If your travel plans change or if your airline changes or cancels your flight, it’s important to understand your rights and under what circumstances you can get a refund of your airfare.
The Department of Transportation (“DOT”) has outlined the rules under which an airline will owe you a refund. Here is a summary of the airline ticket refund rules you need to be aware of:
Airline Ticket Refunds
According to the DOT, passengers are entitled to a full refund of the ticket price and/or associated fees under the following scenarios:
- Fully Refundable Ticket – This one is obvious, but if you purchased a fully refundable ticket and decide not to use it, you are entitled to a refund.
- The Airline Cancels Your Flight – If the airline cancels your flight, regardless of the reason, and the passenger chooses not to travel, you are entitled to a refund.
- There is a Significant Delay or Schedule Change – If the airline makes a significant schedule change and/or significantly delays a flight and the passenger chooses not to travel, you may be entitled to a refund.
- The Department of Transportation (“DOT”) has not specifically defined what constitutes a “significant delay.” Whether you are entitled to a refund depends on many factors – including the length of the delay, the length of the flight, and your personal circumstances. DOT determines whether you are entitled to a refund following a significant delay on a case-by-case basis.
- Class of Service Change – If a passenger is involuntarily moved to a lower class of service, the passenger is entitled to a refund for the difference in fares.
Baggage Fee Refunds
You are entitled to a refund if you paid a baggage fee, and your baggage has been declared lost by the airline.
- Airlines may have different policies to determine when a bag is officially lost. Most airlines will declare a bag lost between 5 and 14 days after the flight, but this can vary from one airline to another.
- Learn more about lost, delayed, or damaged baggage.
Situations where you will not receive a refund.
Under the following circumstances, you are not entitled to a refund, except under extremely limited circumstances:
- Non-refundable tickets – If you bought a non-refundable ticket, you are not entitled to a refund unless the airline makes a promise to provide a refund or the airline cancels a flight or makes a significant schedule change.
- Personal Issues – If you bought a nonrefundable ticket, and are unable to travel for a personal reason, such as being sick or late to the airport, you are not entitled to a refund.
- Unsatisfactory Service – If you take a flight and have a bad experience with the airline or the flight, you are not entitled to a refund.
- Incidental Expenses – If you incur additional expenses such as a rental car, hotel room, or meal due to a delayed or cancelled flight, you are not entitled to a refund of the incidental expenses.
The 24-Hour Cancellation Rule
If you buy your airline ticket at least seven days before a flight’s scheduled departure date and time, airlines are required to either:
- Allow passengers to cancel their reservation and receive a full refund without a penalty for 24 hours, or,
- Allow passengers to reserve a ticket (place it on hold) at the quoted price without paying for the ticket for 24 hours. Most airlines do this since holding a ticket is a lot easier (and cheaper) than cancelling and refunding a purchase.
While airlines must hold a reservation for 24 hours or provide a refund to passengers at their request within 24 hours of making a reservation, airlines are not required to make changes to a ticket free of charge (for example – change your ticket to a different date or correct a misspelled name on the reservation).
Refunds with Online Travel Agents
If you purchased your ticket through an online travel agency (“OTA”), you should contact them directly to obtain a refund before contacting the airline.
How long until you get the refund?
If you are owed a refund, an airline, travel agent, or online travel agency must process it within seven business days if you paid by credit card, and 20 business days if you paid by cash or check (which you should never do).