Coronavirus has upended travel plans, and there's no telling when that will change.
When your upcoming trip is looking less likely by the day, you have to deal with the world of cancellations, vouchers, refunds … it all gets confusing. “When should I cancel my flight? How can I get a refund?”
We're here to help. If you're 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.
Airlines don't exactly make this world of refunds, regulations, and vouchers easy to follow. So let's dive in a bit deeper.
“Is my flight eligible for free change or cancellation?”
This one's a doozy.
There is a dizzying array of airlines with their own individual policies about when you might be eligible for a free change or cancellation, based upon your ticket.
Generally speaking, most airlines will allow you to change or cancel your flight (for a voucher) for free if it's scheduled anytime before September – and in some cases all the way through December. What's more, the airlines are also granting free change and cancellation to any flights booked by Aug. 31 or Sept. 8 – for travel at any future date.
We're tracking all these policies and more. Read our master guide to the airlines' free change and cancellation waivers.
“When can I get a refund?”
U.S. law is clear: If your airline cancels your flight, they owe you a refund. No questions asked. The same is true of “significant changes” to your flight: think hours-long delays, putting you on a one-stop flight when you booked nonstop, and more.
The U.S. Department of Transportation even clarified that this earlier this month as some airlines tried to avoid doling out refunds. And those regulations apply just the same to foreign airlines – all that matters is that your flight touches U.S. soil.
Still, it's not exactly clear. 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 120 minutes or more will trigger a refund, while American now requires a change of four-plus hours and other 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.
It's critical that you know your rights. Despite all this, airlines won't tell you when a refund is available. It's up to you to demand what you're legally owed.
“What if my airline canceled my flight but only offered a voucher?”
The Department of Transportation says your airline must come back to give you a refund instead. Contact your airline.
“What if I already chose to cancel my flight for a voucher but now the airline canceled it?”
Unfortunately, you're probably out of luck. The airline is under no obligation to give you a refund for a flight that you chose to cancel in advance. That's why we tell travelers to wait to cancel flights.
Airlines may not change their schedules or cancel flights until just a month (or even weeks) before they're scheduled to depart. Patience can pay off … in the form of a refund.
“What if I booked with an OTA like Expedia or Orbitz?”
You'll typically need to go through whichever travel site you booked your flights through to process any refunds or vouchers. That's why we always recommend booking directly with the airline whenever possible – to cut out the middle man.