January 28, 2014
Larry Babbin wins lots of frequent flier miles from American Airlines, but the points never appear on his statement. Now the company is giving him the silent treatment. Can these miles be saved?
Q: American Airlines ran a contest in which it gave away 25,000 frequent flier miles every day. I entered every day last month and "won" three times. I have email confirmation each day that I won and a written assurance that the miles would be deposited within seven days to my account.
It's been more than a month, but I haven't received the miles. American hasn't even posted the winners on the website, even though they are listed for every other contest American has had.
I've made three inquiries to American by email, to no avail. I know this problem pales in comparison to those I read about on your column, but for me this is a big issue. Any ideas for me? -- Larry Babbin, Toms River, N.J.
A: You're both right and wrong about the magnitude of this case. As a general rule, I don't get involved in retrieving lost loyalty points, because it's a lot like chasing the wind. These miles are largely worthless.
But this isn't the time for a lecture on the negative value of frequent flier miles. The point -- pardon the pun -- is that American promised you something repeatedly, and in writing, that it failed to deliver. I have a big problem with that.
I can't think of any reason why American would give you the silent treatment after you contacted it. I think it owed you an explanation for why it was denying your prize, however useless the miles might have been.
I note that you were sending your complaints to a general address. I list the names of American's executives on my website (http://elliott.org/contacts/american-airlines-2/) and you might have tried appealing to them.
But before you did that, you might have reviewed the contest rules one more time. You would have seen that the contest was already over. But somehow, the site allowed you to enter the contest after it closed and as the only entry, you won several times.
Whose fault is that? Well, American should have made sure the contest was closed when it ended, so that's on them. You should have paid closer attention to the dates, if not when you entered, then when you complained about not getting the miles.
Still, a promise is a promise. American said you had won 25,000 miles, and I'm sure your multiple entries were nothing more than an innocent mistake.
I contacted American. A representative emailed you back, saying, "We value your business and will honor 25,000 miles to make sure your customer experience is positive." I love a happy ending.
(Christopher Elliott is the author of "How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money and Hassle)" (National Geographic). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at email@example.com. Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, which he answers as quickly as possible, but because of a backlog of cases, your story may not be published for several months.)
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