Canceling a flight due to injury — reader success story

Oct 25, 2019

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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Alison, who was able to salvage the cost of cancellation fees when she couldn’t fly for medical reasons:

Earlier this year, my father and I signed up to run a half marathon in Chicago. I was excited to visit the city and got to work on a plan to use points and miles to cover the trip, including round-trip flights from Boston and a two-night hotel stay from Friday to Sunday.

My first travel rewards credit card was the JetBlue Card, which I opened when I was living on the West Coast and making regular trips across the country. I wasn’t a huge spender at the time — my biggest expense besides rent was food — so I appreciated that the card came with no annual fee and earned 2x points at restaurants and grocery stores. Cash prices for our flights were around $285 per person, but I had accumulated plenty of JetBlue points over the years, so I booked our tickets from Boston to Chicago for 20,200 points each — not the greatest deal, but better than I expected since our dates weren’t flexible.

To book our hotel, I used Hyatt points and a free annual night certificate from the World of Hyatt Credit Card to book two nights at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago. As a Category 3 hotel, the redemption rate was 12,000 points per night, which was pretty good for a cash rate of around $225 per night and a location near the shuttle to the start line.

Fast forward to one month before the race: I injured my leg during training, and ended up needing to stop running temporarily and go through physical therapy. My sore leg made sitting painful, so it was clear I couldn’t even handle the flight to Chicago. We decided to postpone the trip, since we wanted to go when we could enjoy the city and get around comfortably on foot. I canceled the Hyatt stays, and the points and free night certificate were redeposited into my account.

I knew the flights would be trickier, however, and figured I’d have to either forfeit the points or pay a costly cancellation fee. I called JetBlue customer service, explained my situation and asked about my options. The customer service agent kindly informed me that I could pay a $300 cancellation fee ($150 per flight) and keep my points. However, she added that I could submit an appeal form with a doctor’s note within 14 days. If accepted, I would get the $300 back as a JetBlue credit with a one-year expiration date.

I canceled the flight, paid the $300 fee (on my JetBlue card, of course) and saw my points refunded (along with the $22.40 I’d paid in TSA fees). I filled out the requested paperwork, which was a pretty simple online form, and called my doctor’s office to ask for a note explaining my condition and the physical therapy recommendation. Two days after submitting the form and note, I received an email from JetBlue letting me know that $300 had been credited to my travel bank.

I assumed I wouldn’t have any refund options when canceling a flight; I’m so glad I took a few minutes to ask. The process couldn’t have been easier. My recovery is going well, and I plan to complete the Chicago half marathon next year. I’ll use my points again to get to Chicago, because I’m putting that travel credit toward my first JetBlue Mint trip!

Airlines reap enormous profits from change and cancellation fees, but those fees may be waived if you’re unable to travel for documented medical reasons. That includes injury or illness suffered by a close family member: when my father was hospitalized after a stroke last year, Delta waived cancellation fees for several flights my mother had scheduled. Policies vary among carriers and are often vague — for example, American Airlines stipulates only that waiver requests “will be considered.” You might not get the response you’re looking for, but it’s worth asking if you find yourself in similar circumstances, or if you’re called into civic service like jury or military duty.

If your airline won’t help, your credit card might. Some cards offer trip cancellation and interruption protection, which can reimburse you for nonrefundable expenses if you have to change or cancel travel plans. Protection may extend beyond medical issues like the one Alison experienced to cover scenarios like severe weather or the financial insolvency of a travel provider. In any case, your claim is more likely to be approved if it’s supported by abundant evidence, so be ready to provide documentation like a statement from an attending physician, a government-issued weather report or official military orders, depending on the reasons for your cancellation.

Related: Travel insurance saved our vacation — reader success story

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Alison a gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories to info@thepointsguy.com; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes. If your story is published, we’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Featured photo by Tetra Images/Getty Images.

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