What happens if you cancel or change your flight due to unforeseen circumstances? Airlines require that you pay a hefty fee, but there are some loopholes and workarounds, says Airfare Watchdog founder George Hobica.
Refunds to Die For:
In the past, if you had a verifiable illness or accident, with something as irrefutable as an emergency room admission, an airline would take pity on you and change or cancel your reservation without penalty. This doesn’t usually pan out these days, as too many people faked medical emergencies. So, now airlines will only issue a refund if you or a traveling companion on the same reservation dies—and only on presentation of the death certificate.
Refunds within 24 Hours:
Many frequent travelers aren’t aware that The United States Department of Transportation requires that, as long as you’ve booked a non-refundable ticket seven days ahead of your flight, you’re entitled to change or cancel your reservation within 24 hours of booking without paying a cancellation fee.
Refunds After 24 Hours:
Most tickets purchased through Cook Travel are eligible for refunds, and fees to cancel or change tickets can range between 100 and 800 dollars, depending on the airline.
This means it is sometimes better to lock in a ticket that will save you thousands of dollars, even if you’re not certain yet those are the dates you will be traveling, when all that is at stake is a $100 cancellation fee.
Occasionally, a ticket will be so discounted by the airline that they do not offer refunds. (A $2,500 business class ticket to London, for instance.)
To know what kind of ticket you are buying, ask your agent about refund eligibility.
Other Times to Get a Refund:
Most of the traveling public is unaware of Rule 260 in airline contracts of carriage about “involuntary refunds,” which states that if the airline refuses to carry you for any reason, or if your flight is delayed more than a specific amount of time (like 121 minutes on American Airlines), or if your flight is canceled, you can apply for a full refund—even on a non-refundable ticket.
So, if you buy a fare and the DOT 24-hour rule doesn’t apply, you can avoid the change/cancel fee if your flight is canceled or severely delayed. It may not be worth your time to even show up to the airport, but you do need to check in for the flight for the rule to apply.