When I booked a flight to New Orleans back in January for the French Quarter Festival in April, I couldn’t have imagined what was about to happen. With the onset of the COVID-19 virus, the festival was canceled. New Orleans was one of the last places I wanted to be.

I was able to quickly get a refund for my “non-refundable” hotel reservations (thank you Marriott), but getting a refund for my plane tickets was not as easy. When I checked my airline’s website, all they were offering was travel credit. With a little patience though, I found a way to get a full refund!

Here’s what you need to do to get a refund for your “non-refundable” plane tickets during COVID-19:


1. Don’t accept flight credit or vouchers

If you go to your airline’s website, you probably won’t find a way to get a refund for your plane tickets. Most of the airline websites only give you the option, at best, for flight credit for a rescheduled or even canceled flight. Do NOT take them up on this offer if you are looking for a refund. It’s unlikely you’ll get your money later if you accept flight credit now.

2. Find your airline’s Contract of Carriage

Instead, go to your airline’s website and find the link to their Contract of Carriage. You can usually find it amongst the tiny links at the bottom of the website. Here are a few examples:

Delta website's Contract of Carriage link in the footer
Where to find the Contract of Carriage at the bottom of Delta’s website
United’s link to their Contract of Carriage at the bottom of their website

3. Find the section about changes in flight schedules and refunds

Once you’ve found the Contract of Carriage, search for the section that has to do with flight changes and cancellations. Usually, they’ll have a clause that says you’re entitled to a refund if your flight time was changed by more than a specified time. For Delta, that period of time is 90 minutes, for example. Make note of this clause!

4. Wait for your flight to be rescheduled or canceled

The airlines are cutting flights left and right due to COVID-19. As of this writing, the number of flights in the U.S. has been cut by over two-thirds (UPDATE: as of mid-April, flights have been cut 95%!). So, it’s likely that your flight will be re-scheduled at the very least, or even canceled in many cases.

If your flight is canceled, you have a right to a full refund according to federal regulations. No need to consult the Contract.

If your flight is re-scheduled, see if the times have changed by more than the threshold for a refund mentioned in the Contract of Carriage. If so, you’re entitled to a refund! Same if your flight was direct and changed to one with a connection.

5. Call your airline to request a refund per the Contract

Once your flight has been changed by more than the amount specified in the Contract, or if it has been canceled outright, that is the time to call your airline!

When I did this, I was expecting to have to make a big argument and spend hours on the phone. To my surprise, the airline employee on the other end was pleasant and efficient, and had no problem giving me the refund, because my flight was delayed by more than the amount mentioned in the Contract of Carriage.

He said it would take up to 7 working days to get my refund. My credit card account was credited in three days! I was amazed and relieved!!


If This Doesn’t Work

If the airline cancels or significantly changes your itinerary, you are legally entitled to a refund according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. From what I’ve seen online, the largest U.S. airlines are honoring this with few problems (Delta and Alaska are great). But, I’ve heard of folks having trouble with smaller budget airlines and some foreign airlines.

According to Scott’s Cheap Flights on Twitter (an excellent resource to follow), here is what you can do if your airline refuses to give you a refund when you call.

  1. Hang up and try calling again. Someone else at the airline might be more amenable.
  2. File a complaint with the Department of Transportation. This might seem futile but they can actually help you get results. They will forward your complaint to the airline and ask them to respond!
  3. Try to dispute the charge with your credit card company.

See the full thread here.

One thing to remember

I think it’s important to remember that these delayed and canceled flights are not the airlines’ fault. They’re actually losing a lot of money. If you do get your money back, please remember that the next time your flight is delayed or your luggage is lost. Cut the airline some slack because they refunded your money during this tragedy.

Did this work for you? Please comment below! – Brian

Featured image photo by JC Gellidon on Unsplash