What to Know About Airline Refunds

Policies differ, but patience and knowledge of your rights as a consumer can help you get a refund or credit for a canceled flight

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With airlines canceling thousands of flights this weekend, frustrated travelers are trying to figure out how to get their money back or rebook it for another trip.

It's all a part of the uptick in complaints airlines have seen in the age of COVID-19. The omicron variant and staffing issues have also made it harder to go on a trip without having a problem.

According to a report by United States Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy group, more than 100,000 complaints were filed against airlines from April 2020 through August 2021, more than double pre-pandemic levels. Of those, more than 80% of those complaints involved refunds.

If you get sick with covid or are exposed, most airlines should honor you with a flight credit if you decide to cancel.

Keep in mind if you bought a basic economy ticket and not a refundable ticket, prepare for the most restrictions. Basic economy tickets should warn you of this prior to booking.

Unfortunately, airlines only owe you a refund if they are the ones to cancel the flight.

Here are links to the refund policy for each major U.S. airline:

American Airlines

Either way, experts say it’s important to know what your rights are.

If an airline cancels or significantly changes your flight, you are absolutely entitled to a full cash refund, according to Department of Transportation requirements.

You will have to follow up with the airline directly, either in-person at a kiosk, through the app, or over the phone. If you call, make sure to call the airline multiple times until it’s resolved because you may get a different answer from a different agent.

Wait times are longer by phone but the quickest way to get through to someone is often times Twitter direct message.

If all else fails, you might even have to take your issue even further up the chain.

"If the airline is dragging their heels or not taking seriously your refund request filing a complaint with the department of transportation really kind of shows them that you mean business,” said Scott Keyes, founder of travel site Scott’s Cheap Flights.

To file a complaint, visit the DOT website for Aviation consumer protection.

There's a link where you fill out the complaint form online.

If you resort to this option, save it for last. DOT requires that airlines acknowledge consumer complaints within 30 days after receiving them.

Looking ahead, the DOT also said it plans to widen protections for consumers who are unable to travel due to government restrictions during the pandemic that current regulations don't address.

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