Canceled your flight? Here’s how to get a refund amid coronavirus outbreak

3 min read

As the spread of COVID-19 continues to heighten in many areas of the world, refraining from non-essential travel is of utmost importance. And with a number of countries shutting borders and states and cities implementing lockdowns, you might have no choice but to cancel your flights.

If you booked flights prior to the U.S. outbreak, you may be wondering what the best way is to receive a reimbursement for canceling. Here’s a breakdown of three scenarios in which you might have bought your plane tickets — using a debit or credit card, credit card rewards or airline miles — with explanations of how to get a refund.

Scenario 1: You booked your flight with a debit or credit card

You’ll have the best luck reaching out to the airline — rather than your issuer — to cancel and collect reimbursement for a flight booked with your credit card.

“Airlines are offering very generous refund and fee waiver policies related to COVID-19,” says Ted Rossman, industry analyst at Bankrate. For nonrefundable tickets, “Customers should know that they probably won’t get the actual money back — instead, the airline will hold it and apply it towards future travel.”

Delta Air Lines, for example, is offering eCredit equal to the value of your original ticket for future use with the airline.

“Look for an expiration date on those funds,” Rossman says. “And know that you might have to pay a fare difference if your eventual ticket cost is higher than what you already paid. Still, this is a very good deal.”

It’s important to note that for refundable tickets (such as tickets purchased with trip cancellation coverage), you’ll be refunded in U.S. dollars, rather than flight credits.

Trip cancellation and interruption benefits

Typically, travel credit cards offer trip cancellation protection, but it’s not likely to cover broader coronavirus concerns.

“Credit card trip cancellation protection typically doesn’t allow you to cancel just because you’re afraid you might get sick,” Rossman says.

For example, American Express’s trip cancellation and interruption FAQs sheet for COVID-19 states, “Fear of traveling due to sickness, epidemic, or pandemic (such as the Coronavirus) is not a Covered Loss under your American Express Trip Cancellation and Interruption Insurance benefit.”

You may, though, be able to submit a claim if you fall under one of the traditionally covered situations, like accidental injury or harsh weather. American Express’ list of approved situations conveniently includes “quarantine imposed by a physician for health reasons.”

Trip cancellation policies for an issuer can vary based on the exact card you own, so make sure to sign in to your online account for benefits information on your specific card.

Scenario 2: You booked your flight with credit card rewards

It’s not ideal, but whether or not your credit card rewards are refunded can vary based on your issuer’s guidelines and the COVID-19 cancellation policy of your airline.

Chase, for example, is offering the option to submit a trip cancellation request for flights booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards® and trips paid for using rewards earned by an eligible Chase card. But to do so, you must first confirm that your airline has waived trip cancellation fees and that your departure is 8 to 14 days away from the date of submission.

“If you booked with points or miles, you should get those back (not a dollar equivalent, but the actual points or miles),” Rossman says — and most likely with a waived redepositing fee.

If you transferred your rewards to book a flight

In many instances, you cannot undo a rewards transfer from your credit card to an airline partner. If you booked your flight in this manner, reach out to your airline, rather than your issuer, for reimbursement information.

Scenario 3: You booked your flight with airline miles

If you used airline miles to purchase a flight, go directly to the airline you booked with for flight cancellation information.

Many U.S. airlines are offering reimbursements, no-fee cancellations or credit-earning opportunities for flights canceled due to COVID-19. You can read official statements and other information from the following U.S. airlines, below:

Is your flight a few months down the road? Consider this

If your flight is scheduled for early summer or later on in the year, there’s no reason to cancel or pay a change fee, says Rossman.

“A lot of people are confused about what to do with trips in May, June, etc.,” Rossman says. “I recommend waiting for now. We can hope things will improve quickly, and maybe you’ll be able to travel as planned after all. But if not, then the fee waivers will likely be extended, or maybe the flight itself will be canceled.”