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Did you buy a nonrefundable ticket and now have to cancel your flight? Not sure if you can or how to get a refund on a nonrefundable ticket?
Most airlines have a strict no refund policy on nonrefundable tickets.
But there are times when you can get your money back. Or change your flight to something that works better for you.
It’s never fun when something comes up and you have to cancel your vacation or bucket list dream trip. Whether you planned it months ago or made last minute plans, it’s never fun to realize that the trip you’ve been dreaming of isn’t going to happen.
Then to find out that that you’ll lose all that money you spent on your flights.
A nightmare situation for sure.
But it doesn’t have to be. Here’s everything you need to know about getting a refund on a nonrefundable airline ticket.
This post was originally published on September 28, 2018, and updated on January 31, 2020.
In March I did a mileage run to Beijing. While at the San Diego airport I got a text alert.
My flight was delayed for four hours.
I’d have more time at the Qantas First Lounge, American Airlines Flagship Lounge, or the Qantas Business Class Lounge.
Or I could go to the American Airlines Admirals Club lounge because I get free lounge access from a credit card. If you don’t have a credit card with lounge access, here are a few tricks on how to get into every airport lounge.
Four hours wining and dining before a long flight wouldn’t have been too hard.
But I would miss having dinner with a friend in Beijing. And I was looking forward to seeing her.
The mileage run wasn’t crucial because I still had 9 months to requalify for American Airlines Executive Platinum status.
When I got the text notifying me of the delay I knew I could cancel and get a refund of my non-refundable flight.
Because the delay was longer than two hours. You can request a refund for delays longer than two hours.
Flight delays greater than two hours aren’t the only way to get your money back. Here are all the ways you can get a refund on a nonrefundable ticket.
Pro-tip: The refund process is easier if you book directly with the airlines. Either online, calling the reservation center, or at the airport.
It can take more effort when you book through a travel agency or use points. Read: Why you shouldn’t book your ticket using ThankYou points.
How to Get a Refund on a Nonrefundable Airline Ticket
1. Book on Airlines That Don’t Charge Change Fees
You can get a refund on a nonrefundable airline ticket when you book on airlines that don’t charge change fees or have flexible policies.
If I had booked on Southwest, Alaska, Allegiant, and Frontier, I could have easily gotten a refund. Because their refund policies are more flexible than the other airlines.
But my nonrefundable ticket was on American Airlines and I used points. Points booked through the Citi ThankYou travel agency. At 6 am on a Saturday, they were closed. One reason you should think twice before you book a ticket using points.
You can cancel a Southwest flight within 10 minutes before departure. When you cancel your ticket, you get a travel credit for the cost of the flight. You have one year to use the travel credit.
If you cancel or change your Alaska Airlines flight you can get a full refund less a $125 cancellation fee. Alaska waives the fee for MVP Gold and MVP75K members. The exception is Saver Fare tickets. Only the 24 hour DOT rule (see below) applies to Saver Fares.
Allegiant lets you change your ticket up to one hour before your flight if you bought Trip Flex insurance.
On Frontier, you can cancel or change your flight 60 days or more before your flight without paying fees.
Pro-tip: You have to cancel your flight to get a refund. If you don’t show up at the airport, considered a no show, you won’t get a refund.
2. Cancel Within 24 Hours
You can get a full refund on your airline ticket if you cancel within 24 hours after purchase.
This Department of Transportation (DOT) rule applies to all airlines selling tickets in the US, including international airlines. This means if your flight departs from the United States, you can cancel a nonrefundable ticket within 24 hours of purchase on any airline.
Some airlines like American Airlines, have a slightly different policy.
American allows you to hold a ticket for 24 hours without payment. This is their way to comply with the DOT rule. If you buy your ticket from American Airlines and cancel in 24 hours, you will be charged a change/cancellation fee.
Pro-tip: The 24-hour rule doesn’t apply to tickets made within seven days of travel.
3. Embrace Flight Delays
Flight delays are another way you can get your money back on an airline ticket.
No one wants to get to their destination later than they planned but flight delays make canceling nonrefundable airline tickets easy. Depending on how long of a delay, you can get a refund. So embrace those notifications that your flight has been delayed.
When buying your ticket remember to tick the box to get notifications about your flight. Turn on notifications in the airline app.
Check with the airline you’re flying for their flight delay policy.
If you’re flying on Delta, you can get a refund for delays greater than 90 minutes.
For flight delays longer than two hours American Airlines will refund the value of your ticket and fees such as baggage and/or seat assignment.
On United Airlines, you can get a refund for flight delays of two hours or more.
You can get trip delay reimbursement coverage of up to $500 per ticket from your Chase Sapphire Reserve card for delays longer than 6 hours or overnight delays.
Pro-tip: If you’ve used part of your ticket, you’ll get a refund on the unused portion.
4. Watch for a Schedule Change
If there’s been a schedule change in your flight, you can get a complete refund on a nonrefundable airline ticket.
A schedule change can include departure or arrival time change, flight changing from nonstop to one with connections, a long layover, or a different type of airplane.
In the past, you could cancel if your flight if the change was only a few minutes but rules have tightened up. Check with your specific airline for their policy on schedule changes.
You can get a refund for schedule changes of 30 minutes or more on United.
American Airlines requires a schedule change of 61 minutes or more to get a full refund.
Delta Airlines gives refunds on changes greater than 90 minutes
Pro-tip: This is one reason why you should set flight alerts for your flight.
5. Canceled Flight
If the airline cancels your flight you’re entitled to a refund on your nonrefundable ticket.
Fees paid for bags, seat upgrades, and or seat assignments are also eligible for a refund.
Pro-tip: Most airlines will rebook you on another flight. It’s your choice if you want to accept the new flight. You can choose not to fly and get a refund.
At the airport and your flight was canceled? Here’s the secret travel hack on how to another flight.
Pro-tip: Your Chase Sapphire Reserve card reimburses you up to $10,000 per person for canceled trips.
6. Jury Duty
Got a summons for jury duty? You could get your money back.
This may be the one time you’ll wish you got assigned to jury duty!
United allows you to get a refund if you get assigned to jury duty. You have to send in a copy of your jury duty summons.
If you or a family member suffers an illness that restricts you from traveling, you can get a refund on your United Airlines tickets.
You’ll have to submit a doctor’s letter stating that travel wasn’t recommended.
The other airlines don’t have an illness refund policy. But that shouldn’t stop you from politely asking for a refund due to the circumstances.
Being a member of their frequent flyer program, especially if you have elite status can help.
If your situation is newsworthy or headline-making, that could help your case. But you shouldn’t cause a scene or be disruptive.
Pro-tip: Reaching out on social media can make a difference.
If that doesn’t work and you paid for your flight with your Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can get reimbursed for your costs up to $10,000.
8. Military Orders
You can get a refund on nonrefundable tickets if your military orders change.
Family members and/or traveling companions of military members might be able to get their tickets refunded. Be sure to ask nicely.
You’re entitled to a full refund if you die.
Yeah, that last part is funny. Like you’re really going to try to get a refund from beyond.
Your family can go after a refund for you. 🙂
Pro-tip: Some airlines like American Airlines will refund nonrefundable tickets if your travel companion dies.
When you buy a nonrefundable ticket you can’t get your money back if you have to cancel. But there are some circumstances where you can get a refund on a nonrefundable ticket:
1. Book on airlines with flexible policies to get a refund on nonrefundable tickets
2. Cancel within 24 hours to get an airline ticket refund per DOT rules
3. Flight delays of 90 minutes or longer let you change or cancel your flight without fees
4. Watch for a schedule change. If the new time or date doesn’t work for you, you can cancel your flight and get your money back.
5. When the airline cancels your flight you can get a full refund.
6. If you get called in for jury duty, some airlines let you cancel your flight.
7. An illness is another way to get your money back if you bought a nonrefundable ticket.
8. Should your military orders change you can cancel your flight for a full refund.
9. Death. If you die, your family can get a full refund on a nonrefundable ticket on your behalf.
You can get a full refund on your ticket if you cancel within 24 hours, there’s a schedule change or flight delay of at least 61 minutes, get summoned for jury duty, receive military orders, get sick, or die.
These circumstances apply to cancellations vs. changes. Changing your ticket is a different process and usually involves paying a fare difference if the cost of your ticket has gone up.
You can also get a refund on baggage fees, pet fees, priority access, and preferred seats.
Not getting any help when you call to get a refund? Consider hanging up and calling again (HUCA). It doesn’t hurt to call back. You’re likely a different representation, hopefully, one who is more willing to help. If not, consider asking for a supervisor.
Some credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, offer travel insurance protection benefits. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can get reimbursed up to $10,000 for flight delays, canceled flights, and illness.
So did I cancel my Beijing ticket because of the four-hour flight delay? No, because I booked my ticket through the Citi Thank You portal which is considered a travel agency.
I wasn’t 100% confident they’d issue me a refund vs a travel credit. That’s why you shouldn’t book your ticket using ThankYou points. So I stuck it out and flew the flight.
When was the last time you got a refund on a nonrefundable ticket?
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Traveling Well For Less has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Traveling Well For Less and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.
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