Australia, New Zealand, and much of Asia remain shut down to nearly all travelers. After reopening to Americans last summer, the Netherlands has essentially shut things down again with a mandatory quarantine of up to 10 days. And though public health officials and airlines alike hope the latest wave of COVID-19 cases will drop quickly, the prospect of more travel restrictions looms large over any international trip.
Across the globe, travel bans and restrictions have upended travel plans left and right for nearly two years. And that brings up a common question: Can you get a refund for a flight to a country that bans arrivals – or has severe restrictions. You’d think you should get your money back, right? How can your airline even fly to a country that’s not accepting tourists?
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t quite so simple. But as international travel remains complicated as 2022 gets underway, there may be a way to get your money back if travel restrictions make an upcoming trip impossible – or at least get a voucher to make sure you don’t lose that money.
What If The Country I’m Flying to is Now Closed to Tourists?
Far more countries are welcoming American travelers than just a year ago. But it’s a global patchwork of entry requirements, often with mandatory vaccination or pre-travel testing – and sometimes both. And these rules are constantly changing, especially as faster-spreading variants of COVID-19 emerge.
And that puts a serious dent in upcoming travel … including flights you might have booked long ago. Travelers who snagged a great deal to Tokyo or Amsterdam many months ago in hopes that travel would be easier may now be trying to sort out their options now that it’s clear they can’t get in – or may be required to quarantine for up to 10 days.
But just because you can’t enter the country doesn’t mean your flight will be canceled. Almost two years into the pandemic, major airlines are now back to operating many of the international flights they had pre-COVID – including to destinations that remain closed to Americans.
For example, Delta, American, and United are still flying daily to Tokyo, China, and South Korea … despite the fact that nearly all Americans are still banned from visiting.
And that brings us to a critical point. If your flight is still operating as scheduled when you booked it, you may have little hope for getting a refund…
Can I Get a Refund for My Flight?
Maybe. But not just because the country is closed to you as a tourist.
Unfortunately, there isn’t any law or mandate that requires a flight refund if you are no longer eligible to enter the country. If you decide to cancel your trip, you’ll likely just get a voucher for your airline. The U.S. Department of Transportation has signaled that it may tweak refund requirements to give travelers more options in these cases, but that hasn’t happened yet.
So for now, U.S. law only mandates that airlines give travelers a refund when the carrier itself cancels a flight – or significantly changes the schedule by adding a stop when you booked nonstop flights or delaying you by two-plus hours.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re flying with a U.S. airline or a foreign carrier. The law is the law.
Here’s an excerpt from the Department of Transportation regulations:
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 non-refundable 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.
So what does that mean if you’ve got a flight coming up to a country that’s closing down to tourists? We’ve got a few recommendations:
- Contact your airline (by phone or direct message) and ask nicely for a refund, given the circumstances. Airlines are under no obligation to give you your money back, but it never hurts to ask.
- Wait! Don’t cancel your flights yet. Airlines often don’t change their flight schedules until just a month (or even weeks) before departure. So if you wait until your trip draws closer, your airline may make a change or cancellation to your trip that triggers a refund.
- Monitor your reservations. Airlines don’t always do a good job of informing travelers when they’ve changed their flights. You may be eligible for a refund and just not know it.
- If you want a refund, don’t simply accept the airline rebooking you on an alternate flight – a common occurrence as airlines continue tweaking their international networks. If you’re booked on the nonstop Delta flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) and Delta rebooks you on a one-stop itinerary through Atlanta (ATL), Delta owes you a refund if you want one.
If these options don’t pan out and your flight is still scheduled to depart, your best bet is likely to cancel for an airline voucher. Many major airlines are offering free cancellation for any and all flights so long as you booked at least a main cabin economy fare. If you choose to cancel your flight, the best you’ll get is a voucher or credit for future travel.
Unfortunately, just because you can’t get into the country (or visit without a quarantine) doesn’t mean you’ll always get your money back. It hinges on whether your flight has been changed or canceled. And it may be a surprise, but that’s not always the case.
It’s up to you to know your rights. Airlines often won’t tell travelers when they’re eligible for a refund. Keep an eye on your flight booking, and if that flight is changed or canceled by the airline, you can request a refund. Otherwise, get that voucher and use it to rebook a trip later on.