United will now refund COVID tests for delayed or canceled flights

Jan 7, 2021

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One of the many requirements of pandemic-era travel is a COVID test.

Most international destinations, as well as some states, require a negative test taken within a specified window before departure to avoid a mandatory quarantine.

But what happens if your flight ultimately gets delayed, thereby invalidating your negative test by the time you land at your destination?

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Well, United now has your back. Effectively immediately, the Chicago-based carrier will refund your COVID test if your flight is delayed due to a controllable issue, like a maintenance or staffing problem.

A carrier spokesperson confirmed that customers with delayed flights can submit their test receipts to United’s customer care department. The carrier will refund up to $200 per traveler. Alternatively, flyers can choose miles or an electronic travel certificate as compensation, but it wasn’t immediately clear if United would offer higher values for those more restrictive payment methods.

Any test receipt will be considered for a refund, not just those offered by United for certain destinations, like Hawaii. If you don’t have a receipt, the carrier will offer some sort of credit to be determined based on your unique situation.

United’s top-tier Premier 1K and invite-only Global Services members have even more flexibility. The carrier will refund tests for those elite travelers even if the delay is out of the carrier’s control, like during inclement weather or air traffic control ground stops.

While a COVID test refund is certainly a welcome move, most travelers will face other significant inconveniences — well outside of United’s control — when arriving without a valid negative result.

In some cases, depending on the country, you may not even be permitted to board your departure flight. Other nations might force you into quarantine when you arrive — not the best way to start a trip.

Fortunately, United promises to work with customers in such cases. Significantly delayed and canceled flights are eligible for refunds, and the carrier told TPG that it will do its best to reaccommodate flyers in other exceptional circumstances.

Of the many factors to consider with pandemic-era travel, an invalidated COVID test is one at the top of my personal checklist.

To avoid getting stuck, I always get two tests before departure — one just at the outset of the 72- or 96-hour window and one on the day of departure. This way, I can ensure that I don’t end up missing a trip due to a flight delay.

Featured image by Zach Griff, TPG 

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