Airlines Are Breaking The Law By Refusing Refunds For Cancelled Flights

British Airways hid the option to get a refund for cancelled flights and United retroactively changed their rules to refused refunds for major schedule changes and then told customers they’d have to wait a year for their money back.

Airlines that aren’t providing transportation that was purchased are trying to keep customers’ money, even as they seek more of their customers’ money in the form of government bailouts. While the international airline trade group is trying to get governments to legalize this theft, some carriers are doing it on their own regardless of the law.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation,

If your flight is cancelled and you choose to cancel your trip as a result, you are entitled to a refund for the unused transportation – even for non-refundable tickets. You are also entitled to a refund for any bag fee that you paid, and any extras you may have purchased, such as a seat assignment.

Miles From Blighty couldn’t get this policy honored by United.

Meanwhile Andrew shared his interaction with JetBlue, trying to get a refund for a cancelled flight from Bermuda to New York JFK next week. This isn’t a flight where he’s ‘decided not to fly’. This is a reservation that has been cancelled with the flight not operating.

JetBlue told him that refunds are not available for cancelled flights, because the cancellation is outside of the airline’s control.

The reader cites the airline’s contract of carriage, which specifies a refund for a cancelled flight. The airline agent says that commitment is void under the current circumstances.

The airline then continued to debate the language of their contract of carriage claiming that they aren’t required to provide a refund when they’re forced to cancel a flight. The passenger wouldn’t receive transportation they paid for, wouldn’t even get their money back, just a future flight credit.

This is the sort of absurd claim that chargebacks are for, and at this point that’s what the reader threatened.

JetBlue hung up the chat with this,

Thank you for your feedback. I will be sure to pass this along. Have a great day!

Eventually he got a telephone agent after a long hold time and they granted a refund ‘as an exception’ because the agent misunderstood and believed the airline had stranded him in Bermuda (he lives there).

Airlines seem to be refusing refunds. In Europe, they’re required to refund cancelled flights. There are required to do this in the U.S. also. Any government enforcement or government fine, though, is something that will only come down the line. Most people won’t file complaints. And in the meantime the airline gets an interest free loan. Don’t accept that.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. So, what happens if you have a flight departing April 1st out of the country because you were going on a cruise that obviously has been canceled? Our flight is on Delta, we have not heard a word from them as to what they will do if they are still flying there and if they will give us a refund.
    Please let me know what we should do.

  2. Same thing today, I had a one-way ticket CUN-AUS on Southwest. Flight is canceled for April 1 and WN is refusing to refund even though it’s on DOT website and in their Contract of Carriage. So I filed a dispute with my CC. Let’s see what happens there.

  3. So a related question. My airline is requesting that people only call for support “within 72 hours” of their flight because lines are so busy. Is this true or is this just another way of keeping our money for a longer period of time?

  4. I was told by Delta that they are not issuing refunds. I think they are waiting for the government bailout bill to be passed. Which wasn’t. They need cash to operate and are declining rapidly because they run way to lean with quarterly dividends and not enough cash in the bank. My refund situation came as a “NO” because it was a nonrefundable (STILL expensive!) ticket. Flight was going to spain, which I am pretty sure at this point should be on lockdown still.. (march 24th 2020). It’s both pathetic and disheartening as the tickets I purchased were for my mother and grandmother to fly out and see my brother get married in Barcelona. Now I, the purchaser of these tickets, am stuck giving Delta an interest free loan that expires in a year. I don’t live in USA and don’t plant to fly Delta ever again, regardless of this issue, so to me it sounds like they will end up keeping this $. I don’t want a credit. Even if the credit was transferable, who the hell wants the credit over CASH!?

  5. @Roberto, I called on a Sunday night and got an AA agent within 10 minutes. And I used the AAdvantage phone number: 1-800-882-8880.

  6. @Matthew Jon Leeder that’s interesting. I just got notice of a WN cancellation today, called, and the agent said “no problem.” Refund requested.


  7. So far as a travel provider we have no issue’s with American, Delta. They have been honorable and refunded all cases where due. The medal for the worst airlines, goes to Star Alliance, starting with the biggest thief Swiss, Lufthansa and United. Shame on them.

    I suggest charge back first, then small claims. Do not allow this mockery to consumers.

    It’s morally repulsive how Airlines are exploiting this crisis. Honestly barring American Airlines and Delta , who have been straight forward and honest with refunds . I do hope of a new social order .

  8. What is Qantas’ refund policy? I paid $1389.29 for a round trip fare from , on 4-21-20, San Diego, CA to Darwin, Australia, then on 5-4-20, Broome, Australia, to San Diego, CA. I used Zegrahm Expeditions air department, who also run the cruise they cancelled for the same dates. Zegrahm refuses to refund my $15,580 paid for the cruise (I booked this tour & air fare offered by Zegrahm through Wilderness Travel).. They will issue a *credit*. However they are NOT offering this cruise again for two more years, April 2022. I am an older person who may not be unable to participate in this activity in two years. They offer the $15,580 as a credit on another cruise, but I have already done 3 other of their cruises. I have no interest in their other cruises. It seems only ethical and in good faith to refund the $16,969.29. Otherwise I loose it all. What air and travel advisers do you recommend, so that I can obtain the refunds? Many thanks!

  9. @BettyRose.

    I think you should be prepared to fight them for your money. First dispute the credit card charges as failure to provide service. That creates and official record. If that fails, by chance. I would escalate this in small claims . File 2 suits. One against the cruise and one for the airline, that 10k and 5k.

  10. Delta is not giving refunds also to some customers. I could not get a refund but some family members Of mine who are on the same flight with us were able to get a full refund. Their customer service are not consistent with Delta policy. I even spoke to a supervisor and the attitude was obnoxious.I called the second time but the person was as bad as the first 2 customer service agents I spoke to. She even offered another airline to fly us to Italy. I said to her “are you crazy that you even suggested to me to find us another flight to our destination,” I felt like we were being kicked to a ditch to catch the virus, get sick and die from it. I was told that it’s not Delta’s fault that those countries are not allowing airlines to fly there, and I said to her, we are on a lock down to even leave the country. Extremely frustrating. I have silver medallion and expected some quality customer service.

  11. United will never receive a dime from me again. Our flight to Tokyo on April 2nd was cancelled by the airline and they refused to issue a refund after several tries. They are now holding over $4800 from us for a year before we can submit a refund.
    I’ve request a chargeback from my credit card company so hopefully they can resolve this for us. I’ve also submitted a complaint with DoT.

  12. Same story with American Airlines for both of my cancelled trips. (First trip cancelled so i requested refund and figured a new method to get to where i wanted, then second trip cancelled. out $1600 ish)

    They have refused all refunds.

  13. I have a kinda similar situation. I booked a flight with Viva Aerobus last week, but I had to cancel it (corona….). In my confirmation I saw that they have a 24 hour cancellation policy (12.- Ticket Refund. You have the right to cancel your reservation and receive a full refund, when the request is made within 24 hours of the original purchase, but not within seven (7) days prior to the departure of the flight.). So, within 24 hours I managed to cancel my flight via the chat on their website (it was impossible to get someone on the phone). First they said that it was impossible, but when I copied pasted their policy number 12, things seemed possible all out of a sudden! They said that they were going to give me a 1971.78 MXN voucher that is valid until june 1st 2020 and the person on the chat disappeared right away. Later I got an email with a voucher of just 1207 MXN (thats about 30 USD less!). First of all, I don’t want a voucher that will expire before the whole corona misery will be over and second of all I just want my money back. It is my right! I asked again in the chat but they keep on saying that a full refund is a voucher and that the amount of money of the voucher is correct. WHY does this all have to be so complicated and overal WHY are they putting such misleading or even false policy and conditions on their website?

  14. I’m a travel agent and can’t get refunds for my clients whose flights have been cancelled by the airlines. WHAT RECOURSE DO I/THEY HAVE? If the client does a chargeback, the airline simply issues a debit memo that comes back to the Travel Agency/Travel Agent is forced to Pay!!!

  15. @Nancy

    It wont be as simple for an Airline to debit you this time around. However that said for example if a small airline like SAS hits me with a debit memo, I wont pay it (period). With AA, UA, DL , perhaps we would need to work out an agency credit for those debits if they indeed arise. We need to pick our champions and fight the others. I am not jeopardizing my relationship with the mighty 3. Let’s allow some time and support the 3.

  16. Chris that is horrible advise to tell clients to charge back because the airline will just issue a debit meme to the agency ! They can go through their insurances with credit but to tell them charge back no way !

  17. why is it terrible advice. theyarilines who dint refund are committing fraud and violating DOT regs. chargeback is appropriate in such a case. they sold you a product which they did not deliver and refuse to refund

  18. United is refusing to provide refunds as of 3/28/2020. I expect consumers won’t forget this moment anytime soon, especially with a bailout. I am hoping this will get covered heavily.

  19. Previously, United told me they would not redeposit my points unless I paid $125. Yesterday I called to try again and now they have redeposited my points without a fee. They said their policy has changed (again).

  20. Had a mid-April flight SFO-JFK on AA (actually AAVacations) that we were not going to take, but waited for the inevitable schedule change. Came today at 10 hours. Called Vacations desk. After waiting for callback, no problem, full refund of the air portion. The car portion (was gonna be a throwaway anyway) has to be future credit. But this was J travel, so car is a small portion. No muss, no fuss. Quoted “10-14 business days” as usual.


  21. @brp

    The greatness and fairness of American Airlines. They have acted with integrity throughout this ongoing human tragedy.

  22. @Chris,

    Agreed. That’s why they continue to get my loyalty. I had read something above about AA denying a refund, but mine was very smooth. And they’ll get the money back from me in the future 🙂


  23. Hi fellow travelers, my wife and I booked United to fly to France (5 days from today). Of course the flight has been canceled, three separate calls and countless time lost on while on hold, but United will only offer a credit voucher if I choose to cancel. The card I used to book the flight (ironically a United Mileage Plus card) had travel cancelation protection, but you guessed it, it will not cover a cancelation due to a pandemic. So my options are to (A) take the voucher and ask for a refund in Dec or (B) dispute the charge on my CC as “service not rendered”. At this point, I am leaning toward B. My question to you fellow travelers are (1) if I dispute the charge and the CC company does not rule in my favor, would United still be obligated to give me the voucher (2) has anyone had success going the chargeback route, I’ve seen a lot of chatter but no one actually have success . Best to all!

  24. Just a follow-up to my early comment re: Air France. My April flight, booked with miles, was canceled, so I used the EU 261 claim form on the website to request a refund (even though the rest of the site said refunds were no longer given). In less than a week, I had my miles refunded, and the ~$200 in fees for each ticket back on my card. There was an alarming day before that when I received an email that said my canceled flight had been reinstated, which I thought maybe was some way of weaseling out of the refund, but actually it was a glitch, as when I logged in again, there was nothing associated with my confirmation number, and the miles were back. The money took a few more days to show up on my card.

  25. @Gary Chase travel portal (apparently whitelabel expedia?) insists that they need to charge me $200 per ticket (five tickets) for a CANCELLED singapore air flight that is no longer flying in order to get partial money back.

    They are insisting that this is the Singaporeair policy that says that “due to my non-refundable ticket” that the airline will charge $200 per ticket for changes or cancel.

    This in spite of DOT verbiage: “If your flight is cancelled and you choose to cancel your trip as a result, you are entitled to a refund for the unused transportation – even for non-refundable tickets. You are also entitled to a refund for any bag fee that you paid, and any extras you may have purchased, such as a seat assignment.”

  26. Hello fellow travelers, following up to my own post from Mar 30,… called United today Apr 2, approximately 24 hour before my “canceled” flight was scheduled to depart, and United made an “exception” and issued a refund for my trip. Two prior calls (well ahead of the 72 hours preferred contact window) was told only travel voucher was being offered. Not sure if United is getting flak for their policy or if this is the script for those who call within the 72 hour window prior to their flight. Either way, happy to have the refund over the voucher.

    Good luck to all
    Rich S

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *