Coronavirus Travel: Don’t Cancel Flights Before Airline Cancels Flights

Coronavirus Travel: Don't Cancel Flights Before Airline Cancels Flights


With the Coronavirus, Many Travelers Have Cancelled or Plan to Cancel Their Flights for Spring 2020 and later. But don't be in a rush to cancel flights if the airline still shows those flights as operating, even if you know for sure you won't be flying. A TravelSort reader's comment to our recent post, JetBlue Refund Policy Changes After DoT Enforcement Notice and our response illustrates why.

Eri writes:

“My daughter and her husband in the US military and due to COVID-19 pandemic, their leave in April was cancelled by their superior until further notice. They already had their flights booked through Southwest back in February and cancelled the reservation shortly after their leave was called off sometimes in March. They are now stuck with over $1200 travel funds expiring in February 2021. They cannot use their travel funds before the expiration because this leave was supposed to be their pre deployment leave.

Even though my daughter explained their situation to Southwest, Southwest reps refused to refund their money other than the form of travel fund. My daughter checked Southwest schedules recently and found out that the original flights which she and her husband booked were all cancelled by Southwest. Do you think this DOT notice apply for my daughter’s situation? My daughter already cancelled their reservation due to COVID-19 related reasons but also Southwest cancelled those exact flights after all.”


It's understandable that Eri's daughter, knowing that she and her husband wouldn't be able to fly on their originally booked April 2020 Southwest flights, cancelled the flight. Unfortunately though, by cancelling their flights when Southwest's schedule still showed their flights as operating, they forfeited the opportunity to receive a full refund of their flight costs when Southwest later went ahead and cancelled these flight.


Why You Should Wait As Long as Possible to Cancel Flights

As we mentioned in DoT to Airlines: Refund Passengers for Cancelled Flights all airlines with flights that touch the U.S. have been reminded by the Department of Transportation that they must refund passengers to the original form of payment if the airline cancels the flight or makes a significant change to the flight schedule. There is no obligation for the airline to refund the passenger, however, if the passenger cancels a flight that is still scheduled to operate as planned, unless the ticket is a refundable one that permits a full refund (which most consumers rarely purchase, due to how much more expensive fully flexible tickets are).

Because of this, it's always in your interest to wait as long as possible to cancel a flight, even if it's certain that you won't fly. By waiting until the day before the flight to cancel, you increase the chances of the airline cancelling or significantly changing the flight time, such that you can then insist on a full refund. If the airline changes nothing, you can take the travel credit, and you're no worse off than if you'd cancelled earlier. And if the airline does cancel or significantly change the flight, then you can request a full refund back to your credit card.

This applies for both U.S. and international airlines, as long as the flight departs from or arrives to a U.S. destination, although of course many airlines might try to get you to accept a travel voucher. Don't be persuaded or strong-armed into accepting a travel credit, however. Refer the airlines to the DoT Enforcement Notice and insist on a full refund to your credit card. If the airline refuses, document the refusal and initiate a credit card chargeback, and also file a Department of Transportation Complaint since the airline will receive a copy of this complaint and enough consumers filing complaints will get airlines to comply with the DoT Enforcement Notice sooner rather than later.

To be sure, it can be stressful during these times of long hold times for airline call centers to get through to the airline the day or so before; if the wait is interminable, consider using Skype to call one of the airline's international call centers, which may have a shorter hold time. Some airlines also offer a callback option, so at least you don't have to be on hold on your phone all that time.

Note that most airlines do not provide an online option to request a refund back to your credit card, even if the airline cancelled your flight–airlines purposely only make it easy to cancel online and get a travel credit. Don't fall for it–call in and insist on a refund if the airline cancelled your flight.

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