Australia and New Zealand have shut down all travel. Nearly all of Europe is saying no to Americans – and that seems unlikely to change anytime soon. The list goes on (and on and on).
Across the globe, travel bans and restrictions have upended travel plans left and right. And that brings up a common question: Can you get a refund for a flight a country that’s currently banning travel (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. In many cases, your airline won’t refund you simply because your destination is no longer accepting tourists. But you might be able to get your money back – 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?
As the United States grapples with increasingly high COVID-19 cases, our international travel options have become more and more limited. From nearly all of Europe to much of Asia and even Canada, most countries have closed to U.S. travelers.
And that puts a serious dent in upcoming travel – including flights you might have booked before coronavirus was even a thing. Suddenly, travelers are trying to sort out trips to countries that will no longer allow them to enter.
But just because you can’t enter the country doesn’t mean your flight will be canceled. Believe it or not, major airlines are still operating many international flights.
For example, Delta, American, and United are still flying to Madrid (MAD), Frankfurt (FRA), Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG), Amsterdam (AMS), and elsewhere several times a week. That’s despite the fact that most of Europe is not allowing American travelers.
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 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.
Instead, U.S. law 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 closed 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 to your trip that triggers a refund.
- Monitor your reservations. Airlines aren’t doing a good job of informing travelers when they’ve changed your 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 scale back their international flying. If you’re booked on the nonstop Delta flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Amsterdam (AMS) and Delta rebooks you on a one-stop itinerary through Atlanta (ATL), Delta owes you a refund.
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 scheduled through the end of 2020. 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 you’re scheduled to fly to 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 for future travel.