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You are entitled to a refund for your canceled flight — even if the airline says you aren’t

March 25, 2020
6 min read
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Airlines are in a bind. Because of the coronavirus outbreak, passengers are scrambling to postpone or cancel upcoming travel. Governments across the world are also adding travel restrictions, and some are even closing borders.

Airlines are responding to this massive reduction in demand by canceling (or significantly rescheduling) flights. With very few new bookings, the cash flow is drying up too. Plus, with all the cancellations, airlines will need to refund passengers for existing reservations.

But airlines are going to great lengths to avoid giving refunds. They recognize that they'd be out a lot of cash, so they're doing all that they can to convince you to take a voucher or future travel credit instead.

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Your rights to a refund

For domestic flights, as well as international ones departing or arriving the U.S., you're covered by the rules of the Department of Transportation. As it says on the DOT's website, if your flight is canceled — no matter the reason — you are entitled to a full refund back to your original form of payment for the unused portion of your itinerary.

Grounded planes due to the coronavirus (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

In addition to the DOT's guidelines, airline tickets are governed by each carrier's contract of carriage. You can find the full text for the major airlines here:

Interestingly, Canada just updated its passenger bill of rights to reflect that airlines can choose to give future travel vouchers instead of a refund. Fortunately, if your flight departs or arrives in the U.S., you're still governed by the DOT's much more generous policy.

If you read each, you'll find clauses that state that if your flight is canceled, you are entitled to a full refund — in line with the DOT regulations. But just because you're entitled to a refund doesn't mean airlines are going out of their way to hand them out.

What should you do if airlines are offering future credit instead of a refund?

In light of all the cancellations, airlines have been enticing passengers to take future travel credit instead of cash refunds.

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We've heard reports of American Airlines offering passengers 20% extra value on vouchers in lieu of a refund. Aer Lingus is doing something similar, but the bonus is just 10% more value.

Likewise, Etihad is offering up to 5,000 bonus Guest Miles should you decide to take a credit with the airline.

Meanwhile, other carriers that have taken the opposite approach. Instead of incentivizing people to take future credit, they’ve just made it much harder to get refunds.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B8-Emlkla5_/

United’s new schedule change policy — requiring you to wait a full year for a refund — is a perfect example. Swiss has also removed most references to getting a refund for canceled flights from its website.

Qatar also no longer mentions the option of getting a refund should your flight be canceled. But again, even though the airlines are trying to convince you otherwise, you're still eligible for a refund if your flight is canceled!

Best strategy to get a full refund

The first thing to note is that the process of getting a refund typically isn't automatic. You're going to need to physically request one (again, airlines making it hard to get your money back).

Though some carriers have online forms to request a refund, you may need to call in to speak to a representative. In that case, make it clear (politely) that you want a refund and not a travel credit.

If the agent gives you a hard time, you can always hang up and call again (something you'll often see referred to as "HUCA" in the points & miles world). If you still don't get the answer you're looking for, it pays to be patient. Airlines are still updating their policies and procedures. I'd also try using Twitter to reach the airline.

Related: Why you should wait until the last minute to get a refund for your flight

If the airline flat out refuses a refund, your next best course of action is to dispute the charge on your credit card. After all, the carrier is violating the DOT rules, as well as its contract of carriage. While you're at it, you should also file a complaint with the DOT.

Bottom line

When your flight is canceled, you are entitled to a refund — no questions asked — according to the DOT rules. However, some airlines have been trying their hardest to convince travelers to go with a voucher instead of a refund – despite the rules. The airlines are doing this to maintain as much positive cash flow as possible.

If you're offered credit for a future trip and would prefer your money back, the best course of action is to call an airline's customer service desk. Cite the DOT rules and contract of carriage you agreed to when you purchased your ticket. If you're still out of luck, consider a credit card charge back.

But either way, knowing your rights is the first step in getting what you want.

Featured image by Alberto Riva
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
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    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

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    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more