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 »

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  1. That is what Royal Air Maroc did when they cancelled my intra-Africa flight from Egypt to Morocco. They gave me a voucher good for 1 year. What use is that to me?? I won’t be able to use that within a year. They cancelled my flight and rescheduled it for the next day, which at this point does not matter as Morocco has closed their borders.

  2. I have a non-refundable hotel reservation at the H10 Cubik Barcelona next week. The hotel is of course shut down but also refusing to refund, instead offering me the ability to rebook within the next year.

    For a multitude of reasons I’d rather have the refund. But I absolutely will take it up with Chase—disputes and not insurance.

    I get that hotels like airlines want and need to hold onto cash, but that’s not the consumer’s job.

  3. In life, there is the theory and the practice. Offering vouchers by some is nothing new, nor is the evasion of refunds, even before this crisis. It’s a game that Airlines are well versed in and with online communication it becomes easier still to look consumer friendly whilst really just delaying or avoiding their responsibilities. Then there is supply and demand and the notion of power, not to mention cross-border tranactions and legalities. In the current market Airlines have sniffed power. i.e Which Governement or Body has the time, staff or to discipline these acts of evasion? The answer is nobody except that is the Payment Processor who can charge back if they want to. Now is the time for all those Banks to show whose side they are on… as if!

  4. @ Gary — When I am put in this situation (which seems inevitable given that I have paid travel booked with AC, AS, BA, DL, KE, LX and QR), I will refuse a credit and will file for a chargeback. What kind of protection is granted under the circumstances by the travel insurance provided by credit cards?

  5. Do you know about Mexico? We cross over to fly from Tijuana to Mexico City. Is AeroMexico under this same refund policy? At this point they are onlyoffeeimg flight credit

  6. This article is a sad attempt of click bait and firing up consumers on something that is not the airlines fault, it’s not the consumers fault, it’s a natural disaster. Instead of writing a constructive piece of content that looks at both sides of the situation, you are taking advantage and using this as opportunity to build hate against the airlines.

    The reality is if the airlines give refunds, there will be no airlines after this is done. You won’t be able to travel, as all the airlines will go under. No one will be in business. If the airlines would be required to issue refunds to 100% of the sold tickets during this time, they will be in bankruptcy in day 1. The airline business is not a very profitable and a very leveraged business to be able to provide consumers affordable costs on travel.

    This article is ignorant and as someone who writes about airline travel all the time, should take both sides and look at what’s really going on.

    They are letting people reschedule at no cost for a future date. You will get what you paid for. No one is taking your money with no value.

  7. I bought a business class tkt to New Zealand on Fijian Air on June 20, 2019, through Amex Platinum Travel, for a flight scheduled to commence this weekend. When NZ announced a 14 day quarantine on arrival and my 2 week vacation was obviously impractical, I called Amex expecting a credit valid for 12 months from the date of the flight (or of my cancellation date which was similar), and is what Fijian is promising its direct customers on its website. The Amex agent worked hard to call and negotiate with Fijian, but I am told that all they would offer was a credit valid only for travel to be completed by Jun 20. So I am penalized for allowing them to hold my money for 9 months, by losing a future 8-9 months of potential validity. I do not think that Fijian flies anywhere I will even be allowed to fly within the next 4 months.
    Lessons learned – beware of using 3rd party agents as you will lose leverage with the airline in the case of irregularities, and do not book overly early, as you will lose present use of your money, and possible future value. Airlines will also be the losers in the long term if they break trust with their customers this way.

  8. A lot of corporate greed going on now a days. I’m in the live entertainment business and Ticketmaster use to give you a refund for postponed events without an issue. They changed their T&C’s a week ago and now are saying its up to the “event organizer” which they won’t tell you who it is. I’m also a MLB season ticket holder and I’m paid in full for this upcoming season. They’ve cancelled the first month and a half and no chance baseball season gets going in mid May and all I’m hearing from the team is they’re waiting to hear back from MLB.

  9. What an absurd excuse to use a weather cancellation as something the airline CAN control! I’m glad these screenshots exist.

  10. Air France is doing this too. (I tweeted at you with screenshots — I especially like the note that refunds are “no longer possible,” as if I was too slow to act.) My ticket with them was booked with miles, though. I’m trusting they’ll refund, without a fee — but do you have any other data points on award tickets?

  11. I’ve filed 5 DOT complaints against United this week because of their refusal to refund the ticket because they’ve cancelled flights. I encourage everyone else to do the same. This is criminal and they should be punished for this.

  12. What a pack of effing weasels. One of the ironies here is that if the airlines actually provided the refunds, they would have a better argument to beg the government for money since they had to refund so many customers as well as losing future business that hadn’t yet been booked. Past revenue lost as well as future.

  13. A lot of corporate greed going on now a days. I’m in the live entertainment business and Ticketmaster is doing the same. You use to be able to get a refund for a postponed event without an issue. They’ve changed their refund policy as of a week ago and no longer giving people refunds for postponed events. They’re saying its up to the “event organizer” and they won’t tell you who that is. I’m also a MLB season ticket holder. My team rep says they’re waiting to hear back from the league, but they have my payment in full. They’ve cancelled the first month and a half of the season and no chance the season begins in mid May.

  14. Travelguy must live on a different planet. It’s not the consumer’s job to be the airline’s line of credit. The airline does not get to change its own rules, rules that by virtue of being a contract of adhesion are almost unilaterally already in the airline’s favor, because it finds itself light on cash and demand. The customer was charged in advance for a service that was discontinued before the customer could receive the benefit. To not provide a refund is theft, pure and simple, and to withhold the refund even after the customer explicitly requesting the refund is fraudulent and criminal.

  15. I had the exact same response from jetBlue – over online (website) chat, Twitter, and phone. This is likely their new canned response.

  16. On a more general note, I’m tired of the consumer being the one left holding the bag in events like this when everyone plays the “not my problem” “out my control” game.

    Daycare closes? Still should pay us tuition so we can pay our teachers. Wasn’t in our control even though daycare owner keeps the profits. Paying daycare staff is my problem because these events “are out of their control.”
    Don’t have house cleaners come because it could jeopardize their health, but also get Twitter shamed into still paying them because they probably can’t afford to go without. Wasn’t in our control.
    Buy a bunch of restaurant gift cards to places that have a 50/50 chance of still existing in a month because this “wasn’t in their control.” But you should still be out the cash.
    Make over 100k but lose your job? Eat it because you’re not getting any stimulus, but you should still pay the resulting tax because it was out of everyone else’s control.
    Airline cancels flights due to no demand? Not their problem, wasn’t in their control but you doin’t get your money back either. Your problem.

    I’m pretty damn sick of everyone else getting to pass the buck on events “out of their control.” Guess what, Coronavirus isn’t in my control either so why are we always the ones that bear the brunt of it?

    This was a rant and it felt good. Sorry.

  17. I had a confirmed flight from Zurich to LAX with a stopover in Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. The flight was March 17, 2020. When I arrived at the airport I was denied boarding because Turkish Airlines wasn’t allowing anyone who had been in Switzerland to travel (even just in transit) to Turkey unless they were Turkish citizens. They stranded me and others and we were not given any compensation. We had to purchase other tickets to return home.

  18. I just had this happen with JetBlue as well! They cancelled my flight and moved me to a new one, and when I asked for a refund for the cancelled flight they said “Your flight actually wasn’t cancelled. We’ve had to make some changes due to current issues with travel advisories. If the new time doesn’t work for you, we can move you to another flight that works better on the same day…”

    I responded by showing that this wasn’t a schedule change, that they moved me to a new flight, including a new flight number. Luckily, they agreed to refund me after that. But yeah, it’s clear they are *desperately* trying to hold onto money here.

  19. Sam Chui reports that Turkish is offering refunds in miles at one cent a mile. Now that’s smart business.

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  21. Now that the Senate vote to proceed to a vote on the stimulus has failed, it’s an excellent time to email you legislators about the airlines.

    My airport has a much higher credit rating , as does my county and city.
    They get nothing in the CARES Act. The state of Nevada loses 37% of it’s revenue, and the cities are dependent on the sales tax for 85% of revenue. Where is their bailout. Nevada has 25% of it’s work force laid off.

    @GUWonder: So the salt system installed to soften my water is actually making it harder to remove the virus?

    @Travelguy: It is the airline’s fault. It’s not up to a customer to stabilize an airline’s finances. The will not go out of business.
    Perhaps you’re confusing what you perceive as justice, with what exists in law.
    Airlines still have enough stock value to issue a big secondary offering . They can pay you back.
    Perhaps enough complaints will get the credit card providers to require up-front deposits from the airlines.
    In the meantime , the market will tumble

  22. I had the same issue with JetBlue today. Cancelled my flight changed the time by 12 hours I asked for a refund they said only a credit. Said I could go a day before or after. That doesn’t work for me schedule wise. So now I’m forced to keep the credit and pay for flights on the original day/time I purchased them for.

  23. i cancelled ANA award bookings on 3/10 got the refunds on 3/20 .
    i also cancelled korean air award bookings on 3/01 and still waiting as of tonight. the korean air rep did say it may take up to 30 days. but so did the ANA rep.
    i hope the civil war between the heirs of korean air doesn’t hinder its capacity to meet financial obligations.

  24. It’s worse now. The latest update to the United app made no mention at all of a fee for canceling my ticket so I cancelled… don’t do that!!

    A few days ago United cancelled my nonstop award flight. Rebooked me on an unacceptable one with a stop and Twitter team refused to refund my miles unless I paid. I pointed out the DoT language and they still refused. Today I updated the app and it allowed me to cancel showing I would get miles and taxes back, no mention of a fee. I thought they’d fixed it as it had just errored out before. I agreed to cancel. It cancelled my flight, said there was a problem with my refund and to call. Upon calling they are now demanding $125 or I will not get my miles back. I explained everything I did and the supervisor said I agreed to this in the terms and conditions when I bought the ticket, I must pay money to get the miles back.

    They literally showed me getting a full refund, “errored” my refund and are now demanding cash payment. I have the freaking screenshots to prove it.

    I’m beyond pissed we are going to bail out an airline blatantly disregarding DOT rules.

  25. Yup, United only offered me flight credit for a partner award flight. EU261 says otherwise, so I kindly hung up and sent a refund request online.

  26. Force majeure is the term used to excuse “performance” when, the parties agree, circumstances beyond control make performance impossible. I have not had to research the transportation case law on this issue, and how it might govern our purchased tickets. Any ViewFrom readers who have?

    BTW, we had two 1st Class Avios tickets BA to Venice. Yep, Venice. For April. So, BA has just cancelled. Very interested to see how they deal with this. Me, I would “redeposit” the customer’s avios in their account, refund the payments of thousands of dollars of “fees and taxes”.

    But, you know, I don’t run a business these days. I just get a paycheck. I may be joining the collective rant soon.

  27. I believe that solvent airlines need to provide cash refunds to travellers whose flights are cancelled due to the virus, but the folks spouting nonsense here about “corporate greed” are out of their minds. It ain’t greed to try to get your company to survive here. This is a once in a lifetime disaster. Wake up to reality.

  28. The airlines have consistently shown that they are not the friends of consumers, preferring to pick our pockets at every opportunity,

    Why would anyone think the airlines would act in any other way than their self interest?

    I feel for the front line people who work at the airlines, but have no sympathy for the airlines who’ve been gouging themselves on fees and penalty assessments. Let them rely on the goodwill that they’ve built over the last few years.

  29. To AA’s credit, I have had no issues getting refunds for cancelled flights from them during this situation.


  30. Add WestJet to those airlines refusing to issue refunds for canceled flights. It claims the Canadian Transportation Agency granted exemptions to the Air Passenger Protection Regulations to address the pandemic. The exemptions deal with compensation not refunds and in any case don’t override the DOT rules for flights from the US. Filed a chargeback & provided screenshots of the notice of cancellation.

  31. I’m hoping AMEX is solvent to deal with all these chargebacks given Gary reported 8% of charges are for airfare

  32. I think the main takeaway here is that most people reading this blog, myself included, haven’t lived through a true crisis. But when one happens, all the table-pounding in the world about “the law” and “the rules” and whatever, goes out the window. They have the cash, or don’t, and you as a consumer are not gonna come to their place and take it from them.

    When things really break down, manmade constructs go out the window – it gets back to first principles and the laws of nature – who’s holding the bigger stick? And all the smart rhetorical arguments and pointing to words on a page ain’t gonna do a thing.

  33. @chopsticks: And when a customer is impacted by this “once in a lifetime event” in some way, will the airline have sympathy for the customer? Nope.

    @CW: This isn’t a post-nuclear-war world or the zombie apocalypse. We still have contracts – the airline ticket was purchased under a contract – and a legal system to resolve contractual disputes. Obviously lawsuits take time and even more so with some courts shutting down temporarily. And if a court sides with the consumer in a lawsuit, that court order will indeed come and take the money from the airline.

    I don’t see in B6’s CoC where Force Majeure is an exception to providing a refund rather than a voucher. FM is cited in a couple of other circumstances but not that, as far as I can tell.

  34. Totally different experience with American, but we’ll see if this continues and I face issues…5 seats booked in Business on AA/BA in July to LHR and return from CDG to US. Called to get one leg moved to biz which wasn’t available on original ticketing, learned that the taxes went down. Asked to look at return tickets (separate tickets/record) changed to new routing, saved almost $3,000 in taxes on all tix and already received my refund of award ticket taxes from American. They are the ones that told me the taxes went down, I never would have known. American deserves high praise for how they treated me.

  35. British Airways: called BA Gold desk to rebook when UK finally started to take notice of C-19 and was told, NO changes to my ticket (for March 2020). Then I received an Email offer fm BA to request a Voucher. Submitted and was denied. (My husband, w/ the exact same exact ticket, applied and was accepted). Finally resolved by calling BA desk to move the flights to November w/out penalty and no collection for (big) difference in fare. Hard to believe it was all coming from the same airline. Consistency is lacking. (HCA)

  36. If I booked flight through (airfare) that has now been cancelled, do I deal with airfare and not the airline to get a refund? If airfare says no to a refund, then I should contact credit card company for a chargeback?

  37. This is why I’m against airline bailouts. The business was acting terrible even before the virus, now it’s gotten worse.

    I won’t forget when this clears up, whenever that day is.

  38. If your payment for hotel or flight has not yet been paid on your card, tell the cc company you wish to dispute it. Give the rationale, citing where possible. I have never seen a credit card company refuse to do this. Give yourself time to sort it out. I just did this for two of my trips that were canceled. No problem.

  39. When I called AA last night because of an equipment change (777 -> 321), I was told by the agent that she has never in all the years that she’s been working at AA has she ever received a request to cancel with a refund because of an equipment change. Then, she told me she couldn’t do it. As soon as I rattled off the section on cancellations and refunds in the AA tariffs, she laughed being impressed and said that she had to get a supervisor. Even the supervisor said that the system wouldn’t let her do it, but she would put in the refund manually. It’s obvious that AA doesn’t want to provide refunds now that they aren’t making any money. Too bad…maybe they will be nice again like the first agent as now they are desperate for our business. I hope this means that flight attendants will be friendlier and lose the attitude on future flights.

  40. So if our flight is cancelled, we aren’t automatically refunded, but have to request a refund? Is this the same for tickets purchased with points? (I have a BA flight purchased on Iberia with Avios and fuel surcharges, a VA flight with Virgin points and fuel surcharges, and an AA flight purchased with AA miles).
    How does one even know for sure the flight is cancelled? Mine still show up as future trips when I log in. But according to their news releases they have been canceled.

  41. I just noticed that my credit card payment was to KLM not as I thought. So now I should just be dealing with KLM? My purchase date was last July so the credit to be used by July is pretty worthless!

  42. @alan – I thought of Force Majeure also, but also haven’t investigated the Contract of Carriage. I would be surprised if there’s not a Force Majeure clause.

  43. I got a refund on an (pricey) April JetBlue-cancelled ticket today with very little push back. Maybe 20 minute wait for an agent, and 10 minutes on the phone.

  44. I wrote to my Senator, Dick Durbin, and I suggest everyone write to their Senators. These airlines should not be getting financial help with our tax dollars so they can turn around and screw the public. We need our Senators to stand up for their constituents.

  45. everyone should write to DOT and to their elected representatives in congress. . NO bailout to the airlines as they are purposefully violating DOT regulations and refusing to refund cancelled flights.
    they deserve to fail

  46. CW, I’ve lived through several “true crisis” situations. If there is one overriding lesson learned it is: It doesn’t have to be fair to be legal.

  47. @Dave P – force majeure effectively voids an agreement, relieving parties of obligations to perform. It doesn’t generally let a party both fail to perform and keep the other party’s money

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