United’s back to issuing refunds for 2-hour schedule changes

Jun 6, 2020

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.

Well, we’ve come full circle here. “Back in the day” — that is to say, before the pandemic — United Airlines would allow customers to request a full refund, to their original form of payment, for any flights impacted by a schedule change of two hours or more. Then, as the mass cancellations began, “Flyer Friendly” went out the window, with United changing that requirement to 25 hours — yes, more than a full day later.

Following significant backlash, the carrier finally relented, adopting a 6-hour policy. According to United, you could only collect a refund if your flight was canceled and the new itinerary had you departing or arriving six or more hours after the flight you had originally booked. Any less, and you’d be stuck with an Electronic Travel Certificate (ETC), if you chose not to fly.

That led to lawsuits, and an “unprecedented” spike in complaints to the Department of Transportation (DOT) — which responded in kind with a stern warning, insisting that “carriers have a long-standing obligation to provide a prompt refund to a ticketed passenger when the carrier cancels the passenger’s flight or makes a significant change in the flight schedule and the passenger chooses not to accept the alternative offered by the carrier.”

Long story short, as of today, June 6, we’ll be back where we started, with the original two-hour refund policy that had been in effect before this mess. As a United spokesperson explained:

We are continually looking at ways to better support our customers, and as part of that effort, we’ve updated our guidelines for handling refunds when our flight schedule changes. We have always provided refunds for refundable tickets, and these updated guidelines will offer additional flexibility to our customers requesting refunds for non-refundable tickets when flight changes occur. If our customers would like to check on their refund eligibility, they can go to united.com/refunds to submit a request.

There’s more good news to report, too. This change is retroactive, so if you previously were left with no choice but to accept an ETC, you can now request a refund to your original form of payment, assuming your itinerary had been impacted by a change of two hours or more, and you haven’t already redeemed your voucher.

The Department of Transportation is clearly pleased to see United correct its refunds policy, as well. According to a DOT spokesperson:

The Secretary of Transportation has called for increased flexibility by air carriers for passengers impacted by flight changes and for full refunds when flights are canceled, especially during the public health emergency. This policy change is an improvement towards the goal of better protecting passengers.

As for how long it’ll take to actually get your refund? Officially, the airline is quoting longer-than-normal processing times — up to 21 business days, as of this writing. In my experience, “refunds” to Electronic Travel Certificates take considerably less time, however, so if you’re planning to book another flight soon, that may still be your best bet.

Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

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.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • 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
Regular APR
17.24%-26.24% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.