You are entitled to a refund for your canceled flight — even if the airline says you aren’t
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
- Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees