For the majority of US travelers, the winter holiday season of 2023 got off to a smooth start. The Department of Transportation reports that the flight cancellation rate was a mere 0.8 percent, even with a record number of passengers taking to the skies. In comparison, the cancellation rate for the same period in 2022 was 8.2 percent.
Southwest Airlines’ cancellation of more than 16,000 flights during the popular holiday travel season, which left millions of passengers stranded, had a significant impact on the 2022 disaster.
However, it begs the question: Can you get your money back for purchasing your ticket if your airline suddenly cancels? This is what airlines are expected to offer, along with reimbursement for any extra, unforeseen costs you incurred for meals or lodging due to an altered schedule.
Best Health Insurance of 2024
Airline refund policies and the DOT
Under the consumer protections offered by the U.S. Department of Transportation, you are entitled to a refund of your ticket price and baggage fees if your flight is canceled or significantly delayed.
If your ticket is non-refundable, the majority of major airlines will rebook you on the same airline for a different flight without charging you extra. However, you are under no obligation to accept the change. What you are entitled to is contingent upon the following:
- If you choose not to rebook on another flight for canceled flights, you are entitled to a full refund regardless of the cause.
- If you choose not to proceed with your travel, you are entitled to a complete refund in the event of schedule modifications and substantial delays. Because there is no agreed-upon definition of what constitutes a “significant delay,” you might have to file a complaint and wait for a response.
- Should your class of service be reduced—for instance, if you’re asked to switch from business to economy—you are entitled to a reimbursement for the difference in fares.
Whether you bought your ticket directly from the airline, via a travel website, or even through a travel agency, you are still covered by these protections. Additionally, even though incidentals are not refundable, your airline might offer to pay for meals and even overnight stays if there is a delay of longer than three hours.
“My best advice to someone affected by cancellations would be to start with whatever the airline is offering and then pull in their credit card as a backup, if the card offers travel protections,” says Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at Bankrate.
Credit card travel insurance
As a perk that takes effect when unforeseen circumstances alter your travel arrangements, a lot of the best credit cards come with travel insurance. For example, your credit card may shield you from any financial losses if weather-related delays prevent you from traveling domestically or abroad.
Medical emergencies that arise while you’re away from home may also be covered by the travel insurance on your card. For example, your card may cover evacuation to a nearby hospital or reimburse you for out-of-pocket medical expenses if you or your traveling companions become ill while on vacation.
Your card’s insurance may also cover costs if you have to stay in a hotel as a result of travel delays. The same is true for misplaced or lost luggage: The travel insurance on your card may enhance the coverage provided by your homeowners’ policy or airline.
If you’re unsure about the travel insurance benefits offered by your credit card, contact your issuer and find out exactly what protections are included.
How to file a complaint
First, you should attempt to settle any grievances you may have with your airline or a ticket agent directly if your flight is canceled or noticeably delayed. Usually, airline customer service agents are on hand at the airport to handle your inquiries. According to the DOT, airlines must address or resolve customer complaints within 60 days of receiving them and reply within 30 days.
If you are dissatisfied with the airline’s response, you might want to file a complaint with the DOT directly. You can mail your complaint to: 202-366-2220, call 202-366-2220, or submit it online.
Office of Aviation Consumer Protection
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20590
The bottom line
You might be qualified for a refund of your ticket price if an airline cancels or experiences a major delay that prevents you from traveling. Depending on the airline, you can also receive reimbursement for your hotel and food expenses. Requesting a credit card refund from your airline should be your first step. Additionally, find out if the travel insurance that comes with your credit card covers costs that airlines won’t.
As a last resort, think about bringing a formal complaint to the airline or the Department of Transportation if you’re still not satisfied with the assistance you’re receiving.