How do you cancel airline tickets issued by a travel agency?
In light of the coronavirus pandemic, many passengers are understandably looking to cancel or postpone their upcoming flights. Airlines have relaxed waivers for changes and some are even issuing promotional travel credit if you decide to cancel your trip entirely. Plus, many airlines are making sweeping changes to their schedule, which means that your flight may end up beiing canceled anyway.
As such, many passengers are faced with the question of how to actually modify their plans. This can get confusing if you've booked through an online travel agency.
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How to change or cancel tickets issued by a travel agent?
Travel agents act as a third party in completing transactions. They aren't actually providing any transportation, but rather just a comparison site to shop across airlines. If you end up booking through the travel agent, you'll end up with what's referred to as an "external" or "third-party" ticket. Not only will it be governed by an airline's terms, but it'll also be subject to the conditions of the agency.
Each airline handles external tickets differently. If you end up needing to make a change or cancellation, it pays to do so directly with your travel agent. That should definitely be your first point of contact. All existing airline-issued waivers and exceptions will be still be applied to your ticket.
If you don't get the result you're looking for, you can try contacting your airline directly. Note that the carriers will recognize your travel agency issued ticket as "external" and may refer you back to your travel agency. If you end up making voluntary changes directly with many airlines, including the big 3 — American, Delta and United — you'll be charged a $50 external reservation fee, in addition to any other additional collections or fees due.
For that reason alone, I try to make all my reservations directly with the airlines. But sometimes, you don't have a choice, so read on for the general cancellation policies of the three largest online travel agencies.
Expedia lets you cancel flights according to the airline's terms and conditions on your ticket. You're eligible for a free cancellation if you booked your flight in the last 24 hours. Otherwise, you're governed by the ticket terms.
Unless your flight was canceled by the airline, you'll end up with a travel credit to use on future trips with your carrier. If the flight was canceled or changed significantly, you're entitled to a refund.
You can reach Expedia at 1-877-227-7481 (or by online chat bot). Note that all tickets on low-cost carriers like Frontier and Spirit must be changed or canceled directly with the airline.
Orbitz's policy is quite similar to Expedia's. You're governed by whatever terms and conditions are included in your airline ticket. Typically, non-refundable airfare can be canceled or changed for a $200 change fee, but Orbitz also levies a $30 change fee on top of that.
You can reach Orbitz at 1-844-803-5576.
Like Expedia and Orbitz, Priceline allows ticket changes and cancellations in line with your airline policies. Note that Priceline charges a $30 exchange fee for changes made voluntarily, in addition to any fees levied by the airline.
You can reach Priceline at 1-877-477-5807.
Amex and Chase Travel
If you've booked a ticket through the Amex or Chase Travel portal, we have a full guide to how to handle modifications with those travel providers.
How the coronavirus impacts these policies?
As you can see, online travel agencies basically mimic the policies of the airlines. So, now that the airlines have announced flexible travel waivers, they apply to all tickets — regardless of where you've purchased your ticket.
So, if you have a ticket issued from a travel agent, you're covered by the relevant coronavirus waivers. Similarly, if your flight is canceled, you're technically eligible for a full refund.
The only real complication is who's going to help you. First, you should try making your changes online — either on the travel agency website or directly with the airline. If that's unsuccessful, then I'd recommend calling the travel agency first, and only then calling the airline.
In general, I always try booking my flights directly with the airlines in order to avoid adding a middleman — the online travel agency. Sometimes, that's not possible.
When you book with an online travel agency, you're agreeing to both the airline's and travel agency's terms. In some cases, that means paying extra for changes or having a harder time getting in touch with a representative.