American Airlines canceled our Qsuite award tickets. Now what? - The Points Guy

Jeremy Vogel was thrilled when he redeemed American Airlines AAdvantage miles for round-trip award tickets in Qatar Airways’ luxurious Qsuites for an adventure to South Africa with his partner, Dave Norton. But that excitement would turn to frustration several months later when the couple was notified that their tickets home had been inexplicably canceled.

What followed was Vogel’s unsuccessful and protracted battle with American Airlines to have their award tickets reinstated. With the couple’s departure date fast approaching and $14,000 of nonrefundable travel expenses on the line, Vogel turned to TPG for help.

Vogel hoped we could convince American Airlines to accept responsibility for this award ticket conundrum and confirm the Qsuites they had originally redeemed their miles for.

But what recourse does a passenger have if a partner airline suddenly refuses to honor an award ticket? That’s the question for today.

Using American Airlines miles to book award tickets on Qatar Airways

QATAR AIRWAYS/FACEBOOK

Last June, Vogel and his partner were in the beginning stages of planning their trip to South Africa. While perusing the TPG site, they came across an article about Qatar’s Qsuite that caught their attention. Vogel was convinced he and Norton should fly to Cape Town and back in Qsuites.

“I had plenty of American Airlines miles, so I checked for award availability,” Vogel recalled.

Much to his surprise, Vogel was able to easily book flights to and from Cape Town using just 75,000 miles per person each way. The couple would fly from Washington, D.C.‘s Dulles International Airport (IAD), their home airport, to Doha, Qatar’s Hamad International Airport (DOH) to Cape Town International Airport (CPT) and back for a total of 300,000 AAdvantage miles.

Talk about a good deal. In total, the couple would have the chance to enjoy over 46 hours in possibly the best business-class seats in the world.

Aware that the flights weren’t officially booked until they received ticket numbers from Qatar Airways, the couple held off on making any additional plans until that happened.

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“The next day, we received the ticket numbers and were able to pick our seats in the Qsuites,” Vogel reported.

Pleased that Qatar Airways had confirmed their award tickets to and from South Africa, the couple next set their sights on making the rest of their plans for this adventure, including an expensive safari.

A Qatar Airways booking change notification

AMERICAN AIRLINES

For the next four months, the couple completed all the arrangements for their journey, which was scheduled to begin in March 2023.

But late in October 2022, an email arrived from Qatar Airways about a “booking change.” Knowing that schedule changes are common, especially when flights are ticketed so far in advance, Vogel initially wasn’t very concerned about the alert.

However, looking more closely at the message from Qatar Airways, he noticed that it didn’t actually describe a schedule change.

“That prompted me to log on to the American Airlines website to check the reservation,” Vogel recalled. “I saw a minor change to the departure time (25 minutes) of the Doha to Washington D.C. leg of our flight home.”

Although the schedule change turned out to be slight, Vogel noticed something more ominous: Their ticket numbers had vanished from their reservation. Instantly, he was on the phone with American Airlines asking for an explanation.

“American Airlines told me that after Qatar Airways had changed the schedule, our tickets had become ‘unconfirmed’ on both legs of our flight home,” Vogel explained. “After many hours on the phone, I was able to get American Airlines to reconfirm Dave on the originally ticketed itinerary in the Qsuites.”

But despite Vogel’s continued attempts to get himself back on the flights and back into Qsuites with Norton, the American Airlines agent would not budge. She explained that Qatar Airways had limited the Qsuites inventory on both legs of the journey home. She had booked Norton into the only Qsuite available in her system while Vogel’s reservation remained “unconfirmed.”

“She explained that my Qsuite award seat would be on request and that hopefully it would clear before the date of travel,” Vogel told me. “The agent wouldn’t even offer me a voluntary downgrade to economy class.”

Having no intention of traveling for 23 hours in another cabin while Norton sat up front in a Qsuite, Vogel launched a crusade to reclaim his Qsuite that would last for the next three months but would eventually end in defeat … that is, until he had one last idea: Ask TPG for help.

Asking TPG to help reinstate this award ticket

QATAR AIRWAYS/FACEBOOK

In February 2023, Vogel reached the end of the line in his battle. He had complained to the Department of Transportation, the Better Business Bureau, Qatar Airways and American Airlines. His determined efforts were chronicled over a 66-page paper trail, but despite it all, he was still no closer to getting back his own Qsuite for the return journey from Cape Town.

In fact, when Vogel sent his request for help to TPG, he had no transportation home at all. His reservation continued to display the unconfirmed status with no ticket number.

By the time I received Vogel’s request for help, American Airlines had offered him two “resolutions,” neither of which he was willing to accept.

“American Airlines told me they can refund my award ticket for the flight home, and I can buy my own business-class ticket,” Vogel explained. “Or I could take a downgrade to economy class — which I’m not going to do. If you aren’t able to help me, then this is probably going to go to small claims court.”

When I went through some (but not all!) of Vogel’s 66-page paper trail, I noted some highly unusual details. These included the fact that Vogel and Norton had confirmed tickets for many months before the schedule change and that such a slight schedule change would have triggered the outright cancellation of their ticket numbers.

Qatar Airways states that: “The minimum connecting time between Qatar Airways flights in Doha is 45 minutes (60 minutes for flights to the United States). This allows sufficient time for passenger’s transfer as well as the transfer of baggage to his/her onward connecting flight.” But even with the 25-minute change, Vogel and Norton still had nearly three hours to make their connection.

A 13-digit ticket number means the traveler’s reservation is paid for and confirmed. Once a ticket number is issued, it’s a rare circumstance for an airline to delete it — and to do so without a valid explanation is nearly unheard of.

However, over and over, when Vogel asked about reinstating his previously confirmed ticket, the American Airlines agents simply reiterated that there were no more award seats available. No one was able to explain why his flights had converted into an unconfirmed status and then canceled to begin with.

In a frustrating go-round with agent after agent that spanned weeks and then months, Vogel urged American Airlines to push Qatar Airways into opening up another Qsuite award seat on his original flight. Here’s an excerpt of one of his emails to American Airlines:

“Qatar already released — and AA ticketed — mileage seats.

That they were paid with miles is of no consequence; federal rules do not distinguish between tickets paid for with miles (I don’t think you would disagree, a form of value) and cash.

American Airlines issued us tickets, and now you need to see that they are honored. Whether you are able to get Qatar Airways to ‘open [a seat] for miles’ again — as they already did for our travel which American Airlines ticketed on 15 June 2022 and as they apparently did again when David was reconfirmed to our original itinerary — is of no consequence to me; if AA has to pay full price for a revenue seat to reconfirm, then that is what you need to do.”

But to Vogel’s astonishment, the American Airlines agent countered that the 25-minute schedule change is the origin of the problem and she has no ability to force Qatar to honor the original ticket.

“Our schedule change policy is to request the space again in Business Class to the carrier that had the schedule change and they have the option to confirm or deny the request. In this circumstance, QR denied the request and we are able to reinstate the miles in your account if preferred.

We’re sorry for the schedule change. But it is Qatar’s choice to either confirm or deny the use of award miles on their flights, and they limit how many seats are available for miles from other airlines. (American Airlines customer service)”

Frustrated, Vogel reiterated that he didn’t want a downgrade or a refund of his miles. He just wanted his seat back.

And while it is true that airlines assign limitations on award seat availability for flights, those numbers are usually predetermined. Once a ticket number is assigned and the miles deducted from the traveler’s account, the airline can’t retroactively lower the number of award tickets and cancel the transaction as if it had never occurred.

It was time to ask American Airlines what had gone wrong here.

Asking American Airlines to retrieve this customer’s award seat

AMERICAN AIRLINES

As we were rapidly approaching the departure date for the couple’s trip, I hoped to get Vogel quickly confirmed back into his previously confirmed Qsuite with Norton. I suspected that Vogel had not been reaching anyone at American Airlines who had the authority to resolve this problem with Qatar Airways directly.

I hoped our executive contact at American Airlines could get to the bottom of this problem and fix it. This is not a customer-facing person at American Airlines, but rather someone I can reach out to as a member of the media and a consumer advocate. Here’s what I wrote:

“Hi ****!

Jeremy Vogel and his partner Dave Norton booked a flight using A.A. miles from Capetown to Washington DC on Qatar in business class last June. They received confirmation with ticket numbers and then a confirmation from Qatar inviting them to pick their seats.

They assumed all was in order. But in October, Qatar sent them an email alerting them to a “schedule change” and told them to contact American Airlines. This schedule change appears to have been a cancellation (with no explanation).

The flights are still available for purchase but this couple’s tickets were canceled. Somehow they got Dave’s tickets reinstated, but Jeremy is still ticket-less.

Could you see if your team could figure this out and get Jeremy’s ticket reinstated too? Dave doesn’t want to leave him behind in South Africa 😬. Thank you!

Best, Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Advocate”

Even with the assistance of the executive resolution team at American Airlines, as with other cases involving Qatar Airways you may have read about here, this situation still wasn’t easy to resolve. American Airlines had to negotiate with Qatar Airways to make another Qsuite available for an award ticket.

But finally, the solution Vogel had hoped for came through.

Reunited! 2 Qsuite award tickets

After four months of struggling and just weeks before their scheduled departure, we helped bring Vogel’s battle to a successful conclusion. The American Airlines team was able to get Qatar Airways to make a Qsuite available for him.

“Hey, Michelle,” my American Airlines contact emailed me. “I hope you’re well. I wanted to close the loop with you on this. We were able to get the inventory from Qatar opened up and the customer has been accommodated and reached out to by our team. (American Airlines, spokesperson)”

Although there has still been no explanation as to how this happened in the first place, Vogel and Norton were just happy to put this experience behind them and take that trip to South Africa on Qatar Airways, which they did just a few weeks later.

“We had an amazing time!” Vogel told me after the trip. “We especially loved being on safari on a private game reserve near Kruger National Park. And the world-class global cuisine (at a great value, especially with the USD exchange rate) in Franschhoek and Cape Town. Thank you so much for your assistance with this; I truly don’t know if I could have ‘gotten there’ without your help to escalate.”

What to do if your award tickets get canceled

QATAR AIRWAYS/FACEBOOK

Being able to book award tickets on partner airlines can become complicated if a problem develops with your ticket or flight schedule. Confusion often ensues, with each carrier referring the traveler back to the other. As Vogel found out, this can lead to an endless customer service loop with no easy way to a successful resolution.

Here’s what you need to know if you find yourself in a similar circumstance.

Confirm that you have a ticket number

Unfortunately, I sometimes receive complaints from travelers about “canceled” award tickets that, upon closer look, were never actually booked. The first step to fixing an award ticket problem is to ensure that you had a confirmed flight in the first place.

Booking award tickets on partner airlines is a bit more complicated than redeeming miles directly with a frequent flyer program for flights on its own airline.

When you book a ticket on a partner airline, you will first receive a confirmation with a passenger name record (PNR). That record locator is a six-character code. This means that your airline has sent a request for the booking to the partner airline. You do not have a ticket valid for travel if you only have a record locator.

If the partner airline accepts the reservation, you’ll receive an additional confirmation with a 13-digit ticket number. That means your ticket is paid for and you’re cleared for travel. But, as we’ve seen in today’s case, things can still go wrong before your flight, so you’ll want to keep your eye on your emails alerting you of any schedule changes or other problems with the reservation.

Be on the lookout for updates from the airlines

It is not uncommon for airline schedules to change — sometimes dramatically — between the time you book your ticket and the date of travel. You should never ignore or gloss over an email from an airline on which you’re holding a reservation.

It’s important to be aware that in some cases the airline might be alerting you to a cancellation with a suggested flight substitution. If you don’t respond to the email, you may find yourself moved automatically to a new flight that is unacceptable. So, always carefully read and respond to any messages about existing flight reservations.

Move beyond talking to front-line customer service

Front-line customer service agents often don’t have the authority to correct complicated reservation problems. This is especially true if your situation involves multiple airlines or award tickets. If you’ve cycled through one or two loops between the two airlines’ front-line customer service, it’s definitely time to escalate your complaint to the airline’s next level of problem-solvers.

If you need help finding someone at the airline who can actually help, my advocacy organization Consumer Rescue provides a free customer service and executive contact finder for travelers. Just let us know what company you’re having a problem with, and we can give you the name and email address of someone we know there who can help you.

Document your conversations

Finding yourself repeating the same narrative over and over again to various phone customer service representatives can be a frustrating exercise in futility. You can avoid continuing this type of useless back-and-forth by complaining in writing instead. This way, you are documenting what has already been done and said, and you can stop retelling the same details.

Remember, the airline that booked your award ticket is where to focus your efforts, not the airline on which you plan to fly.

File a complaint with the Department of Transportation

If you’re sure you were issued an award ticket (with a 13-digit number on record) and, despite your best efforts, your airline’s frequent flyer program will not assist you in getting your partner flight reinstated, you can file a passenger complaint with the Department of Transportation. The airline must respond to your complaint within 60 days via the DOT.

Filing a complaint with the DOT often is all that is needed to get an airline to correct a problem within its control.

Bottom line

Booking award tickets in luxurious cabins like Qatar’s Qsuite can be a fabulous way to redeem your American Airlines miles, but it also can be a frustrating experience if something goes wrong between the partner airlines, with no clear path to a favorable resolution for the traveler.

Even today, neither airline has explained how the couple’s two fully ticketed award seats went from confirmed to unconfirmed. That should never happen.

Luckily, Vogel and Norton turned to TPG for help, and we were able to help get their travel plans back on track. We’re happy they’ve successfully completed their trip and enjoyed the Qsuites they originally booked.

If you have a problem with a credit card company, cruise line, airline, car rental agency or hotel that you haven’t been able to fix on your own, send your request for assistance to tips@thepointsguy.com. I’ll be happy to investigate and do my best to help you, too.

Article source: https://airlines.einnews.com/article/644548457/40RiqFBFZxVOnowS?ref=rss&ecode=vaZAu9rk30b8KC5H

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