Guide to refunds and elite status during coronavirus

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The pandemic has brought most of the travel industry to a screeching halt at a time when many of us were not prepared. After all, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc for most Americans who had spring break plans in 2020, as well as a summer vacation on the books.

With all of this in mind, 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 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 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 March 31, 2021, and receive a flight eCredit for use through Sept. 30, 2022.

Going forward: Tickets purchased after March 1, 2020, and before Dec. 31, 2020, can be changed with no fee. Beyond 2020, Delta is also making it possible for consumers to book, change or cancel their travel plans with no change fees permanently for tickets purchased for travel within the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Flight credit expiration: Existing eCredits earned in March through Sept. 20, 2020, are now valid through Dec. of 2022.

Award redeposit fees: Redeposit fees are now waived for Delta awards flights booked for existing travel through March 31, 2021, (normally $150 USD). For flights booked on or after Oct. 1, 2020, however, a fare difference will apply for rebooked travel using miles.

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 Jan. 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 bought by Sept. 30, 2020, for travel through Dec. 31, 2020. You can also cancel flights for no additional charge and then rebook with a flight credit for travel dates through Dec. 31, 2021. You may, though, owe the difference in ticket prices, if there is one.

Going forward: There are no change or cancellation fees for flights bought through Dec. 31, 2020, for travel dates through Jan. 31, 2021, and later. As with previously booked flights, you may owe the difference in ticket prices.

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

Award redeposit fees: Award flights qualify to get their miles redeposited for no fee for travel booked before Sept. 30, 2020 (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

As of right now, 2020 elite status is now extended through Jan. 31, 2022, including those with status’ set to expire Jan. 31, 2021.

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

United Airlines

Previously booked flights: For flights already booked for travel through Dec. 31, 2020, there won’t be any change fees.

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: United has permanently dropped change fees for most Economy and premium cabin tickets within the United States, or between the U.S. and Mexico or the Caribbean.

For all other destinations, change fees are waived through Dec. 31, 2020.

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

Award redeposit fees: For award travel, there won’t be change fees provided the ticket is in economy or a premium cabin and you’re traveling within the U.S. or between the U.S. and the Caribbean or Mexico. For award flights set to depart through Dec. 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 (Jan. 31, 2022).

United also stated it is 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 Sept. 7, 2022.

Going forward: If you cancel a flight between now and Sept. 7, 2020, you’ll receive travel funds for use through Sept. 7, 2022.

Flight credit expiration: Travel funds that have already expired or are set to expire by Sept. 7, 2020, have a new expiration date of Sept. 7, 2022. Rapid Rewards members receive an additional option: Travel funds set to expire by Sept. 7, 2022, 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 Dec. 31, 2020, will receive an automatic extension of their status through Dec. 31, 2021, including members with elite statuses earned through a Southwest promotion.

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 Dec. 31, 2020, will get an automatic extension through June 30, 2021. Learn more here.

Alaska Airlines

Previously booked flights: Flights purchases on or before Feb. 26, 2020, for travel through Dec. 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: Beginning on Jan. 1, 2021, all change fees will be waived for all flights purchased in the Main Cabin or First Class.

Flight credit expiration: For flights booked for travel through Sept. 30, 2020, your flight credit will be extended to purchase through July 5, 2021, for travel through May 31, 2022.

Award redeposit fees: Awards tickets purchased on or before Feb. 26, 2020, for travel through Dec. 31, 2020, won’t incur a fee for canceling or changing the flight. The same goes for awards tickets purchased between Feb. 27 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 Dec. 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 Dec. 31, 2020, for travel up until Nov. 26, 2021. You can read more here.

JetBlue

Previously booked flights: Existing JetBlue flights booked for travel through Feb. 28, 2021, can be changed without any change fees.

Going forward: Similar to previously booked flights, flights booked for travel through Feb. 28, 2021, can be changed or canceled for no fee and will receive a Travel Bank Credit (usable for 24 months). A fare credit may apply.

Flight credit expiration: Travel Bank Credits issued by June 30, 2020, expire 24 months from the date issued. Meanwhile, Travel Bank credits issued after June 30, 2020, will expire 12 months from their date of issue.

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 Dec. 31, 2021, including those with statuses set to expire on Dec. 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 credit card

You’ll have the best luck reaching out to the airline—rather than your credit card 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 non-refundable 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. That’s good news for consumers who want to make sure they don’t lose the money spent on canceled travel outright, but you’ll want to take steps to make sure you can take advantage.

“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 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,” Rossman says.

For example, American Express’ trip cancellation and interruption FAQs sheet for COVID-19 states that “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.

With this being said, getting a refund can be tricky depending on your airline, and that’s especially true for some international players. If you booked a flight with TAP Air Portugal, for example, and you paid with Chase Ultimate Rewards points, the airline is only offering credits for future flights, meaning you cannot get your Chase Ultimate Rewards points back.

This is even true if the airline cancels your flight, so be sure to dive into each airline’s rules before you bet on getting your points back.

If you transferred your credit card rewards to book a flight

In most 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, and rightly so. However, it’s still hard to know what pandemic life might be like and how it might affect our travel plans a few months down the road.

If your flight is scheduled for later this year or next year, consider waiting to make changes to your travel, says Rossman. Just make sure you know the timeline you have to make changes so you can play by the rules.

“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.”