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Guide to refunds and elite status during coronavirus

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family of three walking through airport with luggage
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The pandemic brought most types of travel to a screeching halt throughout 2020, which created a whirlwind of complications for people who paid for travel with cash or points. In some cases, consumers were able to get their money back or a credit for a future booking. Meanwhile, travelers who booked with points or miles have largely been refunded their rewards for use on a future trip.

That said, many of the major travel disruptions caused by COVID-19 are now behind us, especially as more and more countries have eased restrictions for entry. For example, many countries have largely eliminated testing requirements for tourists, and more and more destinations are opening their doors to travelers from more regions around the world.

Either way, you may want to know how refunds and elite status rules have changed throughout the pandemic, and if any special rules are still in place. Whether you purchased a flight with airline miles, a debit or credit card or rewards, there are still options for you to cancel in exchange for reimbursement. Further, many loyalty programs have made it easier to reach elite status requirements for the 2022 travel year.

Curious how refunds and elite status requirements look right now? Read on for an overview of the latest information from the major frequent flyer programs, as well as tips for getting a refund based on how you paid for your flight.

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

If you used a debit card or airline miles to purchase a flight, you should 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 that need to be canceled for any reason. You can read official statements and other information from the following U.S. airlines, below, including any elite status extensions.

Delta Air Lines

Previously booked flights: As of Jan. 12, 2022, Main Cabin and above flights originating from North America do not have any change fees. The same is true for flights between North America, the Caribbean and Mexico. All tickets expiring in 2022 can also be rebooked through Dec. 31, 2023, for travel now through 2024.

Going forward: Delta Air Lines has permanently eliminated change fees for all flights originating from North America, provided they are booked in the Main Cabin or a premium cabin. Basic economy fares do not qualify for this flexible policy.

Flight credit expiration: Existing eCredits are valid through their current expiration dates.

Award redeposit fees: Redeposit fees are now waived for Delta awards flights originating in the United States, with the exception of Basic Economy tickets purchased after April 30, 2021.

Additional information can be found on Delta’s Travel Planning Center page.

Delta Medallion Program

The Delta Medallion program automatically extended 2021 status through Jan. 31, 2023. Plus, all 2021 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) rolled over into 2022.

Throughout 2022, Delta flyers can continue earning MQMs toward 2023 Delta Medallion status requirements.

American Airlines

Previously booked flights: American Airlines has eliminated all change fees for all domestic, short-haul international and select long-haul international flights that are in the Main Cabin or higher. Note that Basic Economy fares bought on or after April 1, 2021, are non-refundable and non-changeable.

Going forward: As with previously booked flights, there will be no more change fees for all domestic, short-haul international and select long-haul international flights that are in the Main Cabin or higher. Basic Economy fares booked now are non-refundable and non-changeable, as well.

Flight credit expiration: Flight credits with expiration dates in 2022 and 2023 are still valid.

Award redeposit fees: Those who booked an award flight with American Airlines miles can have their miles redeposited for no fee.

More information on American Airlines’ policies can be found on its travel updates page.

AAdvantage program

Since March 1, 2022, the American AAdvantage program has a completely reimagined loyalty scheme that lets users earn Loyalty Points instead of mileage points based on miles or segments flown or dollars spent. Generally speaking, this program lets members earn Loyalty Points whenever they fly, use an American AAdvantage credit card for purchases or earn miles with AAdvantage partners.

Within the bounds of this program, one eligible AAdvantage mile equals one Loyalty Point. With that in mind, customers can earn AAdvantage elite status by racking up 30,000 to 200,000 Loyalty Points within any 12-month period that begins on March 1 of each year. Specific thresholds for elite status are now set at the following:

  • AAdvantage Gold: 30,000 Loyalty Points
  • AAdvantage Platinum: 75,000 Loyalty Points
  • AAdvantage Platinum Pro: 125,000 Loyalty Points
  • AAdvantage Executive Platinum: 200,000 Loyalty Points

United Airlines

Previously booked flights: For flights already booked on United, there won’t be any change fees due to travel waivers United already has in place.

Going forward: United has permanently dropped change fees for most Economy and premium cabin tickets for flights within the U.S., or between the U.S. and Mexico or the Caribbean. Change fees are also waived going forward on international flights that originate from the United States.

Flight credit expiration: In most cases, future flight credits expire within 12 months, and electronic travel certificates expire within 24 months.

Award redeposit fees: United is waiving change fees for award travel provided the ticket is in Economy or a premium cabin, and your flight is within the U.S. or departs from the U.S.

For more information, you can read United’s COVID-19 updates page.

United MileagePlus program

United lowered its requirements for 2022 to reach elite status in 2023. While earning elite status requires members to fly at least four flight segments on United or United Express, United MileagePlus members can reach elite status with the following thresholds this year:

  • Premier Silver: 8 PQF and 3,000 PQP or 3,500 PQP
  • Premier Gold: 16 PQF and 6,000 PQP or 7,000 PQP
  • Premier Platinum: 24 PQF and 9,000 PQP or 10,000 PQP
  • Premier 1K: 36 PQF and 13,500 PQP or 15,000 PQP

Southwest Airlines

For quite some time, Southwest Airlines has allowed customers to cancel or change flights without a fee. Note that Wanna Get Away fares are non-refundable, yet you can cancel your flight and get a credit for a future trip. Meanwhile, Anytime and Business Select fares are reusable or refundable.

Previously booked flights: Flights booked with a credit card or gift card can qualify for a travel fund that is valid for 12 months from the date you originally booked the ticket.

Going forward: Travel funds come with an expiration date of 12 months from the date you booked the ticket.

Flight credit expiration: Current expiration dates on any travel funds you have are accurate.

Award redeposit fees: Points will be redeposited into your account for no fee, no matter if you cancel the flight or don’t show up at all.

Additional information can be found on Southwest’s official COVID-19 Travel Information page.

Southwest Rapid Rewards program

Southwest Rapid Rewards members who want to earn A-List and A-List Preferred status will have to meet the following thresholds in 2022 to enjoy status in 2023:

  • A-List status: 25,000 one-way flights or 35,000 tier qualifying points
  • A-List Preferred status: 50,000 one-way flights or 70,000 tier qualifying points

Members can also earn the Southwest Companion Pass with 100,000 one-way flights or 125,000 tier qualifying points.

Alaska Airlines

Previously booked flights: Main Cabin and First Class flights currently booked with the airline can be changed with no change fees. However, a fare difference may apply.

Going forward: As of May 1, 2021, Alaska permanently eliminated all change fees. Saver Fares cannot be changed.

Flight credit expiration: Flight credits or certificates are valid for 12 months from the issue date of your original ticket, or 30 days from the date of exchange or cancellation (whichever is greater).

Award redeposit fees: As long as you notify the airline before departure that you need to cancel, you can see your miles redeposited in your account.

Links to additional coronavirus travel information from Alaska Airlines can be found here.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

The Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan does not currently have any special promotions to help new members earn elite status faster. However, those who held elite status as of Jan. 1, 2021, but didn’t requalify by the end of the year, saw their status extended through April 30, 2022. This benefit is giving members more time to enjoy their status and qualify for the next year.

To keep status through Dec. 31, 2022, members must earn the following base flight miles between January 1 and April 30, 2022:

  • MVP members: 5,000 miles
  • MVP Gold members: 10,000 miles
  • MVP Gold 75K members: 20,000 miles

JetBlue

Previously booked flights: All flights currently booked have no change or cancellation fees. The exception is Blue Basic fares.

Going forward: Blue, Blue Plus and Mint fares booked from this point forward have no change or cancellation fees and qualify for a same-day change to their flight for $75 (with no need to pay the fare difference).

Blue Basic fares can be changed or canceled for a $100 fee for travel within the U.S., Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. The fee goes up to $200 for all other destinations and routes.

Flight credit expiration: Though Travel Bank Credits with an original expiration date of Feb. 1, 2020, through Sept. 9, 2022, had the potential to be extended through Sept. 30, 2022, customers can also call 1-800-538-2583 to request an extension. You can read more about extensions here.

Award redeposit fees: There are no redeposit fees for canceled awards flights.

Find more coronavirus-related information on JetBlue’s travel alerts page.

TrueBlue Mosaic

Mosaic elite status can be achieved by members who earn 15,000 Mosaic-Qualifying points within a calendar year or earn 12,000 points and complete 30 segments.

Also, remember that you can earn JetBlue TrueBlue Mosaic status just by spending $50,000 on your JetBlue Plus Card or JetBlue Business Card.

Didn’t see your airline?

Here are a few additional U.S. airlines that have commented on ticket changes, cancellations or elite status requirements:

Scenario 2: You booked your flight with a credit card

If you booked your flight with a credit card, you’ll still have the best luck reaching out to the airline instead of your card issuer. In many cases, you’ll receive a voucher for future travel instead of the money put back on your card.

The airline-specific sections above show that plenty of airlines have waived all change fees for most flights that depart from the U.S. If you accept a travel credit for future travel, however, you’ll want to make sure you keep track of any limitations on your voucher.

“Look for an expiration date on those funds,” said Ted Rossman, industry analyst at Bankrate. “… 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

The best travel credit cards offer trip cancellation protection, but it likely won’t cover broader coronavirus concerns you might have (and particularly if you are just reluctant to travel).

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

For example, American Express’ trip cancellation and interruption FAQs sheet for COVID-19 states that a destination receiving a “do not travel” designation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would not automatically trigger coverage, nor would a trip being canceled due to a reported surge in COVID cases.

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 3: 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, says that customers can cancel flights booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards and trips paid for using rewards earned by an eligible Chase credit card. Once you do, they will work on your behalf to help with any refunds or credits you’re eligible for. You must first confirm that your airline has waived trip cancellation fees.

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

In most instances, you cannot undo a rewards transfer from your credit card loyalty program to an airline partner. This means that, if you’re able to get your miles reinstated to your account after you cancel a flight, you cannot move these miles from your frequent flyer account back to the flexible rewards account you originally transferred from.

The bottom line

Refund guidelines and elite status rules can change, so make sure to stay on top of new announcements from your favorite frequent flyer program. In the meantime, you can benefit from the fact that many major airlines are waiving all change fees on future travel for the time being.

Also, keep in mind that now is an excellent time to start racking up airline miles for your next trip, particularly since most airlines allow you to cancel an award flight and get your miles back without a fee. Check out Bankrate’s list of the best airline credit cards to learn more about sign-up bonuses and earning rates.

Written by
Holly D. Johnson
Author, Award-Winning Writer
Holly Johnson writes expert content on personal finance, credit cards, loyalty and insurance topics. In addition to writing for Bankrate and CreditCards.com, Johnson does ongoing work for clients that include CNN, Forbes Advisor, LendingTree, Time Magazine and more.
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