How Can I Get a Refund for Canceled or Delayed Flights?
Airline tickets are expensive. Even the most frequent travelers probably spend a good portion of their time searching out lower fares or better deals. Yet for all the research and planning you did ahead of time, for all the saved up pennies that went into purchasing your ticket, you still run a certain risk of experiencing a canceled or delayed flight.
So what happens when the flight you have been looking forward to fails to make it off the ground? Everyone from first-time flyers to well seasoned travelers all seem to experience a bit of confusion when it comes to airfare refunds – and for good reason. There are a wide variety of conditions that may lead to a flight delay, and the truth is that some of them will entitle you to a refund, and some of them won't.
To help travelers make sense of this information, I have written this comprehensive guide on how to get a refund for a canceled or delayed flight. Read through the information below, and find the scenario that best describes your experience.
Begin by identifying the cause of the delay or cancellation.
If It Was Caused By You...
Life happens. No matter how meticulously you packed, how full your vacation or business itinerary was, or how much planning it took to make this trip happen, you may still wake up the morning of your flight with the flu. Personal emergencies can strike at any time. An illness or death in the family could put a hard stop to any travel you had planned, and you may wind up calling the airline to cancel your flight as a result.
Of course, there are also some very mundane reasons for canceling a flight, and these range from oversleeping, to miscommunication, to gridlock traffic. The point is, the flight you were supposed to be on took off, and the fact that you were not on board was no fault of the airline.
In these cases, chances are very good that you will be stuck paying for something. Most airlines charge a change fee of up to $200 for rescheduling a flight that you missed, or decided not to take. Your flight will be rescheduled, but you will be out that extra fee.
Now, if you purchased a refundable ticket (the word "refundable" will be printed somewhere on your ticket) then you can receive a full refund for your flight. Refundable tickets are usually sold by special request, at a higher price than nonrefundable tickets. In other words, if you purchased your ticket through a third-party travel website, it's probably not refundable.
If it Was Caused By The Airline...
There are several reasons that an airline may delay or cancel a flight. A very under booked flight may be canceled, and the passengers may be distributed to different plane so that the airline can save on fuel and operating costs.
Issues with airport operations can also cause flight delays or cancellations. If there is especially heavy volume at the airport – say, during a holiday or a summer weekend – the airport may not be able to keep up with the number of passengers and flight. This is when you will begin to see delays popping up all over the flight status screens.
Issues with the aircraft can also come into play. If the plane you were supposed to be on encounters a mechanical issue that cannot be corrected before takeoff, your flight will either be delayed until the issue has been fully addressed, or canceled altogether.
In each of these cases, you had nothing to do with the cancellation or delay. The airline should offer to reschedule your flight without any change fees, or in some situations, they may be required to offer a full refund of your ticket.
Call your airline as soon as possible if one of these situations occurs. Some airlines require their passengers to request refunds within a certain timeframe, so don't wait.
If It Was Caused by the Weather...
Bad weather is one of the few situations where passengers might get a heads up about a delayed flight or cancellation in advance. Typically, if a large storm is threatening a certain area, the airlines will proactively begin rescheduling flights and contacting customers.
However, don't let that be an invitation to avoid calling the airline yourself. If a blizzard is moving into your area, the sooner you call to request a flight change or a refund, the more likely you are to get through to the airline. In the hours right before a storm hits, phone lines and even the websites can become completely overwhelmed.
Airlines are not required to offer compensation to passengers when flights are canceled due to "acts of God” like this. However, they are usually very accommodating in changing your flight, and getting you on a different plane once it is safe to travel.
When to Contact the Airline
Your first and best line of contact with any airline is a phone call. Call as soon as possible after your delay or cancellation, find out what the refund policies are, and request a refund while you have a customer service representative on the line.
Be polite, explain your situation, and offer as much information as you can. There may be further steps you need to take in order to process a refund, so be sure to have some means of jotting down a few notes.
When to Speak With a Gate Agent
If your delayed flight or cancellation happens once you are already at the airport, go to speak to a gate agent in person right away. Find out what your options are, and whether you are able to request a refund, a voucher for a later flight, or to book another flight right then and there.
Even if your flight is successfully rescheduled, follow up with a call to the airline. You may be entitled to a refund or compensation as a result of the inconvenience you experienced.
When to Call In Experts
There are some companies who advocate for customer rights when it comes to airline delays or cancellations. If you feel that you are not making progress with the airline even though you know they should step up and compensate their customers, you may need a little outside assistance.
Many passengers are not aware of this law, but flights going to or from Europe, flights within Europe, or flights that take place on a Europe-based airline will owe their passengers compensation if their flights are delayed or canceled. If you have experienced a delay or cancellation that meets these criteria, even if the flight took place a while ago, you may still be entitled to a cash payout for your inconvenience.
Passengers are often obliged to shell out lots of extra money when a flight delay occurs. They may have to pay for additional meals at the airport, overnight accommodations at a nearby hotel, cab fare to and from the airport, etc. Europe enacted this law as a way to protect passengers from losing money due to airline issues completely beyond their control.
Your best bet is to contact a passenger advocacy company who can review your case, and take on the airlines on your behalf. For more information on European flight delay compensation, you can read the complete guidelines here.
About Joanna Medina
Born and raised in San Diego, California. I am a writer, dreamer, traveler and all around Truth seeker. I have a passion and desire to help others and truly enjoy seeing people thrive. I have been partnering with Flightbucks since January, 2016 to educate travelers about their rights and have the added perk of sharing travel insights through our blog.