Is The Dominican Republic An International Destination? Airlines Disagree

American Airlines told Bill that he couldn’t acces their international lounge because his flight from the Dominican Republic to Houston, which required a passport and a customs form, didn’t count as an international flight. Bill’s wife had paid $300 to upgrade Bill’s ticket to first class expressly so he could access the lounge, and Bill wasn’t sure what part of “international” American didn’t seem to understand. Yet it turns out American might be right.

It’s stuffed in the fine print, but for lounge access, American Airlines defines international as “Europe, Asia, Central and South America, and Mexico City.” They expressly warn that “[d]estinations in Canada and other destinations in Mexico, Bermuda, the Bahamas and the Caribbean are not considered International for the purposes of lounge access.” Delta imposes similar restriction, as does United and US Airways. Only Continental lets their International Business Class customers access the international lounge access for flights to Canada and the Caribbean.

So Bill’s wrong and should shut up, right? Not so fast. Let’s read Bill’s Executive Email Carpet Bomb to American Airlines.

To whom it may concern,

Having been a longtime Continental Customer, but, because of problems I have had with them, I am now in the process of finding a new airline, and am in the middle of flying American Airlines the first time in my adult life – and let me assure you it will probably be the last.

I am sitting in the Miami Airport waiting on the last leg of my vacation to be over. Having flown AA from Houston to Puerta Plata (DR) thru Miami, and having spent a week surfing, it was nice to find that my wife had called and upgraded my flight, along with my travelling companion’s, to First Class/Business Class. She did this as she anticipated the long layover that we have (5 hours) and wanted our trip to end on a high note. The agent she spoke to assured her we would be allowed into the Club in Miami, and so she went ahead and spent the extra money to upgrade our return flight.

It was, therefore, a surprise when we were told that both the AA clubs in Miami would not allow us in. Now my wife is a very detail oriented person and made sure we would be allowed in. So what an unpleasant surprise when, because we were flying from the Dominican Republic, we were not allowed into the club as it is not considered an INTERNATIONAL flight. This somehow makes no sense to me – I had to use my passport to travel, indicating, in fact, that I was leaving the United States’ borders, and the last time I looked, the Dominican Republic was an entirely independent nation.

Oh yeah, the Merriam Websters Dictionary defines “International” in this manner:

Main Entry: 1in·ter·na·tion·al
Pronunciation: ˌin-tər-ˈnash-nəl, -ˈna-shə-nəlFunction: adjective
Date: 1780
1 : of, relating to, or affecting two or more nations
2 : of, relating to, or constituting a group or association having members in two or more nations
3 : active, known, or reaching beyond national boundaries

So, I guess you can see why I am a little upset. Not only did I spend another $300 for an upgrade, but, given the option, I would not have done it at all. The seats were terrible, I felt like I was disturbing the first class staff ( with the exception of one gentlemen) and I actually felt ill after eating the meal.

I would love a response from you, but having recently completed my Masters degree and understanding things like Profit Maximization, I doubt that I will hear anything back. But rest assured, I also understand that the customer makes the business. From what I have read, customer service at American Airlines is not standing in the best light as of late.

I, for one, will not fly American again unless this is taken care of in the correct fashion. I am sure someone there can understand the $300 fee that I paid (as well as my companion paid) should be refunded as that could create a customer for life. So it is your decision – lose a total revenue stream of just under $600 from this one trip, or the potentially “unlimited” stream from my future flights on American. Oh yeah, I am an Elite cardholder at Continental – so I do a fair bit of flying. I am taking my whole family back, along with 4 other families, to the Dominican Republic in November. As of right now I will be going through New York with Continental unless American Airlines can earn my business.

I hope to hear from you soon and thank you for your time,
Bill [Redacted]

What matters is that Bill’s wife asked and was specifically promised that Bill would be able to access the international lounge. American can have all the policies they want, but if their agents make a sale based on a promise they can’t keep, then we think Bill is entitled to a partial refund. Since American didn’t respond to the EECB, Bill’s next call should be to his credit card company to file a chargeback.