SAN ANTONIO – Tiara O’Kelly boarded her flight home Tuesday after her vacation plans took a detour.
“We originally were going to go to New Orleans, but they had a spike in COVID(-19), so we switched to San Antonio,” she said.
O’Kelly said she gladly chose her change in travel plans. But complaints about refunds are taking off when it comes to frustrated flyers whose flights were canceled.
Since March, when the pandemic upended air travel, complaints and inquiries to the Department of Transportation have soared to nearly 25,000.
When it comes to canceled flights, ticket buyers have rights.
“By law, if an airline cancels a flight you have a reservation on, you are owed a cash refund -- period,” said Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights.
You’re even due a cash refund if the airline makes a significant schedule change, such as a two-hour delay. What defines a significant change is spelled out in each airline’s contract of carriage.
But as some airlines offer travel credit by default, Keyes says travelers may be tricked into accepting the vouchers instead of requesting cash.
“What will happen many times is an airline will cancel a flight and send an email and say, ‘Sorry, we canceled your flight. We’ve already processed your travel credit. Click here to accept it,'” Keyes said.
According to Keyes, even if you purchased through a third-party site, you are probably due a cash refund.
If your airline is stonewalling or reluctant to refund your money, Keyes suggests three strategies:
- First, call back repeatedly. Not all agents will give the same response.
- Second, file a complaint with the Department of Transportation.
- Third, dispute the charges with your credit card company.
Keyes said you should not be too quick to cancel if you have an upcoming flight but don’t intend to take it.
“Think of it as a game of chicken,” he said. “Whichever party blinks first is the one who loses.”
If you cancel, you are due the travel credit. But should the airline eventually cancel it, you can get your money back.
In Washington, lawmakers have introduced legislation that would require airlines to offer cash refunds if the consumer cancels because they are heeding public health recommendations. The proposal would also require airlines to make cash refund offers clear and visible.