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Refunds

Travel plans sometimes change and you may want a refund for a purchased airline ticket or other related services such as baggage or seat fees.  This page contains useful information to determine whether you are entitled to a refund for air fare or services related to a scheduled flight. 

Am I Entitled to a Refund?

When the airline is at fault:

Passengers are often entitled to a refund of the ticket price and associated fees when the airline is at fault.

  • Cancelled Flight – A passenger is entitled to a refund if the airline cancelled a flight, regardless of the reason, and the passenger chooses not to be rebooked on a new flight on that airline.
     
  • Schedule Change/Significant Delay - A passenger is entitled to a refund if the airline made a significant schedule change and/or significantly delays a flight and the passenger chooses not to travel.
     
    • In some situations, you may be entitled to a refund, including a refund for all optional fees associated with the purchase of your ticket (such as baggage fees, seat upgrades, etc.).
       
    • DOT has not specifically defined “significant delay.”  Whether you are entitled to a refund depends on many factors – including the length of the delay, the length of the flight, and your particular circumstances.  DOT determines whether you are entitled to a refund following a significant delay on a case-by-case basis. 
       
  • Class of Service Change - A passenger is entitled to a refund if the passenger was involuntarily moved to a lower class of service.  For example, if the passenger purchased a first-class ticket and was downgraded to economy class due to an aircraft swap, the passenger is owed the difference in fares.
     
  • Optional Service Fees - A passenger is entitled to a refund if the passenger paid a fee for an optional service (for example, in-flight Wi-Fi or a seat assignment), but was unable to use the optional service due to a flight cancellation, delay, schedule change, or a situation where the passenger was involuntarily denied boarding.
     
    • Note:  In situations where you have purchased an optional service (for example, WiFi or in-flight entertainment) and that amenity either does not work or is not available on the flight, you may need to notify the airline of the problem to receive a refund.
       
  • Baggage Fees - A passenger is entitled to a refund if the passenger paid a baggage fee and his or her baggage has been declared lost by the airline.
     
    • Airlines may have different policies to determine when a bag is officially lost.  Most airlines will declare a bag lost between five and fourteen days after the flight, but this can vary from one airline to another. 
       
    • If an airline unreasonably refuses to consider a bag lost after it has been missing for an unreasonable period of time, the airline could be subject to enforcement action by the DOT.
       
    • Learn more about lost, delayed, or damaged baggage.

When the airline is not at fault:

Passengers are entitled to refunds only in limited circumstances if the airline is not at fault.

  • Fully refundable tickets - Passengers who purchase fully refundable tickets are generally entitled to a refund when they do not use the purchased ticket to complete their travel. 
     
  • Non-refundable tickets - Passengers who purchase non-refundable tickets are generally not entitled to a refund unless the airline makes a promise to provide a refund.    
     
  • Personal Issue - Passengers who purchase nonrefundable tickets, but are unable to travel for a personal reason, such as being sick or late to the airport, are not entitled to a refund.
     
  • Unsatisfactory Service - A passenger who willingly takes a flight but has a bad experience with the airline or the flight is not entitled to a refund.
     
  • Incidental Expenses – A passenger who incurs incidental expenses such as a rental car, hotel room, or meal due to a significantly delayed or cancelled flight is not entitled to a refund for the incidental expenses. 

Note: While airlines are not required to issue a refund for non-refundable tickets, they are free to do so or they may issue a credit or travel voucher good for future use on the airline.  Airlines must also comply with the promises they make, and in some instances, they may be willing to offer passengers accommodations or other benefits that they are not required to provide.  Contact the airline directly to inquire about additional accommodations or benefits. 

Cancelling a Ticket Reservation or Purchase within 24 hours of Booking

  • For airline tickets that are purchased at least seven days before a flight’s scheduled departure date and time, airlines are required to either:
     
    • allow passengers to cancel their reservation and receive a full refund without a penalty for 24 hours, or
       
    • allow passengers to reserve a ticket (place it on hold) at the quoted price without paying for the ticket for 24 hours
       
  • Airlines are not required to offer both a hold and a refund option.  Check your airline’s policy before purchasing a ticket.  However, if an airline accepts a reservation without payment, it must allow the consumer to cancel the reservation within 24 hours without penalty.  If an airline requires payment with a reservation, it must allow the consumer to cancel the payment and reservation within 24 hours and receive a full refund.
     
  • Although airlines must hold a reservation for 24 hours or provide a refund to passengers at their request within 24 hours of making a reservation, airlines are not required to make changes to a ticket free of charge (for example - change your ticket to a different date or correct a misspelled name on the reservation).
     
    • In some cases, instead of paying for a change fee and a potential difference between the original ticket price and the current ticket price, it may be cheaper to request a refund for the ticket and rebook.  However, please keep in mind that ticket prices can change quickly.

What if I purchased or reserved my ticket through a travel agent or online travel agency?

  • The refund/reservation requirement for airlines does not apply to tickets booked through online travel agencies, travel agents, or other third-party agents.  However, these agents are free to apply the same or similar procedures to provide equivalent or similar customer service.

  • If you purchased your ticket through an online travel agency (or other agent), you should contact the travel agent directly to obtain a refund before contacting the airline.

How quickly is an airline, travel agent, or online travel agency required to process a refund?

  • If a passenger is owed a refund, an airline, travel agent, or online travel agency must process it within seven business days if the passenger paid by credit card, and 20 business days if the passenger paid by cash or check.

Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2018
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