Q: I booked two roundtrip tickets from Dallas to Los Angeles for my fiancé and myself earlier this year. I used two American Airlines $100 gift cards and then charged the remaining amount to my credit card.

I canceled the flight an hour later and received the amount I charged to my credit card. But American Airlines didn’t return the gift cards. I called over and over and the airline directed me to many different departments. Everyone told me the flight was nonrefundable because it was a basic economy ticket.

However, I canceled within 24 hours and also received a partial refund. This is absolutely absurd, and I would appreciate any help I can get. It’s very upsetting and I don’t know where else to go. Does the 24-hour refund rule apply to gift cards?

A: You’re right. This is absolutely absurd. American Airlines refunded your credit card charges (about $1) but didn’t return the rest. What gives?

First, let’s take a minute to marvel at the cost of flying today. Two tickets from Dallas to Los Angeles for a hundred bucks each. Wow!

OK, now that we’re done with that, let’s get down to business. American’s policy is to refund gift cards back to you as a gift card credit, which means you should have gotten your $200 back quickly.

Why didn’t you? In your correspondence with American, the company says you had a “basic” economy class ticket that “cannot be refunded or changed.” That may be true, but the U.S. Department of Transportation also has a 24-hour refund rule. Its rule overrides any terms and conditions on your ticket purchase. So, if your ticket is refundable — which it is — you should have received the entire refund.

It looks as if the American Airlines refunds department just got this one wrong. The 24-hour refund rule does, indeed, apply to gift card purchases. It doesn’t matter how you paid. The 24-hour rule still applies to your ticket.

You might have appealed this to an executive at American. I list all the names, numbers and e-mail addresses of the American Airlines customer service executives on my nonprofit consumer advocacy site, elliott.org.

I reached out to American Airlines on your behalf. I was curious — does the 24-hour refund rule apply to gift cards? It turns out the answer is still “yes.” You received a full refund of your gift card credit.

 

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org, or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org.