I was scheduled to fly from Washington to Chicago on American Airlines recently. The night before my Friday flight, I went online to check in and noticed that my flight had been canceled. During the next five hours, I tried repeatedly to get hold of customer service, and was finally told the flight had been canceled because of bad weather, and so I would need to pay for the extra night's stay at a hotel and any other expenses.

American rebooked me on a Saturday flight one day later. Imagine my surprise Friday afternoon when I started receiving notices from Google calendar that the original flight was delayed (it was still on my calendar). I called American and was told the flight had been reinstated.

At that point, it was too late for me to get to the airport to try to make that flight. I wrote to customer service and requested that American give me a $500 travel voucher to cover my time and additional expenses, including my $193 hotel bill for the extra night. American said it would provide no compensation. Can you help? - Dale Reed, Chicago

A: This is a curious case. If American Airlines canceled your flight because of the weather, it owes you nothing. It is, in legal-speak, an "act of God" outside the company's control. If, however, the flight was canceled for operational reasons - what's referred to as a "mechanical" delay - then it does provide for an overnight hotel stay and meal vouchers.

Details are in American's contract of carriage: https://www.aa.com/i18n/customer-service/support/conditions-of-carriage.jsp

Technically, American is both right and wrong. Right in the sense that it owes you nothing for a weather-related cancellation. But wrong in the sense that it has completely let itself off the hook.

I wouldn't necessarily blame American for failing to rebook you. Airline reservation systems can automatically rebook you on a reinstated flight, but you'd already made plans to fly the next day, so it wouldn't have recognized your reservation as one that needed to be rebooked.

"In the unlikely chance we do reinstate a flight, we do try to contact the traveler to let them know about the change," an airline spokesman told me. "Most times, travelers are already booked on other flights with different connections, if they are connecting."

The question is, should this extra overnight stay be treated like a weather delay or a mechanical delay? American wants to treat it like a weather delay. My inner consumer advocate says mechanical delay.

This is definitely the kind of question you should bring up with American in writing, and if it can't help, appeal to a customer service executive. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of American's executives on my advocacy site: http://elliott.org/company-contacts/american-airlines/

I contacted American on your behalf. The airline agreed to reimburse you for your hotel and offered a $200 voucher "due to the circumstances."

Christopher Elliott's latest book is "How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler" (National Geographic). You can get real-time answers to any consumer question on his new forum, elliott.org/forum, or by emailing him at chris@elliott.org.