Coronavirus has turned the world upside down, bringing once-booming airlines to a screeching halt and upending most travel plans for the foreseeable future. With cases of COVID-19 still on the rise, many countries (and even some states) have implemented travel restrictions.
Safe to say, travel still seems uncertain. But that doesn't mean you should rush to cancel a flight coming up. In many cases, it pays to be patient. Here's why:
- If you choose to cancel your flight, you will likely get a voucher with your airline for future travel
- If your airline cancels any flight to, from, or within the U.S., your airline is required by law to give you a cash refund. The same is true if the airline makes a significant schedule change to your flight, such as putting you on a one-stop flight when you booked nonstop or delaying you by several hours.
That's why it makes sense to wait and see if your flight gets canceled or changed. It's your best chance to get your money back rather than a voucher or travel credit.
Why it Pays to Wait to Cancel a Flight
Airlines are still canceling flights and altering schedules in droves, so it's more likely than ever that the flight you booked won't take off as planned. And they often don't do this until just a month (or less) in advance, so it makes sense to wait until your flight draws closer before taking action.
There's no risk in waiting until the day before your flight to make a decision – if not even closer. There's really no deadline to get a voucher as you wait to see whether your flight will get canceled outright.
Unfortunately, if you've already chosen to scrap your flight, you're likely out of luck. You've decided to cancel for a voucher, and the airline won't be forced to give you a refund even if they decide to cancel the flight later on.
Did your airline already cancel your flight, but only gave you a voucher? You're not alone, as many airlines still aren't being forthcoming about when a refund is available. But you're in luck, as U.S. regulators have said airline have to go back to consumers and offer the refund they're legally entitled to.
What Changes and Cancellations Will Trigger a Refund?
U.S. law is clear: If your airline cancels your flight, they owe you a refund. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
The U.S. Department of Transportation even clarified that several times as some airlines tried to avoid doling out refunds. And yes, that law even applies to foreign airlines.
Still, there are some gray areas and questions surrounding when you can get a refund and when you can't. And airlines still aren't playing nice: Some, like Air Canada, are still denying refunds, and many aren't proactively offering your money back – they offer a voucher and make you ask for a refund, instead.
So here's a quick breakdown of when you may get a refund:
- Flight canceled? Duh, you get a refund.
- Flying with a foreign airline that canceled? Doesn't matter! So long as your flight touches U.S. soil, you still get a refund.
- Only one half of your trip got canceled? Doesn't matter: You can still get a refund for the whole thing.
- Is your airline trying to put you on a much later (or much earlier) flight? You may be able to get a refund – it varies by airline. The U.S. government requires refunds for “significant” schedule changes, but leaves it up to airlines to define what's significant. Some carriers say a change of just 90 minutes or more will trigger a refund, while others require changes of two-to-four hours and some budget airlines won't give your money back unless if they change you by a full day.
- Is your airline putting you on a one-stop flight instead of the nonstop route you booked? You should be eligible for a refund.
If you fall into one of these categories but your airline won't budge, don't give up. Know your rights, contact your airline via direct message, and insist upon the money the airline legally owes you. If all that fails, file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation and initiate a credit card chargeback.
These are stressful times, and it's easy to simply cancel your flight now and stop worrying about it. But you're often much better off waiting to see what fate awaits your flight. If it gets canceled or changed – and that's more likely than ever – you can get your cash back.