Here’s how to figure out if you qualify for a flight refund
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During the coronavirus outbreak, travel has come to a near halt around the world. Many are under stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders, so upcoming travel isn’t happening. Instead, most people are looking for a refund for their existing flights.
As I’ve explained, you are entitled to a refund for your canceled flight — even if the airline says you aren’t. That’s due to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s rule stating that carriers must give you the choice of a refund if they cancel a flight, regardless of the reason. Thankfully, the DoT reaffirmed that ruling, so airlines are finally starting to comply.
Because you’re entitled to get your money back when airlines cancel your flight, I’ve argued that it makes sense to wait until the very last minute to make changes to your booking. That’s because airlines typically wait until just a few days before departure to cancel flights.
But what happens if instead of canceling your flight, the airlines simply changes your flight time? Or changes your itinerary by moving you from a nonstop to a connecting flight? That’s considered a schedule change, and in this guide, we’ll go over the schedule change policies of all the major U.S. airlines.
Alaska schedule change policy
Alaska’s schedule change policy is spelled out in its contract of carriage. If you departure or arrival time changes by an hour or more or a stop is added to your journey, you are eligible for a full refund of the remaining value of your ticket.
This is one of the most liberal policies I’ve seen. Even if your flight is delayed by just one hour, you qualify for a full refund. That’s another reason to wait until the very last minute to cancel your flight, since you never know if it’ll be delayed on the day of departure. And if it does, odds are that you’re due a refund.
Allegiant schedule change policy
Allegiant doesn’t have a formal policy around the exact number of minutes your flight needs to have been changed to qualify for a refund. Instead, the contract of carriage states that the schedule change must be “significant” to qualify for a refund.
In practice, though, Allegiant typically offers once-daily frequencies to many of its destinations, so if your original flight isn’t operated, you may be rebooked on a flight a full day later. In that case, the change is definitely large enough to qualify for a refund.
American schedule change policy
American just recently introduced a revised schedule change policy. If you booked your ticket prior to April 8, 2020, you can get a refund if your flight was changed by an hour or more, or it went from nonstop to connecting.
If you booked on or after April 8, 2020, your flight needs to have been changed by four or more hours to qualify for a refund. If it’s less than four hours, you could rebook your itinerary without a change fee, but you couldn’t get a refund.
Note that if your flight was delayed by 90 or more minutes within 72 hours of your flight, then you also qualify for a refund.
Delta schedule change policy
Of the legacy carriers, Delta’s policy is the most lenient. If your flight schedule changes by 90 or more minutes, you are entitled to a refund.
This is another great example of why you should wait until the last minute to cancel your flight. You never know what’s going to happen with your flight on the day of departure. And since Delta’s policy is really lenient, there’s a good chance you’ll end up with a refund.
Frontier schedule change policy
Like Allegiant, Frontier doesn’t actually specify by how much time your flight needs to be changed in order to qualify for a refund. Instead, the contract of carriage states that “in the event the schedule modification is significant, at Frontier’s discretion, it may refund the cost of the unused portion of the ticket.”
This is pretty broad, but anecdotally, if you notice a change of two or more hours, then you’re covered. If the airline isn’t willing to give you a refund, you could always use the schedule change as an opportunity to change your flights without penalty.
Hawaiian schedule change policy
Like Delta, Hawaiian has a liberal schedule change policy. If your flight is changed by 90 or more minutes, or goes from a nonstop to connecting flight, you are entitled to a full refund. Furthermore, if your departure or arrival airport changes, or you’re moved from a mainline Hawaiian Airlines to a regional ‘Ohana flight, you are also eligible to get your money back.
JetBlue schedule change policy
JetBlue’s been in the news for making one of the most customer-unfriendly changes to its schedule change policy due to the coronavirus. Until the DoT intervened, the carrier was only giving refunds if your flight was changed by a full day!
Fortunately, the DoT corrected the airline’s wrong. Now, JetBlue reinstated its previous policy which states that you can get a refund if your flight is changed by more than two hours.
Spirit schedule change policy
Though Spirit is an ultra-low cost carrier, it’s got a pretty standard schedule change policy. If your flight is delayed by two or more hours, you can get your money back. This is a great policy to be aware of, since it’s one of the only ways to get a refund for a Spirit flight.
United schedule change policy
United wins the award for making the most changes to its schedule-change policy. In its sixth iteration in over a month, you are entitled to a refund if your flight is changed by six or more hours. Note that UA has the strictest policy of all the major U.S. airlines.
Before this iteration, you needed to wait a full year before getting your money back. That’s since changed with the help of the DoT’s enforcement notice. But it stings that United is so strict compared to the other airlines.
You now know your rights to a refund. Armed with this knowledge, any time you see a schedule change for an upcoming reservation, be sure to reference this guide and see if you qualify for a refund.
All in all, schedule changes are the best strategy to getting a refund on a non-refundable ticket.
Featured photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy
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