We’re in the midst of a global pandemic, which means we have a responsibility to protect vulnerable parties. That includes limiting – and cancelling – travel to keep the virus from spreading as quickly.
This isn’t another post telling you to wash your hands and stop touching your face (but… yeah, wash them), nor is it advice on what to do about your trip. We are neither doctors nor infectious disease experts.
We are, however, experts in getting money back from airlines during emergencies.
This is a guide to help you recoup some of the sunk cost from a trip you’ve paid for if you’ve already decided to cancel. We’ll outline current policies from airlines, link to their pages with the most up-to-date information, and give a few tips for getting credits more quickly.
Some general tips from getting your money back from an airline:
- Remember that there are humans on the other line — overworked, stressed humans who have spent all day talking to frustrated people. When I cancelled a trip through American, the person I spoke to told me they were required to take many days of overtime. Be kind and understanding and you’ll get a lot further. Plus, it’s just common decency.
- Don’t expect a cash refund. You’ll probably get a voucher to use for future travel. Ask for that and you’re more likely to be accommodated quickly.
- Read the airline’s qualifications for a refund carefully, and only call if you already qualify. Take it from experience — during an emergency, an airline is not going to make an exception for you. Especially right now. If you don’t qualify, check your airline’s rules daily to see if they’ve changed.
- Have your confirmation number for your ticket ready. The representative will need it to make changes.
Airlines in the USA
Here are the guidelines by airline, as of March 13th, 2020, with links to their full list of refund qualifications. As this situation changes hourly, we recommend reading the airline’s page before taking action, not just this guide.
American will waive cancellation fees and issue travel vouchers for domestic flights if you:
- Bought your ticket on or before March 1, 2020
- Are scheduled to travel March 1 – April 30, 2020
They’ll waive cancellation fees and issue travel vouchers for European flights (note: see this page for eligible countries) if you:
- Bought your ticket on or before March 11, 2020
- Are scheduled to travel March 11 – May 31, 2020
Other things to note:
- You HAVE to call customer service; you can’t make the change online
- They have a callback service so that you don’t have to stay on hold, so make sure your phone is not on silent or visible so that you can answer it
- Your credit will probably have to be used within a year, though the representative will confirm
- You’ll have to call them again when you want to use that credit in the future. You’ll be given a reference number for that purpose.
Delta is requesting that you do NOT contact them unless you’re scheduled to travel in the next 72 hours. They claim, “if you are traveling in the next couple of days and meet the coronavirus waiver conditions, please know that we can still process a refund or reservation change for an un-flown ticket if you can’t get through before your scheduled departure.”
In layman’s terms: if you don’t get through to their customer service team for a refund before your scheduled flight takes off, you can still use that money to book a new flight.
If your trip is in March or April, Delta is waiving change fees. They say you can “change your ticket, one time, and the change fee will be waived.” You have to pick a new date when you change your trip — you can’t just get a credit to use anytime in the future.
You can change your flight online from “My Trips” with your confirmation number. No need to call Delta.
If your trip is in May, they won’t currently waive change fees, but ask that you keep an eye on this page for updates.
If you book a new flight between now and March 30, Delta will also waive change fees per the process above.
United’s qualifications are different for China, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Italy. In some cases, they’ll waive change fees AND cover the difference in fare. Reference this page if you need to change a flight to or from one of those regions.
For any other region (including the USA). United will waive change fees if you:
- Booked a trip on or before March 2, 2020
- And are scheduled to travel between March 9, 2020 and April 30, 2020.
If you book a new flight between March 3 and March 31, United will waive change fees for 12 months per the process above.
Unlike most airlines, Southwest claims to never charge customers change or cancellation fees as long as you cancel 10 minutes before your scheduled departure. You can use those funds up to a year from your original purchase date.
You can cancel your trip online — no need to call Southwest.
Jetblue is waiving change and cancellation fees if you:
- Are traveling March 10, 2020 through April 30, 2020
- Booked your trip on or before March 10, 2020.
Alaska is waiving change and cancellation fees if you:
- Booked your trip on or before February 26th, 2020
- Are scheduled to travel through April 30th, 2020.
Your ticket must be cancelled or changed prior to the scheduled departure. You can change your trip online, and Alaska is requesting that you do not call them unless your trip is departing within 72 hours.
Alaska is also waiving change and cancellation fees for new tickets purchased between February 27th and March 31st, 2020. More info here.
Spirit hasn’t published which tickets qualify for cancellation. They say, “Spirit Guests who must alter their travel plans due to COVID-19 are eligible to receive a reservation credit for the full value of their reservation.”
You can fill out this form to request a refund in the form of a travel credit, which is good for 6 months.
Frontier is waiving change fees if:
- You booked your ticket prior to March 10, 2020
- And your original travel dates are between March 10 and April 30, 2020.
You can only make a one-time change to your reservation, and you have to do so by calling Frontier (you can’t change it online). The number to call is 801-401-9000.
If you want to cancel your flight instead of changing it, you can fill out this form. You’ll get a voucher that you can use within 90 days.
If you booked a ticket from March 10 through March 31, 2020, you can also change your flight for free per the process above.