Why Waiting To Cancel Non-Refundable Travel Plans Improves Your Odds Of A Refund

I’m getting a lot of questions about airline tickets especially, but also about prepaid hotels. Readers want to know why airlines aren’t being more flexible with customers who do not want to travel at this point.

Your credit card’s coverage isn’t going to be helpful for most trips right now. Everything except ‘cancel for any reason’ travel insurance isn’t either. Generally speaking unless a state of emergency is declared where you’re traveling you aren’t going to be able to cancel fee-free. Most trips that are being cancelled now are being cancelled for your comfort or because of your best judgment and not because they are impossible. As a result coronavirus cancellations are not in most cases force majeure events.

That may change which is why you shouldn’t cancel too early. You may not want to travel to Rome right now, but there are still flights operating to Rome and it isn’t under quarantine the way Milan and surrounding area is.

There’s little benefit to cancelling a trip now that you aren’t going to take versus waiting until much closer to scheduled departure to do it, and there’s an upside to waiting.

  • Your airline may cancel the flight or route, in which case you’ll be entitled to a refund.

  • Your airline may reduce its schedule, and change the time you’re flying. Right now everyone but United will give refunds under this circumstance. United will at least give you travel credit without a change fee, to be used within 15 months of original ticket purchase.

  • If it becomes impossible, or contrary to government recommendations, to travel to a particular area then you’ll probably be able to cancel even prepaid, non-refundable hotel bookings – or, if not, standard travel insurance or credit card insurance may apply.

The point is that facts on the ground are changing. If those facts don’t allow you to cancel with a refund today, wait to cancel. Don’t do it immediately for travel that’s planned in the future. You may be able to get a refund later that you cannot today.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Gary – assuming i can complete checkin online, what is latest i can cancel a ticket? up until actual time of departure? becomes confusing when airlines do not update departure time, so it has passed, but plane is still at gate. worries me that airline will say “you were too late” when in fact you were successfully waiting for a large delay to occur. any advice for this game of chicken?

  2. As a public health measure, the airlines need to make all tickets changeable/refundable without fee.

    The problem is that due to the policy of the airlines, people who shouldn’t fly will be flying. E.G., a person flies from SFO to LHR on UA on a Basic Economy fare. The day before the flight back, the person starts running a fever. The person checks with the airline – the person is told if she does not take the flight as scheduled, her ticket will have no value. A one-way ticket back to SFO is about $3,000.

    Result is the person can’t afford or doesn’t want to pay $3,000 to get home, and takes the flight despite the fever.

    The argument that the person shouldn’t have bought the BE ticket dos not really make sense here – all of the other passengers on the plane are put at risk, they don’t deserve to get coronavirus because someone bought a non-nonrefundable non-changeable ticket.

  3. What about cruises given the state department’s guideline that “U.S. citizens, especially with underlying conditions, should not travel by cruise ship.”

    Seems like cruise operators should be processing cancellations for future credit at least.

  4. Gary, award business to BCN and MCS and Costa cruise to Italy and France, not going after State Department recommendation not to be on a cruise or a long flight for older Americans ( 66 & 72 for us) and waiting to hear cancellation policies for both. Expect Delta miles to be placed back in the a/c. By the way, availability on DL JFK-BCN in October 26k miles main cabin.

  5. I have a trip to Paris in August that I am not sure about yet and there was a >2 hour schedule change on the first leg. Can I hold off on contacting AA until later regarding accepting the change or cancelling? I’m assuming they put me on the earlier flight, which only shows 2 seats occupied, probably mine. Also, if using a flight award, will cancelling waive the $175 for redeposit of miles?

  6. I’m very frustrated with Holland America. I’m supposed to take a (chartered) cruise with them next week and they are refusing to give refunds or reschedule the cruise. I’m still hoping for something but so far their position is “come cruise.”

  7. @ Gary — I find it interesting that act if United can just change it’s refund policy after the fact. As far as I am concerned, I am still entitled to a refund for a 2-hour schedule change on a United ticket purchased before yesterday. If they won’t honor their own policy, my credit card will honor it for them.

  8. @ Gary — “I find it interesting that act” should be “I find it interesting that YOU act”.

  9. Regarding travel and cruises. We live in Seattle and have cruise scheduled in June to Iceland. So far, Alaska Airlines has policies regarding change and cancel of flights is pretty fair.
    We will probably cancel this cruise. Too bad, as I was able to get F Award travel both ways for this trip( with great seats).
    Will get miles back.
    MSC cruise line announced new policy this morning…cruises before Aug 1, 2020 can cancel and get Future Cruise Credit good through next year. I think most cruise lines will follow suit. No Refunds but FCC is OK with us. Everything is still in flux…..waiting until you see a policy you like is good advice.

  10. What if Washington was to declare the Corona Virus as a Terrorist? Would insurance have to pay up?

  11. Waiting to cancel my saver flight from SEA->KIX via Seoul on Asiana with United points. Asiana suspended both legs through March 28, but my trip isn’t until May. Tried twice to get United to open up saver tickets SEA-SFO-KIX with no luck. At least that would remove half of the uncertainty of unnecessarily flying through S. Korea.

    Who knows though, by May, Seattle might be in lock down or Japan might lock down before the Olympics in an abundance of caution. It’s a real bummer since we’ve been really looking forward to this trip for 6 months, but I guess cancellation is better than quarantine or worse.

  12. Since you published this entry, Rome is now on lockdown, thus proving your point…

    I do find it very frustrating that airlines refuse to be proactive on flight changes (as opposed to refunds) particularly when you can see what will happen. The exception seems to be for major winter storms and hurricanes. But not much else.

  13. Not sure if this is a correction or just my bad luck. United did cancel a non-refundable international trip for me without charging a fee, but it has to be used a year from its purchase date. Yes….purchase date. For me, I purchased this in October 2019 and cancelled last night, so I literally have 7 months to use it. I wish I got the 15 months you referenced!

  14. “You may not want to travel to Rome right now, but there are still flights operating to Rome and it isn’t under quarantine the way Milan and surrounding area is.”

    Ooops, this didn’t age so well, now did it?

  15. Viking Cruises has instituted a cancel for any reason policy up until 24 hours before flight or cruise embarkation. Future cruise credit good for 2 years!

  16. In July 2019 I booked a roundtrip United award ticket to Madrid for May 2020. I doubt the trip will happen, but I’m waiting until late April to cancel. I’d like to get my money and my miles refunded, but I suspect United will force me to rebook the trip within 15 months of original purchase, and that would mean September 2020 at the latest.

  17. I had a trip booked to Tokyo and Doha originally planned to take during this week of March but cancelled due to the current situation. First leg was an award ticket using Alaska miles on JAL to Tokyo. Called Alaska last week and the agent didn’t even flinch on the cancellation. She immediately waived the redeposit fee and had the miles back in my account within an hour of cancelling. Alaska has great customer service!

    The second leg was a bit more work. Going from NRT-DOH-DFW on Qatar Airways using AAdvantage miles, I called AA last week to cancel and immediately told it would be $125 plus $25 on the second pax to redeposit miles and cancel. I decided to wait a few days to see if the policies would change and sure enough Qatar changed their policies to waive all cancellation fees regardless of ticket type. So I called AA back explained the situation again, they wouldn’t budge but then escalated it to a supervisor who put me on hold for about 15 mins and finally relented and waived the redeposit fee on my award flight.

    So sometimes a little patience and HUCA can work to your favor. Even the agents don’t always know or understand all the changing policies of the airline.

  18. #BritishAir isn’t waiving any penalties yet. (Even for elite status. Even though LHR baggage handler tested positive for Covid-19. Even if you’re destination is Italy). Yesterday, BA announced their “Book with Confidence” program where by you can change travel without a penalty that’s purchased between 3 March & 31 March. This program doesn’t help if you already have your booking…. 🙁 It’s not for customer care purposes but rather for new revenue only.

  19. I booked a pre-paid hotel stay at the Hotel Nikko in Dusseldorf for the end of apr. but my r/t ticket from MSP-AMS is not going due to the Coronavirus, I bought the hotel thru Agoda.com, sent them a message and also the hotel but they said I cannot get a voucher or refund, I charged it on AX is there anything else I can do, a hotel credit works for me!

  20. Thanks for the post. I was about to cancel my trip to Barcelona planned for June, but maybe I shall wait, at least until April, or May maybe?

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