Canceled your flight? A guide to refunds and elite status during coronavirus

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Refraining from non-essential travel is of utmost importance as coronavirus cases once again spike in areas across the United States.

During this halt in travel, you may wonder how to receive a reimbursement for canceling a flight or what happens to your hard-earned airline elite status.

Whether you purchased a flight with airline miles, a debit or credit card or rewards, there are options for you to cancel in exchange for reimbursement.

Scenario 1: 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, including any elite status extensions.

Delta Air Lines

Previously booked flights: If you wish to cancel a flight, you can do so, fee-free, for flights booked as of April 17, 2020, for travel through September 30, 2020, and receive a flight eCredit for use through September 30, 2022.

Going forward: Flights purchased through June 30, 2020, won’t be subject to any change or cancellation fees for up to one year from the original purchase date.

Flight credit expiration: Existing eCredits earned in March through September 20, 2020, are now valid through September 30, 2022.

Award redeposit fees: Redeposit fees are now waived for Delta awards flights booked by April 17, 2020, for travel through September 30, 2020, and for all other awards flights booked by June 30, 2020 (normally $150 USD).

Additional information can be found on Delta’s coronavirus travel updates page.

Delta Medallion® Program

Delta Medallion Members’ 2020 status is extended through 2021. This means whichever status you earned with Delta this year will extend through January 31, 2022, or the end of Delta’s Medallion year. Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) will also extend into 2021.

You can expect an extension of six months to a year for all other Delta programs and credit card-specific benefits. More detailed information can be found here.

“We are continuously monitoring how coronavirus impacts travel and will make additional adjustments to support our customers’ needs as the pandemic evolves,” said Sandeep Dube, senior vice president, customer engagement and loyalty, in a statement.

American Airlines

Previously booked flights: You’ll receive a waived ticket change fee when rebooking American Airlines flights scheduled through September 30, 2020. You can also cancel flights for no additional charge and then rebook with a flight credit for travel dates through December 31, 2021. You may, though, owe the difference in ticket prices, if any.

Going forward: There are no change or cancellation fees for flights bought through June 30, 2020, for travel dates through September 30, 2020. As with previously booked flights, you may owe the difference in ticket prices.

Flight credit expiration: Flight credits are valid for travel completed through December 31, 2021.

Award redeposit fees: Award flights redeemed on or after July 1, 2020, can get their miles redeposited for no fee (keep in mind there are a few requirements). Your safest bet is making changes to your travel plans at least 60 days in advance.

More information on American Airlines’ policies can be found here.

AAdvantage® program

American Airlines released a statement this past spring confirming miles scheduled to expire between April 2, 2020, and June 30, 2020, will receive an extension.

“Miles that were set to expire during this time will now expire on July 1, if there is no additional activity in your account during that time period,” said American Airlines in a statement. “You may have previously received an email advising that your miles would expire soon. We’re taking action to protect the rewards you’ve earned in this time of uncertainty and reduced travel opportunities.”

As of now, this policy hasn’t changed. Additionally, 2020 elite status is now extended through January 31, 2022, including those with status’ set to expire January 31, 2021.

The airline also announced lowered elite qualification requirements for 2020, which you can view here.

United Airlines

Previously booked flights: You have until June 30, 2020, to cancel or make changes to flights scheduled through the end of 2020 for no fee.

If you cancel your flight, you’ll receive a future flight credit valid for 12 months or an electronic travel certificate, valid for 24 months from the issue date (the choice is up to you).

The main difference between United’s future flight credits and electronic travel certificates is that electronic travel certificates can only be used for United and United Express® travel, whereas flight credits can be used for United, United Express® and flights through United’s partner airlines.

One exception to note is flight credits received for tickets purchased between May 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020, are valid for 24 months.

Going forward: As with previously booked flights, you have until June 30, 2020, to change or cancel your flight for no fee. The same future flight credit and electronic travel certificate requirements apply.

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

Award redeposit fees: Award flights set to depart through June 30, 2020, will receive waived award redeposit fees when canceled. For award flights set to depart through December 31, 2020, you can cancel up to 30 days before departure and receive a waived redeposit fee.

For more information, you read United’s guide to canceling and rebooking flights.

United MileagePlus® program

MileagePlus® members will receive an extension of their elite status through the end of the 2021 program year (January 31, 2022).

United also stated its lowering Premier qualification thresholds for 2021 status levels by 50 percent and offering membership and subscription benefits for an additional six months. You can read more details, here.

Southwest Airlines

For quite some time, Southwest Airlines has allowed customers to cancel or change flights without a fee. Yet, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the airline has made a few modifications to its policy.

“If your plans change or if you decide to postpone your travel, the funds used to pay for your flight can be applied to future travel as long as you cancel your reservation at least 10 minutes prior to the scheduled departure,” said Ryan Green, SVP and chief marketing officer, in a statement.

Previously booked flights: Upon cancellation, you’ll receive travel funds (similar to a flight credit) valid through September 7, 2022.

Going forward: If you cancel a flight between now and September 7, 2020, you’ll receive travel funds for use through September 7, 2020.

Flight credit expiration: Travel funds that have already expired or are set to expire by September 7, 2020, have a new expiration date of September 7, 2022. Rapid Rewards members receive an additional option: Travel funds set to expire by September 7, 2020, can be converted into Rapid Rewards points.

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 coronavirus travel information page.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® program

A-List and A-List Preferred Members whose status expires December 31, 2020, will receive an automatic extension of their status through December 31, 2021, including members with elite statuses earned through a Southwest promotion. If you’re currently enrolled in a Southwest promotion to earn elite status and have yet to reach the flight requirements, you’ll have until October 30, 2020, to do so.

No matter what your status is, Southwest is depositing the following into Rapid Rewards Member’s accounts:

  • 15,000 tier qualifying points (TQPs)
  • 10 qualifying one-way flight segments (toward elite status)
  • 25,000 Companion Pass qualifying points (CPQPs)
  • 25 qualifying one-way flight segments (toward Companion Pass qualification)

Additionally, those who earned a Companion Pass through December 31, 2020, will get an automatic extension through June 30, 2021. Learn more, here.

Alaska Airlines

Previously booked flights: Flights purchases on or before February 26, 2020, for travel through December 31, 2020, can be canceled for no fee and in exchange for a credit certificate or a direct deposit of funds into your account. These flights can also be changed without a fee, excluding Saver fares. Your new ticket’s departure date must be within a year of the original ticket’s dates.

Going forward: Flights purchased now through June 30, 2020, for travel through February 27, 2020, to May 31, 2021, follow the same policies as previously booked flights. New travel dates must be within a year of the original ticket’s dates, as detailed above.

Flight credit expiration: Credit certificates are valid for 12 months from the date issued, and up to four credits can be applied to a single travel reservation.

Award redeposit fees: Awards tickets purchased on or before February 26, 2020, for travel through December 31, 2020, won’t incur a fee for canceling or changing the flight. The same goes for awards tickets purchased between February 27, 2020, and June 30, 2020, for travel through May 31, 2021.

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

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan™

Whichever Mileage Plan status you currently hold with Alaska Airlines will be extended through December 31, 2021.

In regard to companion certificates, those earned with an Alaska Airlines credit card and set to expire in 2020 are now extended until December 31, 2020, for travel up until November 26, 2021. You can read more, here.

JetBlue

Previously booked flights: JetBlue flights booked before June 30, 2020, can be changed or canceled for no fee. If you purchased the flight between February 27, 2020, and June 30, 2020, and cancel it, you’ll receive a flight credit valid for 24 months from the date issued.

Going forward: Similar to previously booked flights, flights booked through June 30, 2020, can be changed or canceled for no fee and will receive a Travel Bank Credit (usable for 24 months).

Flight credit expiration: Travel Bank Credits issued by June 30, 2020, expire 24 months from the date issued. Travel Bank Credits already set to expire by June 30, 2020, will now expire on December 31, 2020.

Award redeposit fees: There’s no redeposit fee for canceled awards flights.

You can read more information on JetBlue’s travel alerts page.

TrueBlue Mosaic

Mosaic elite status has been extended for those who currently hold it through December 31, 2021, including those with statuses set to expire on December 31, 2020.

Additionally, JetBlue has cut qualifications for earning  2020 elite status in half. Now, you can gain 2020 TrueBlue Mosaic status by earning either:

  • 7,500 Mosaic qualifying base flight points
  • 6,000 Mosaic qualifying base flight points and 15 segments.

These changes are in addition to the third option of spending $50,000 on your JetBlue Plus Card.

Didn’t see your airline?

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

Scenario 2: 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, as noted above, 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 likely won’t 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’ 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 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, 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. 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 says — and most likely with a waived redepositing fee.

If you transferred your credit card 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.

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

People are wondering if it is safe to fly in the current times. If your flight is scheduled for fall or later on in the year, consider waiting to make changes to your travel, says Rossman (but keep in mind the timeline you have to do so).

“I recommend waiting for now,” Rossman says. “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.”

This story was originally published March 20, 2020. As Bankrate continues to monitor airline responses to coronavirus, this page is updated.