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Can you get a refund after you accepted a voucher?

May 06, 2020
4 min read
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Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, airlines have slashed their schedules — but only a few weeks at a time. Sometimes, they don't end up canceling flights until the very last minute.

In response to the uncertainty, we've seen unprecedented change-fee waivers across all the major airlines. These waivers allow you to make fee-free changes to new and existing bookings.

Since most people are under stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders, there isn't much demand for air travel, and many are canceling existing travel plans. Perhaps you were supposed to attend a now-canceled event or sail on a new cruise ship that's now delayed. Your first instinct might be to call the airline and voluntarily cancel your flight under the relaxed change fee policies.

If you do that, you'll likely get some form of a future travel voucher. But then, what happens if the airline cancels your flight later on — can you then get a refund? Read on for the answer.

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You're eligible for a refund when the airline cancels your flight

Most airline tickets are nonrefundable. Even in light of the relaxed waivers, when you make a voluntary change to your flight, the carrier keeps your money either stored in your existing ticket or in a voucher.

Since the ticket is nonrefundable, you can't get your money back to your credit card; after all, you accepted these terms and conditions when buying the flight.

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

But what happens when there's an involuntary change to your reservation (defined as a significant schedule change or cancellation)? Then you can get a refund — even on a nonrefundable ticket.

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That's because of the Department of Transportation's rule stating that airlines must offer you a refund when they cancel (or significantly delay) a flight.

Say you already canceled your flight and took a voucher, but then the airline cancels it later on. You might think that you're now eligible to exchange the voucher for a refund. Sadly, that's actually not the case, and here's why.

Your choice: voucher now or wait for a refund

When you make a change to your ticket, you're no longer confirmed on your initial flight. The same holds true if you've requested to exchange your ticket for a voucher.

So even though the airline may end up canceling your flight closer to the departure date, they don't need to refund you. When they make the cancellation, the carrier is only obligated to refund passengers booked on the flight. And since you've already taken a voucher, your name's no longer on the manifest.

Related: Why you should think twice before accepting an airline voucher

While it's tempting to take the travel credit once you realize that you no longer need to travel, it actually makes sense to hold off until just before departure.

Why it makes sense to wait until the last minute?

Even if you have no intention of flying, there's hardly a reason to make a voluntarily change to your reservation now. Since so many airlines cancel flights just before departure, why not wait to see if you can get your money back?

Plus, you'll likely still be able to take a future travel credit even if your flight ends up operating.

Related: Why airlines cancel flights at the last minute — and why it’s good news for you

By waiting until just before departure, your chances of getting a refund are much higher. When an airline cancels your flight, they may end up proactively giving you a voucher for the value of your ticket. But armed with your rights, you know that you can get a refund, regardless of what the airline says.

Bottom line

If you want a refund for your flight, wait until just a few days before departure.

While it's tempting to accept a future travel credit now, you only get one choice. If you decide to voluntarily accept the voucher, you won't be able to convert it to a refund if the airline ends up canceling your flight.

As they say, it pays to be patient.

All photos by the author.

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

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    The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

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  • Annual Fee

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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
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Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.