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.
See what cancellations and changes will trigger a refund.
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.
Still not sure what to do with your upcoming trip? Follow this flow chart we put together to guide to to the right decision in your circumstances.
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.
We have reserved a riverboat cruise on Viking from Zurich to Paris, departing on Sep 26, 2020. We have arranged airline transportation from Sep 22 – Oct 10 on United Airlines. With the Covid -19 situation, we are unsure whether the cruise will actually occur, and even if it does, we are not sure if we will feel safe enough to make the trip. Based upon the article you just published, do you recommend delaying conversations with Viking and United regarding our reservations until August 2020? We would probably just delay our trip to sometime in 2021, but again that will be dependent upon the pandemic situation at that time. Since we have in excess of $10,000 invested in these trips, we are curious if we should try to get a refund on this travel or just leave the money on deposit with these two organizations.
No harm in waiting a few months to see if cruise companies and airlines extend cancellations.
Delta just cancelled my flight from US to DUB. I paid with SkyMiles and I am wondering if the reimbursement will be a redeposit of those SkyMiles or a cash valued voucher or ecredit for use when rebooking for next year. What happens with the cash paid for the flight taxes?
You should get your SkyMiles back and the taxes and fees refunded to your card. If Delta doesn’t do so, fight them – that’s what you’re owed!
This is super helpful! We were supposed to fly to Mexico yesterday 😢 and had already decided a month ago we weren’t going. We were waiting to cancel our flight within 72 hours of departure as Delta has been instructing, but then Delta cancelled our flight last week! I was glad we waited to do anything because it actually saved us the hassle of dealing with voucher/refund/miles redeposit stuff. We’re still waiting to see our miles redeposited but thinking they will show up soon. 🙂
We got our flights from DFW to FCO for $300 back in May ‘19. We have changed from the original date in March ‘20, to April’20, now we are scheduled for Oct’20. I’d rather reschedule than get a refund or voucher, because the likelihood of us finding flights for that cheap again is pretty much unheard of. Do you think that would be possible?
If you’re feeling better with a schedule change, definitely go that route!
Do they have to honor the original fare price or can they force you to pay more if they have to cancel your flight?
If you choose to cancel and change flights, you would likely be on the hook to pay the difference in fare.
It’s through delta… what if they are the ones that cancel your flight. Can they make you be responsible for the difference in fare, if you choose to reschedule instead of taking a refund or travel voucher.
Yes, you will be responsible for paying the fare difference.
Thank you for this very helpful article! We have a Delta flight purchased for May. We are purchased one ticket and the other ticket is the free companion pass (from our SkyMiles card). Delta has significantly changed our flight schedule and we will likely cancel our flight due to coronavirus. I know they are obligated to give us a refund if we cancel. but will they give our companion pass back? If we choose to reschedule instead, will we be able to use the companion pass?
What if you booked Icelandair thru Priceline. Will I get a refund from Priceline? Also what about Transavia Airlines? Does the same rule apply to airlines in Europe? What about hotels and car rental? Will that be refund as well? Sorry for all the questions but I have a 2 week trip coming up in May. If possible we would rather delay our trip until 2021.
You will have to request your refund via Priceline.
Is this the same approach if we purchased through Priceline? Or what would you recommend?
Yes, you would have to work with Priceline in that case.
Kyle, do you know the answers to the questions about the Delta companion certificate that I asked above? Thanks so much for your help!
Delta is giving back companion passes for flights that you cancel, so you should be in good shape. If any issues arise, contact Delta and ask them to restore your companion certificate.
I don’t understand United’s deadline of April 30. It says “Changes or cancellations must be made on/before April 30, 2020.” Does this deadline only apply to flights that were scheduled to travel June 1- Dec 31, 2020? If this is true, will cancelation fees apply beginning in May for travel for June 1-Dec 31?
It means that if you want to cancel a flight out as far as Dec. 31 in exchange for a voucher, you must cancel it by April 30.
United will almost certainly extend these policies. We think they are just trying to convince people to cancel their trips by April 30, after which they will cancel many more flights throughout their schedule (and therefore avoiding giving many customers a refund rather than a voucher)
I have a flight to Hawaii in June that United will probably cancel, but if for some reason they don’t, I’m concerned I’d have to pay the $200 cancellation fee per ticket if they don’t extend their policy. I’d be shocked if they didn”t extend the policy or cancel, but I’m in a tough spot. I’d be curious to know how other people are handling. Thanks.
I have an MSP-TOKYO Direct flight in early April 2021. I got a notice that it is now one stop on the return. I believe that substantiates a refund but I want to wait until closer. Is there a time limit as to when I can officially get the refund? Thanks!
Nope, no time limit.