Can you refund a flight ticket due to the coronavirus?

Generally speaking, whether a flight is canceled outright or significantly delayed, travelers are entitled to a refund.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT): “If your flight is canceled and you choose to cancel your trip as a result, you are entitled to a refund for the unused transportation — even for nonrefundable tickets. You are also entitled to a refund for any bag fee that you paid and any extras you may have purchased, such as a seat assignment.”

And the DOT clarified on April 3 that airlines are still obligated to refund flights canceled due to COVID-19: “U.S. and foreign airlines remain obligated to provide a prompt refund to passengers for flights to, within or from the United States when the carrier cancels the passenger's scheduled flight or makes a significant schedule change and the passenger chooses not to accept the alternative offered by the carrier. The obligation of airlines to provide refunds, including the ticket price and any optional fee charged for services a passenger is unable to use, does not cease when the flight disruptions are outside of the carrier's control.”

Can you get a refund on a nonrefundable airline ticket?

Empty airport terminal Airlines stopping an operations, Check-in counters in the terminal at Don mueang International Airport closed during coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
Pradpriew / Shutterstock
Airports the world over are quiet owing to coronavirus travel restrictions.

Based on what the DOT is saying, yes, you're entitled to a refund even with a nonrefundable ticket, so long as your flight was canceled or significantly delayed.

“The Department is receiving an increasing number of complaints and inquiries from ticketed passengers, including many with nonrefundable tickets, who describe having been denied refunds for flights that were canceled or significantly delayed. In many of these cases, the passengers stated that the carrier informed them that they would receive vouchers or credits for future travel," the DOT wrote in April.

Should you accept a voucher?

If your flight was canceled and you want a refund, then:

  1. Do NOT accept the voucher or credit offer. Even if you like the airline, travel restrictions may be in place for a long time.
  2. Contact the airline for a full refund while citing the DOT's notice.

If you accept the voucher, then you're technically in a new contract with the airline and may not qualify for the original ticket's refund. Therefore, it's best to not take the voucher or credit and simply ask for the refund, even if you do intend to travel with the same airline.

The airline can't force you to take the voucher or credit. It must process a refund if you request it.

Be persistent with your demand. If you have to, threaten to file a complaint with the DOT. While the department vowed to give carriers some time to "become compliant," it has promised to take further enforcement action.

If your flight hasn't actually been canceled yet, don't proactively cancel the ticket yourself. Wait to hear from the airline before taking action.

How do I claim my refund?

If your flight wasn't scheduled to happen within 72 hours, the airlines are asking you to start with their online customer service. Make sure to have your confirmation number, flight number and itinerary on hand.

If you have booked with the airline directly, read the fine print with regards to its online ticket refund policy. Some airlines may say you're required to take a voucher or credit for online refunds. In this case, you should speak to an agent by phone or ask the airline via email or the on-page message chat.

If you booked via Expedia or another online travel agency, you'll need to contact the site for a refund. The online agencies' refund policies vary.

About the Author

Alex Denholm

Alex Denholm

Freelance Contributor

Alex Denholm is a freelance contributor to MoneyWise.

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