There’s a weird tax that you pay on awards leaving Colombia that you get refunded at the airport. American Airlines takes advantage of this by not fully refunding to you the tax you’ve already paid.

Check out this one way award from Bogota to Houston on united.com. The $89.50 in taxes includes a $35 “Columbia [sic] Resident Exit Tax.”

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 6.19.10 AM American collects the same $89.50 on a one way award from Bogota to Miami, so we can be confident it collects the same $35 Colombia Resident Export Tax.Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 6.20.14 AMHere’s my receipt for the itinerary I am currently flying from Bogota to Washington DC via Miami on American Airlines. That $95.10 in taxes is the $89.50 from the itineraries above plus $5.60 for my take off in the USA.

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All this is to say that I paid a $35 “Colombia Resident Exit Tax” when I booked my award.

I don’t owe that tax.

I don’t know exactly what does and doesn’t trigger it, but Americans who stay in Colombia less than a certain number of days–I think its 60, my stays of 15 and 4 were both under the limit–do not owe the tax.

If you don’t owe the tax, you get it refunded at the airport.

First you go to your check in airline, and they hand you your itinerary and direct you to a desk at the airport set up for this purpose. The desk gives you a stamped paper that you bring back to the airline. During check in, the airline refunds your departure tax in cash in exchange for that stamped paper.

Except that American Airlines does NOT fully refund the erroneous tax. They handed me 74,000 Colombian pesos in cash.

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That’s worth about $31, except that they’re handing $31 worth of pesos the people who least want them–Americans flying home. And if I changed 74,000 pesos at the airport, what would I get, $25? (I just pocketed the cash. I’ll probably be back in Colombia at some point, since I’ve been three times in six months.)

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This is bogus. American Airlines should refund the erroneous $35 tax as $35 cash or as a refund to the credit card on file. Until they do that, they’re ripping people off.

To be clear, I am not particularly upset about losing $4-$10. I just find being ripped off for any amount very frustrating, and it looks to me like American Airlines is ripping off its customers to the tune of a few thousands of dollars per month. (They have 5+ daily flights from Colombia to the United States on which almost all their American passengers are getting a refund.)

At least someone is pocketing that few thousand bucks a month, and the only other possible candidate is the Colombian government if they are getting those $35 payments upfront and mandating the 74,000 peso devolution.

The next step for me is to ask American Airlines to make me good on the tax I didn’t owe. Here’s the American Airlines refund page, which doesn’t seem to cover my scenario, so I put a question out to the AA twitter team about where to file my refund request. They gave me this address to press my complaint. I’ll keep you posted.

 

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