room available to you doesn’t always have inventory. Already-overworked agents are asked to call and ask for more inventory. Good luck getting them to do this, and good luck with it being successful.

In the past several months American hasn’t even been able to provide rooms to their own employees properly with flight attendants sleeping at the airport and a pilot without a room sleeping in a hotel lobby.

There haven’t been enough agents working at their outsourced providers, and there hasn’t been enough hotel room inventory either – people can find their own rooms, but American’s system will say there’s nothing available.

Internally, though, American even acknowledges that the system doesn’t always work in determining whether you’re eligible for a room in the first place.

This means you’re reliant on a sympathetic agent looking up details of what caused your delay, and risking being second guessed later for coding you as eligible.

If American was consistently and automatically able to provide people who should be provided with rooms with those rooms, saying they’ll only work through the app or else customers are on their own would be one thing. But they do not appear to be there at this point.

Of course you might not want to stay in the hotel that American is willing to provide for you. It’s often advisable to get your own anyway, and just be careful about what credit card you’ve used to purchase your ticket (one with trip delay coverage – which American’s Cit co-brand cards have eliminated) so you can send the bill to your card company rather than to American Airlines when your overnight delay is American’s fault.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. @ Gary — I have rarely been in an unplanned,, forced overnight for whatever reason. When it has occurred. I have sometimes just booked a hotel I want in a program where I need a qualifying night and been done with it.

  2. Then there’s the situation where there’s no agent around to help you when you land late somewhere and the airport is essentially empty. Sometimes the only thing you can do is book a hotel yourself and seek reimbursement later.

  3. It’s the perfect idea. Once you wait in line for 4 hours to see the single agent assisting with this, you don’t even need a hotel anymore at that point. Genius from discount dougie!

  4. What credit card would you recommend people use that would be most likely to get the travel insurance to reimburse for a hotel in a situation like this?

  5. @Shaun – Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve each have trip delay insurance as do the suite of higher-end Amex cards that carry an annual fee. The main difference between each of the products is how long qualifies as a “delay” (some require a delay to be over 12 hours) and how much the cards will reimburse (usually $300-500).

  6. The “send the bill to your card company” is mostly a big lie. They will pay for a room during a weather delay, not during an airline operational delay. So, be sure it’s clear to readers that getting reimbursed by your credit card company is neither easy nor certain.

  7. I’m with the first guy. Doesn’t happen that often, and when it does, simply not worth the hassle to fight with the airline. If traveling for leisure, well, it’s an unplanned adventure, and if traveling for work it is a legitimate business expense. Not worth losing sleep over, pun intended.

  8. AA has been mercilessly enforcing similar policies for years, so this is just a continuation of consumer unfriendly policies. Two years ago as an EXP I was connecting to a RDU-LHR flight that cancelled for mechanical reasons with no options available until the next day. Stuck in RDU while a medical conference was happening, there were few hotels in the area with any space. AA finally did find one for stranded passengers (30 mins from the airport) and sent a bunch of us there with the vouchers. When we arrived, the hotel said they had no rooms available and the agent at the front desk had personally spoken to the AA agents and told them they were full, so was flabbergasted that guests were showing up with vouchers. I had been checking for other hotels and one of the airport hotels finally released a room (at this point close to midnight), so I booked it and paid out of pocket. After sending all of the documentation to the AA EXP desk after I returned, they offered to reimburse a very small portion of the rate and some bonus miles, basically saying they were not obligated to pay beyond their allowable rates (this was at an airport Hyatt Place, not a luxury resort, but rates were higher due to the conference/market availability). It took several escalations before someone finally relented and agreed to pay the total. I’m pretty confident that if I hadn’t been an EXP I wouldn’t have had the access to those escalations to get reimbursed, even though all of this was 100% the fault of AA.

    ps – now a DL Plat and happy to have left AA behind, consistently beats EXP in service even though it’s a lower status (ok maybe not on phone holds!)

  9. Smaller issue, but the picture of the “Hilton Chicago O’Hare” from that system is not the Hilton Chicago O’Hare.

  10. @Gene – I agree with you. The couple of times (many years ago) I was provided a hotel room due to missing last flight of the day I wasn’t happy with the place as it was either very inconveniently located or well below the standard hotel I would usually stay in.

    Maybe I’m just one of the idle rich but I have no problem paying for my own hotel, buying my own food and making any changes to my travel arrangement on my own if there is a disruption. I would NEVER rely on ANY airline to look out for me. At a minimum, even as a top elite flyer, you typically would have to wait and deal with overworked airport employees who are typically saints since the non-frequent flyers that don’t understand “sh*t happens – deal with it” are all upset and yelling at them.

    IMHO, much ado about nothing and as other blogs have pointed out this basically gets AA’s term in line with other major carriers. It is the bar they have to clear, not necessarily that they won’t assist disrupted travelers.

    Of course Gary has become a click bait and anti-AA blog so what else should I expect from him!

  11. @AC

    I disagree with you. The airline should provide transportation and pay for any unplanned nights and food. In 2019, prior to COVID, I had a British Airways flight delayed from LHR to Chicago because of some mechanical issues. Upon landing in Chicago, British Airways there was a rep who provided Orange Fast Track paperwork, boarding passes, as well as a hotel voucher which included breakfast if I couldn’t make my connecting flight. Since, I missed my connecting flight due to the delay and AA’s incompetence because they had us wait about 40 minutes for the shuttle between terminals, I simply had to go to the desk and be rebooked on the next American Airlines flight the following morning and I showed them my hotel voucher and they booked me at the Renaissance Airport hotel in Chicago which was pretty decent and the voucher covered the full buffet breakfast plus drinks. For all of the crap that bloggers give British Airways about their product, I always choose the British Airways coded flight even when flying on AA metal because of how they treat their customers in irregular operations. Plus, their business class food is far superior to American’s and the old-style seats still are super comfortable but definitely lack storage.

    The fact that AA runs a crappy operation shouldn’t absolve them of their responsibilities to provide transportation in a timely fashion and provide food and hotels where overnight stays are required. In fact, they should have an agent at the gate who is able to give the customer the vouchers so there is no wrangling or even better just have it all through the AA app so that the customer doesn’t have to wait in line. In this day and age there is no reason that this shouldn’t be automated and self-service through the app other then AA being cheap.

  12. I do want to point out that trip delay is still a benefit for the Barclays AA credit cards. I have the Aviator Red and it is listed under the benefits

  13. The Hilton Frankfort Airport is incorrectly labeled as Hilton Chicago O’Hare.

    How much more is photoshopped/ fake in these articles?

  14. When are asleep-at-the-wheel Americans going to pass a law similar to the EU’s Flight Compensation Regulation? That puts the end to airlines passing costs for their mismanagement to innocent consumers.

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