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With the majority of their planes now parked around the world, airlines are working to issue travelers credits.
While it is possible to get a refund in some circumstances, most travelers can expect to get a future travel credit instead.
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Travelers who booked flights for this spring well before any of us had grasped the full extent of the coronavirus outbreak have likely either already canceled those flights, are looking into their options for doing so, or have had them canceled by their airline.
There are several factors at play when it comes to canceled or canceling flights—and there is an important difference between the two. Airlines have had to cancel countless flights for two main reasons. Firstly, they've reduced flights due to travel restrictions that have been put in place by various governments, including the United States, as the world works to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Secondly, they've cut capacity dramatically in response to the massive drop in travel as large swaths of the population have stayed home and practicing social distancing.
When a flight is canceled by the airline, travelers have a better chance of getting a refund for that flight. But the most common offering—and the one airlines are steering customers towards as they grapple with one of the largest financial challenges in the history of travel—is a future flight credit.
What many airlines are doing is allowing travelers to cancel their flights and basically set aside that money to be used on a flight at a later date—and thankfully, you don’t have to book that future flight now (which is good because it’s hard to know exactly how this pandemic is going to play out at this point). The main U.S. carriers (United, American, and Delta) are currently offering that flexibility for flights that were scheduled to depart through the end May.
If you have flights further out, it would be wise to wait a while, given that all the airlines are currently reporting high volumes of calls due to the pandemic. An added advantage to waiting is that they may extend their policies if this crisis drags on.
When it comes to actual refunds, the policies vary by airline.
Flights booked on American prior to March 1, 2020, for travel through May 31, 2020, can be rebooked without change fees; flights booked during the month of March and up until April 15 for all future travel can also be canceled and changed without a change fee—including Basic Economy tickets (which usually don’t have that option).
The airline is encouraging those who don’t plan to travel anytime soon to simply cancel their flight online, and then rebook at a later date. When you’re ready to rebook, call the reservations department and be prepared to give them your 13-digit ticket number and 6-character confirmation number.
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If a flight was canceled by American Airlines (either due to new travel restrictions or capacity reductions), American said it will send affected passengers an email and they can either rebook the trip or request a refund for the remaining ticket value and any optional fees.
If you booked a flight with United between March 3 and March 31, 2020, you can change it for free—one time—for travel that takes place within one year of when the original ticket was purchased. Any flights booked prior to March 3 (both domestic or international) with original travel dates through May 31, 2020 can be canceled and rebooked later with no change fees.
With regards to flight cancellations that have resulted from travel bans and restrictions put in place due to coronavirus, United said that any customers (including residents from other countries), whose international travel has been disrupted by more than six hours, or if the flight was canceled due to government restrictions, will get a travel credit equal to the value of their ticket that is good for up to 12 months from the time of purchase (not from the time the flight was canceled). If the customer chooses not to use the credit, they will receive a cash refund at the end of that 12-month period.
Any Delta ticket for domestic or international travel in March, April or May can be canceled and rebooked without a fee for travel that takes place up until December 31, 2020. For tickets purchased between March 1 and April 15, 2020, you can change the flight for travel up to a year from the date you purchased it without a fee. The value of the ticket will become an eCredit, which you can use to rebook once you are ready (are you seeing the trend here?). For flights canceled by Delta, the airline has said it will contact passengers with additional information.
Customers who were due to travel with JetBlue through April 30, 2020, can cancel and bank the funds for a future flight up to one year from the date the future flight credit was issued. JetBlue has also suspended change and cancel fees for new flight bookings made between March 6 and March 31, 2020, for travel completed by October 24, 2020. The move applies to all JetBlue fares, including Blue Basic, which generally does not allow for any changes or cancellations. Customers who book by March 31 will receive a full travel credit should they need to cancel their trip—although fare differences will apply.
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Southwest hasn’t changed its policy much and that’s because its policy was already pretty lenient. The carrier has tier fares that include refunds (Business Select and Anytime) and a tier fare (Wanna Get Away) that doesn’t include refunds. Those remain the same. Regardless of the type of ticket purchased, it can be canceled sans fee (as long as it’s done a least 10 minutes before the original departure time) for a future travel credit. Future travel credits that were set to expire between March 1 and May 31, 2020 will now expire June 30, 2021. And any travel funds created because of a flight cancellation between March 1 and May 31, 2020 will have an expiration date of June 30, 2021.
For anyone who was scheduled to travel between now and April 30, you can change your travel to a date 60 days from the original date of travel without paying any difference in fare as long as you are traveling between the same origin and destination.
Alaska flights purchased on or before February 26, 2020, for travel that was originally scheduled to take place through the end of April can be canceled, the money set aside in an Alaska account and the flight rescheduled for anytime until February 28, 2021. If you purchase its lower-tier Saver fare by April 30, 2020, for travel through February 28, 2021, you can cancel your trip and deposit the funds into your Alaska account to be applied to a future flight instead. If you purchase a nonrefundable first-class or economy fare by April 30, 2020, for travel through February 28, 2021, you can cancel your trip and deposit the funds into your Alaska account for a future flight, or you can make a one-time change with no change fee (a fare difference will apply).
German carrier Lufthansa is allowing travelers with flights that were booked through March 31, 2020 to hold onto the original value of their ticket in order to rebook a flight for travel that takes place by December 31, 2020. The new flight must be booked by August 31, 2020. The carrier is not only not charging a rebooking fee but is offering a 50 Euro (or $55) rebooking discount that will be applied to the new ticket price.
The U.K. carrier is allowing customers who have booked or who book new flights between March 3 and May 31, 2020, to change those flights for free—and any existing bookings for departures through May 31, 2020, can be changed without a fee as well.
The French airline is offering a travel voucher for flights that were scheduled to depart through May 31, 2020, which will be valid for one year on any Air France, KLM, Delta Air Lines, and Virgin Atlantic flights.
The vast majority of airlines have issued statements informing passengers that if they weren’t able to get online or contact a reservations agent prior to their original scheduled flight due to extremely high call volumes, they can rest assured that they will automatically receive a future flight credit.
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