These are confusing times for travelers, with travel restrictions all over the world making many trips in the coming months impossible. Passengers are scrambling to figure out if they can get their money back or if they will be stuck with airline vouchers.
To add another layer of confusion, the rules and regulations are different around the world. Getting your money back will depend on the countries you're flying to and from – and possibly the airline's rules, too.
So let's break it down.
If Your Flight Touches U.S. Soil
If your flight touches U.S. soil – even if you connect in Canada, Europe, or elsewhere – the U.S. Department of Transportation regulations apply to your flight. It doesn't matter what country your airline is from – these regulations apply whether you're flying United, American, Air Canada, or Aer Lingus.
But there's something important to keep in mind. While these U.S. regulations apply based on where you're flying, your airline may cite another country's regulations. For example, Air Canada may cite Canada's guidance (which doesn't require a refund when the airline cancels a flight) even if your trip begins in the U.S.
But the U.S. still says these rules apply.
If the Airline Cancels or Reschedules Your Flight
If any leg of your flight itinerary is canceled or significantly changed, your airline owes you a refund. It does not matter if the airline is a U.S. carrier or a foreign carrier. If the flight touches U.S. soil, U.S. law applies.
If You Cancel Your Flight
If you choose to cancel your flight, you can get a voucher from your airline. That's why we recommend waiting to cancel your flight to see if the airline cancels it. Then you will be due a cash refund.
If Your Flight Touches EU Soil
Got a flight within Europe?
European Union (EU) Passenger rights due to COVID-19 apply if your flight is within the EU – regardless of whether it's a domestic or foreign airline. These rights also apply if you're arriving to Europe on an EU-based carrier. If your flight is departing the EU, these rights apply for both EU carriers and non-EU carriers.
The EU refers to 27 countries including the United Kingdom, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Madeira, Canary Islands, Azores, St. Martin, Guadaloupe, French Guiana, Martinique. Reunion Island, and Mayotte.
If the Airline Cancels Your Flight
If the airline cancels your flight, you have the right to chose between a refund and re-routing your trip at a future date. With the uncertainty of future travel, getting reimbursed for your flight is probably the better choice.
If You Cancel Your Flight
EU regulations do not cover passengers that choose to cancel their flights – even if the passenger cannot travel. Luckily, most major airlines in Europe are choosing to offer travelers vouchers.
However, some countries have implemented their own regulations that go beyond those of the EU. Do some research to see if the countries your flight departs from or arrives in has issued their own rules for airlines due to coronavirus.
Flights Outside of the U.S. and EU
If your flight does not touch U.S. soil or fall under the EU Regulations, it is subject to the rules and regulations of that country. Do some research online to find out your rights before you contact the airline. Note that there will be different rules for different circumstances.
It's also worth taking a look at the airline's website. Some airlines may have more generous policies due to coronavirus that will allow you to get your money back.
If There Aren't Any Regulations
What should you do if your flight isn't covered by any rules or regulations?
First, contact the airline and see what they can do to help you. It might not be easy to get a hold of someone at a small, regional, budget carrier, but it's worth a try.
No luck? Your best bet to get your money back is a chargeback to your credit card.
It's never been more important to know your rights. But just what rights you have can vary wildly based upon where you're flying.