Will Airlines and Hotels Refund Costs if a Medical Emergency Prevents Travel?

Will Airlines and Hotels Refund Costs if a Medical Emergency Prevents Travel


Will Airlines Refund Ticket Cost and Will Hotels Refund Prepaid Stays if a Medical Emergency Prevents You from Traveling? Almost no one plans to have a medical emergency, but a sudden severe illness, accident or surgery of you or a travel companion or family member can make it impossible to travel. Here's what to know:


Most U.S. passengers buying airline tickets purchase non-refundable fares, which are only refundable without penalty within 24 hours of purchase. Refundable and changeable fares are far more expensive, and typically only purchased by business travelers who know they need the flexibility.

American Airlines

American's non-refundable fares note: “”We do not refund nonrefundable American Airlines tickets except when the ticket is cancelled within 24 hours of purchase, when we make a schedule change that results in a change of 61 minutes or more, upon the death of a passenger or passenger's traveling companion or because of military orders. Supporting documentation is required.”

If the medical emergency isn't your or your traveling companion's death, is there any leniency? With AA, generally not, although it doesn't hurt to try calling and seeing if AA will issue a travel credit and waive the change fee. Flyertalker RobertHodge reports that neither his pancreatitis surgery nor his spouse's prostate cancer surgery in August and surgeons' notes recommending against travel for the next several months were enough for AA to provide a refund for their late October non-refundable flights.

Then again, as subsequent posters pointed out, other doctors might well have given a green light for late October travel, and in general, airlines will almost never provide outright refunds when passengers cancel travel, only a travel credit (and possibly waived change fee) towards future travel.

And as Just a Note points out in a comment below, AA has been known to refund even a Basic Economy ticket due to a relative's medical emergency that required the care of the family member who didn't take the trip. This isn't provided for in the terms, so you can't count on this, but good to know it has happened.


Delta Airlines

Delta's refund policy reads “You have one year from the ticket's original issue date to reschedule your travel without losing the full value of the ticket (less any applicable change fees).

  • For domestic travel, tickets must be reissued and travel completed within one year of the original ticket date.
  • For international travel, tickets must be reissued to the same or another international destination, and travel must begin within one year of the original ticket date.

Exception: The death of the passenger, immediate family member, or traveling companion. In this case, you will be required to forward a copy of the death certificate to the Passenger Refunds Department mailing address.

Note: Customers who purchase Basic Economy (E booking class) will not be able to change or refund their ticket after the Risk Free Cancellation period”

Delta's policy at least specifically mentions death of an immediate family member (not just you, the passenger, or your traveling companion) as a reason. But fortunately, in practice, as Flyertalkers jackplum and lking mention, Delta will allow you to use the value of the ticket towards a future Delta flight, and often even waive the change fee, in the event of a medical emergency. Note that you must complete the rescheduled travel within one year of the original ticket date.



JetBlue has quite reasonable change fees for non-elites, when changing or cancelling 60 or more days before departure: $75 per person for JetBlue Blue, Blue Plus or Mint fares that are less than $950, plus any fare difference for the new flight. As with other airlines, the new travel must be completed within 1 year from the date of issue of the original ticket.

That said, FlyerTalker HepperSchepp reported that when his mother's mother was diagnosed with cancer and his mother had to cancel her flight, JetBlue offered a change fee waiver that was credited to her TravelBank.



Most of my clients book luxury hotels at flexible rates that include preferred partner or Virtuoso benefits, which can easily be changed should rates later go down. But sometimes clients do book Advance Purchase rates that are less expensive, particularly in the case of Four Seasons, since most Four Seasons advance purchase rates can be combined with Four Seasons Preferred Partner benefits.

I recently had a client who booked the Four Seasons Kyoto at a 10% off advance purchase rate, including Preferred Partner benefits, but unfortunately one of them had to have emergency surgery and the entire trip was cancelled. Now, fortunately it was booked with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which does include travel insurance. But since it's usually faster to receive a refund from the hotel if the hotel is willing to refund the prepaid amount, we asked the property. The Four Seasons agreed to refund the prepaid amount if the client provided a doctor's or surgeon's note stating that the client was unable to travel during the booked dates.


Bottom Line

Generally I prefer to travel on award tickets, in no small part because it's easier to pay and redeposit frequent flyer miles from an unused award ticket and have greater flexibility to use them towards a future trip, even on another airline, and not just for one year from date of issue. But if you do hold paid nonrefundable airline tickets and truly have a medical emergency, all is not lost (unless you booked the ticket so far in advance that there is no time to use the reissued ticket within the 1 year from original date of issue).

I recommend not canceling online; instead, call the airline directly and ask if a travel credit can be issued given your medical emergency, and also ask if there's any way the change fee could be waived (or noted in the record for when you do call back to arrange the new ticket).

Similarly, even with prepaid hotel reservations, it never hurts to ask; the worst that can happen is the airline or hotel (and the supervisor, if you escalate your query) says no.

Don't forget to use a travel credit card such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred or Citi Prestige that includes travel insurance, or purchase separate travel insurance from Travel Guard if you're not willing to self-insure.

Have you or anyone you know asked for leniency from an airline for a non-refundable ticket or from a hotel for a prepaid reservation, due to a medical emergency? What was the outcome?

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Just a Note
Just a Note
5 years ago

We had a relative undergoing surprise surgery recently, and this popped up after we had planned a quick trip, so had purchased tickets on AA. Basic Economy, no less. I went on the trip, not expecting any problems. My wife stayed home, as it was just a quick trip, and Basic Economy at that. Anyway, after returning home, I tried to get the ticket refunded from Chase (the ticket was purchased on a Ritz Carlton card). Even after sending all the documentation you can imagine – and then some – they refused to do so. They wanted proof that the… Read more »