Two More Airlines Breaking The Law By Refusing To Refund Customers For Cancelled Flights

I’ve written about airlines like JetBlue and United breaking the law by refusing customer refunds. Other airlines like SWISS and British Airways have used trickery to keep customers from being aware of their refund options when purchased flights no longer operate.

  • The European Union has relaxed passenger compensation requirements, but reaffirmed that a customer is entitled to a refund when their flight is cancelled.

  • U.S. Department of Transportation rules require a refund when an airline cancels a customer’s flight.

While airlines are lobbying to be allowed to keep customers’ money even when they don’t provide transportation (offering a voucher for future travel instead), that’s not the current law.

Nonetheless, two more airlines at least have added themselves to the list of those refusing to honor refunds for cancelled flights as a matter of official policy: Lufthansa and Kenya Airways.

Here’s the Lufthansa notice to travel agents:

Lufthansa Group airlines temporarily disable refund functionality

The refund functionality for Lufthansa Group airlines’ tickets has been temporarily disabled in all reservation systems as well as on the airlines’ websites and on Refunds requests already submitted will be processed at a later stage.

We are committed to supporting you in serving your customers. Additional details on how you can support your customers will be provided as soon as possible.

Last update:
23.03.2020 11:47 Hours CET

Kenya Airways is reportedly even refusing to provide refunds for fully refundable tickets. Why would anyone ever buy a refundable ticket again after this?

The COVID-19 pandemic is a clear force majeure event. Airlines are entitled to be relived of their obligation to provide transportation. Generally force majeure entails both parties effectively voiding a contract and being returned to their previous position. It doesn’t allow one party not to perform while still keeping the money.

As a purely academic exercise I’m certainly interested in hearing from legal experts among readers who are especially familiar with this area of law, to speak to whether there are analogues for what these airlines are trying to do.

Nonetheless, it’s in no way controlling in this situation. Based on EU and US regulations, flights on US or European airlines or itineraries flying from the US or Europe, are subject to refund based on flight cancellations. Period.

Airlines are in a very difficult spot. They have fixed costs, and incoming revenue drying up. Being desperate, however, does not excuse theft. And in the past two weeks the capital markets have remained open to airlines with American adding $1 billion in liquidity, United adding $2 billion, and Delta adding $2.6 billion. None have yet tapped their frequent flyer programs to raise cash.

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. You can add Austrian airline. Only credit for a future flight and need to give them new itinerary before June.
    I have their email if you’re interested.

  2. Qantas just did the same. I’ve searched for refund policy page (Refunds are listed but can’t find how) after page without success. Are there Oceania protections? Would it be a credit card dispute for non delivery of services ?

  3. @ Gary — Please keep a running list of the airlines to boycott after this is over next week. 😉

  4. I called Lufthansa on March 18 to request a refund for a cancelled flight and was assured by the call center agent that the refund would be processed. Fingers crossed the refund shows up on my credit card today or tomorrow. Lufthansa’s statement that they will issue refunds “at a later stage” is super vague and pretty much meaningless.

  5. @Eric – You darn right. And it’s really your only choice besides a DOT complaint. The problem with a chargeback/dispute is that credit card companies are only obligated to review charges within 60 days of when the statement was cut where the charge occurred. If you booked before that, they may not offer to do the dispute.

    With a complaint, the airlines have to respond within a reasonable time frame (whatever that means) so after enough DOT complaints, the agency may aim to get involved but given the more business-friendly administration combined with the position airlines do find themselves, they may be loathe to act now.

    In 2013, United was fined for delaying customer refunds –

  6. Not even worth pursuing with the airline beyond a single “no.”
    “No, but we can give you a travel credit.”
    “Thanks for your time; that’s an unacceptable outcome for me. To ensure I get my money returned for a service you did not perform, I’ve just initiated a chargeback dispute with American Express and here is the confirmation number of that dispute XXXYYYY.”
    Screenshot the chat, submit as additional information, done. Less time than it takes arguing with a rep and a supervisor.
    One bonus; if everyone does this, then the airline holdback will begin to increase. They’ll feel the pinch.

  7. I don’t think this is about the law…I’m presuming it’s about liquidity. If they don’t have the cash, they don’t have the cash. They’d rather kick the can down the road on customers especially given the presumption that some will abandon their efforts and there will be leakage.

  8. This is just another bargaining chip for requesting more bailout money. In the case of Lufthansa, they basically have a seat in the Bundestag. I’m pretty sure the German government is tacitly allowing them to avoid their obligations until bailout funding is secured.

    The EU is pro-consumer but also pro-job and pro-order– they would prefer to save jobs over doing what is right for consumers.

  9. Air France refused to refund my $6500 ticket and would only issue a voucher, which they said could be refunded in 12 months.

    As a Florida resident, I intend to utilize Florida’s civil theft statute which provides for treble damages. As part of this statute, you have to send a certified letter and give them 30 days to pay. Otherwise, you take them to court and they are also liable for court costs and attorney fees.

    Forget about the DOT and EU. By the time they “make” Air France give me a refund, it will be over 12 months. The airlines know this and this is a clear cash grab.

  10. What about tour companies like Air Transit
    We have been offered a voucher good for 24 months.

  11. And the airlines wonder why they are so hated?
    If it were to me any bailout money should be loans, not handouts AND until loans are fully repaid then no change fees, no baggage fees, no stock buybacks, no nothing.

  12. @Daniel, what you state about having only 60 days to dispute a charge with your credit card issuer does not apply in many cases of flight cancellations.

    From IATA’s own manual on chargebacks: “If the reason for chargeback was “Service not rendered”, the timeframe to raise such chargebacks is 4 months from the last date that the cardholder expected to receive the service.”

  13. If/when airlines start giving refunds, what does that do to our commissions claimed under our contracts? I haven’t seen/heard anything on that but expect to have them all recalled….

  14. Southwest sure isn’t giving any money back. They are very sorry and hiding behind some bs regulations.

  15. Air Canada can be added to the list of airlines refusing the option of refunding the ticket for cancelled flights.

    “We regret to inform you that [flight from US to Canada] has been cancelled due to the impacts of COVID-19, government travel advisories and/or health and safety concerns. The full value of what you paid will become a future travel credit valid for 24 months.”

  16. Qantas is only offering a voucher good for one year from when you booked the ticket. You can change once for free and pay the price difference.

  17. Add Qatar to this list. US to Vietnam flights for a tour cancelled all flights for week now, supposed to fly out this Sunday. Obviously tour was cancelled and tour company, Amawaterways was great in processing and refunding full amounts. Qatar on the other hand has been everything but offering assistance on their cancelled flights. Mine is a substantial amount for our two fares and not willing to risk for a voucher. Have repeatedly sent in Qatar forms and request for full refund without penalty, which they want to hit us for $2K penalty even though flight is cancelled. Spent 2 hours on ho.d the other day as I was finally able to get their NY office to ring after days of no call going through. Spent an hour with agent and told flat out “just a voucher as only option “. Pressed on with no voucher accepted by me, full refund only based on airline legal and their own tix contract T&C’s. No budge on their end. They have soon enough removed their online option for refund request so you cannot even get to that prion on your flight booking now. Now is not the time for airlines to abandon their customers. And to the comment that they don’t have cash, understanding it’s tough going for alll travel industry, but they do have cash. My cash for a service / flight unable to provide so all I want is my $. Already took to plan B and credit card company has request for charge back and refund info. They will give vendor 15 days to still make good then begin process. DOT claim and complaint filing is additional ammo if anyone needs to up it more. There are strict rules in place even for an international carrier if they fly into or from US. Hoping now that credit card division will be the solution because my faith in Qatar is completely gone. Good luck to all in navigating this mess with vendors who are pulling these things on their customers.

  18. Booked roundtrip tickets to Spain thru Expeida, according to Expedia agent after called 65 times and finally went through, “Iberia airline only refund credits for future flights that have to be travel by 3/31/2021 even the flight is cancelled”.

  19. People – disputing the charge on your credit card doesn’t guarantee you get your money back. The credit card companies aren’t charities with funds to reimburse cardholders. They simply act as a middleman with the vendor on disputed charges and obviously have more leverage. However if the vendor goes out of business (like Bookit), doesn’t have the cash (or the card company doesn’t have it in escrow) or the airline doesn’t agree that the refund is valid (under the circumstances maybe they have certain latitude) you WON’T get a credit.

    You can quote legal statutes or threaten to sue under state law like one person said (what a joke) but you WON’T be successful.

    A class action suit would only result in a bankruptcy filing where you get nothing or a settlement where the attorney gets paid and everyone else gets vouchers.

    Negotiate the beat deal you can and move on. Not fair but reality. BTW I have around $8000 in flights June-August that I may end up w vouchers instead of refunds but have to just bite the bullet. This is reality and you can ignore it but you can’t change it!!

  20. United cancel my Tokyo flight last night and refuse to give me my money back so we call Chase to dispute the charge. Also I am a 1k member and I paid a full price on the ticket(not discounted ticket). Did we did the right thing calling Chase?

  21. South African Airways can also be added to the list. They are saying no to refunds. Must book new trip by May 31 and travel by February 2021. Not even a full year to travel.

  22. I had a Delta US domestic flight cancelled this week, and was expecting a struggle with trying to get a full refund. Was happily surprised when i got through on the phone to an agent within about 5 minutes, and they agreed to refund ticket cost back to my credit card.

  23. I’m also impacted by Air Canada refusing to refund the return portion of my ticket. I also got the e-mail about the 24 month voucher which is pointless in my opinion – I won’t be able to book a one-way multi-segment longhaul ticket at the same cost. I haven’t “accepted” the voucher. Wonder if it is possible to just fly the same origin-destination at a later date instead of accepting the voucher.

  24. Has anyone filed a DOT complaint as of yet for the lack of refunds?

    This would normally show up on the Air Consumer Report generated each month.

  25. But honestly what do you rather have clarity that your flight is not going or to end up and land at the immigration where they will deny you the entry to the country?
    Of course flights get cancelled but its not really the airlines fault if they are not allowed to bring people from point a to point b, but if i read all these comments i honestly hope the airline will not cancel the flights and you end up at the immigration service, than you will crawl back and beg the airline to help you out and get pissed on them if they tell you thats your fault.
    Sure i understand it sucks i got a trip cancelled aswell but people in this comment section are beyond and rational thinking. Try to get the best deal out of it and thats it.

  26. @K.

    Just curious. Which airline do you work for? With a comment like yours you either work for an airline or have big shares of stock in one or more.

  27. K:
    I really did try to let your comment go, but it got the best of me. Assumptions are a dangerous thing mostly because they’re usually wrong. You made two lousy assumptions here. One is that you assume you’re smarter than those on this post, and the second is that you assume that folks here don’t know enough, especially in this state of flux of travel, to monitor their destination countries immigration status’ and travel alerts. These are people looking for intelligent information to try and protect their investments and travel from wrong airline business practices being used right now. I think many of these posting here are seasoned travelers. I have personally flown millions of miles over my career and I would not make statements or assumptions like yours on anyone here. So please either provide some useful info or delegate your ignorance to another social platform where it’s expected. With the state of flux in the airline industry. it’s certain that some carriers will not be flying when this all shakes out, or be in receivership, or protection. When you try to use your vouchers down the road and the airline isn’t honoring them or not around, get back to this group and let us know how it all worked out for you. A major reason to not accept vouchers. All you have to do is remember Eastern, PanAm, Braniff, Midway, etc. Different reasons but same end result with flyers holding the bag.

  28. I faced a dilemma last week – pay $3000 extra to move a flight forward 3 days with the risk of not being able to return or having flight cancelled, or paying the equivalent of $5000 for an immediate return flight and then be faced with having to collect $3500 from TAP.

    I chose to pay to fly early and, sitting at home, am so happy to be here and not facing trying to get my money back from TAP which appears to be impossible. I also never fly where TAP flies so a coupon would be useless.

    Strange times. Get home. Stay safe.

  29. Virgin is giving credit refunds even if flying is stopped to where you are going

  30. Airline vouchers for cancelled flights would be a lot more palatable if the6 issued them for 18 or more month validity. Not a difficult task for the airlines and fair for those who reserved and PAID six months out for a specific time such as Springtime in Paris. Although I’ve heard that it’s always a good time to go to Paris.

  31. @NR 100% about Delta.
    I went over 10 tickets on the phone, all refunded to original payment. There’s a good reason they are the best airline in the U.S.

  32. I have friends here on a visa waiver from Europe. They came on an AA ticket riding British. Their return is on a nonstop AA to Prague that doubtfully will run in May. Only AA/BA flights are flying now through London. Does AA have to reroute them without extra fare? Only on same day? Fortunately not-time-stressed !

  33. American Airlines wont give a refund- just an option to rebook and fly out by year’s end. That is, if you can get hold of someone online to make it happen. Which is as likely as getting a refund.

  34. Our flight on EasyJet from Milan to Palermo is cancelled. They do not offer refund, but only rebooking. We have no reason to believe we will ever be in Europe again to use the credit. The tour operator refunded the land tour.

  35. Please add Singapore Airlines and Emirates to your list of airlines not offering refunds.

  36. Please add Hawaiian Airlines to the list, no refunds using rule 24 – “Force Majeure Event”. ( They are waiving cancellation fees (typically $200 per ticket) but travel must be completed by December 31, 2020.
    Very vague information on their website. Hopefully once the Quarantine goes into effect at midnight tonight they’ll be a better directive.

  37. I just had this happen to me. Cancelled several flights with United because of virus cancellations, including to/from New Zealand in April. For the Auckland flights, they no longer fly the route (SFO-AKL), had cancelled my flights, but refused to refund my miles (800,000). They offered me a credit, valid for 15 months, or they would refund the miles if I paid them $200 in fees. New Zealand is effectively closed to US travelers right now, and yet United would not give a refund unless it collected fees. I am Premier Platinum on United with over 2.5 million UA lifetime miles. It’s outrageous in the midst of this crisis for United to treat its best fliers this way.

  38. And add Aerolineas Argentina (the other AA). I have two one way refundable (hah) Buenos Aires to Cordoba for 27 March. We bailed on the trip, got out of Montevideo on the 16th thru Miami to Boston thanks to great phone agents with American Airlines (the real AA); I started calling the day the wall went up for Europe flights and within 24 hours had our escape tickets out of Montevideo. Aerolineas Argentina cancelled to AEP to COR flight but there is no method on their Web site to ask for a refund. The cancellation message said to call their US number – right. That just rings. I have a whole $195 at stake, so I am not getting too worked up, I realized when I booked it that the likelihood of ever getting a refund, should I need one, was slim at best. I guess I will stamp my foot and stick out my tongue.

    Glad I got home when I did, and the whole crew at AA were great, from the phone agents to the crew that deadheaded down to Montevideo to get us home. Thanks, folks, I appreciated it.

  39. I am also Platinum on United. When I cancelled my (longhaul) flights on miles, they refunded the miles & taxes and charged me $50 per passenger as a cancellation fee. That left a bad taste.

  40. Add Icelandair to the list of crooks, they are refusing even travel vouchers.
    Their excuse? “well your flight is still operational”

  41. Etihad is also refusing refunds and offering credit only (plus 5,000 points for members) that goes till April 2021. They USED TO offer refunds up until 22 March.

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