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Canceling a flight due to injury — reader success story

October 25 2019
5 min read
Canceling a flight due to injury — reader success story
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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.

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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 (Photo by Tetra Images/Getty Images)
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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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
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  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

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  • Annual Fee

    $125
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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.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

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  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees