Can you get a refund from a nonrefundable airline ticket?
Can I get a refund on my airline ticket?
How do I get a refund from a basic economy ticket?
The short answer to these questions is . . . Yes, however, the circumstances really depend.
Let me explain.
I have been a reservation representative for a major airline for over 8 years now. I’ve seen so many passengers in situations where they no longer want to travel and want a refund on a non-refundable ticket. As you know, airlines are in the business of making money. Yes, most of them try accommodating passengers; however, it’s a business, so they do not make it easy for you to get a refund on a nonrefundable ticket.
No worries, I’ll give you everything you need to know if you want to get a refund or verify your options should you decide to cancel or change your travel plans.
Do I need travel insurance?
If your airline ticket costs more than the penalty fee and/or you’re not ok with losing out on all or most of your money, I highly recommend travel insurance.
You really don’t know what will happen! It’s the same concept regarding car insurance. You pay for insurance coverage so that you are covered just in case something happens.
If you’ve already purchased your nonrefundable ticket, then buying travel insurance isn’t much of an option. But make sure you consider buying coverage for your next trip!
Pro Tip: Due to the Coronavirus, airlines allow a one-time change (with no penalty) and/or a refund. Some airlines have restrictions with these exceptions (ex. depends on when you purchased your ticket and what dates you’re scheduled to travel). Be sure to confirm the deadline of when you need to rebook or travel.
Refundable vs. Nonrefundable Airline Tickets
Most consumers buy nonrefundable tickets because they are the cheapest. A fully refundable airline ticket is usually 2-4 times more expensive, so most people will pass on a refundable ticket.
Most of the airline tickets (refundable and nonrefundable) are non-transferable. This means the person the ticket is issued for is the only one who can use the ticket. Nonrefundable tickets also come with the most restrictions.
Airlines charge up to $200 for domestic and up to $750 for international to make voluntary changes to a nonrefundable ticket. This can be really expensive because you also have to pay any difference in fare – if any.
Pro tip: Before purchasing your airline ticket, consider buying your airline ticket directly from the carrier – not through a 3rd party. You can book with the carrier online, over the phone, or at the airport; however, just remember there’s usually a reservation fee if you book with an airline over the phone or at the airport. Avoid the reservation fee by booking it yourself on the airline’s website.
This post may contain affiliate links which means I may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something that I’ve recommended – at no extra cost to you, of course. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Read my disclosure here.
The Fare Rules
Because there are so many options out there, it’s best to compare the different fares available and determine which fits your needs. You MUST read the fare rules of ANY ticket that you purchase.
What are fare rules and where do you find them, you ask?
Every airline is required to provide you with the terms and conditions for every ticket. You want to be sure to read the fare rules because this is what tells you what kind of ticket you are purchasing and what you will and will not be able to do with it once it’s purchased.
Pro Tip: Make sure you read the ticket fare rules BEFORE buying it.
You can find the fare rules on the airline’s site during the booking process. A link in small print usually says something like “Click here to view the fare rules”.
Most people (9 out of 10 people) overlook this and purchase tickets, not fully understanding the terms and conditions of the ticket.
Ok, so maybe you’ve purchased a nonrefundable airline ticket, and now your plans have changed.
What do you do?
There are plenty of different ways to either make a voluntary change to a nonrefundable ticket (without being penalized) or get a refund.
How do I get a refund on a nonrefundable airline ticket?
Well, that depends on your situation. . . Let’s go over a few things you need to know.
If you are purchasing a ticket for travel within, from, and/or to the United States, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requires carriers to hold a reservation at the quoted fare for 24 hours without payment or allow a reservation to be canceled within 24 hours without penalty (the “24- hour reservation requirement”).
Some will do either and others will do both, but most carriers prefer for you to purchase and then issue a refund within 24 hours. This 24-hour policy applies to nonrefundable and refundable tickets.
Pro Tip: Even though it’s a 24-hour period, most carriers will give you until 1159P the following evening to cancel and get a full refund or make a change without being penalized.
If you are only looking to make a change, you can make an unlimited amount of changes within this 24-hour period. Each carrier is different, so you want to check with the airline before purchasing your ticket.
Also, some carriers and 3rd party travel agencies have more lenient policies sometimes, so be sure you verify your options (ie, Southwest Airlines, Frontier, Allegiant, or Alaska Airlines).
Free 24-hour Hold Option
Not all airlines give this as an option. The ones that do (e.g., American Airlines) offer a free and paid option to place a reservation on hold before actually buying a ticket. It’s free for a 24-hour hold; however, there’s a fee if you want to hold it for 3 or 7 days.
How to hold airline tickets online?
How to hold airline tickets online, you ask? If you are buying your ticket from an airline that allows you to hold your airline ticket online, I highly recommend that you do so. Not only does this guarantee you’re buying the cheapest fare at the time, but it gives you a little more time to decide to buy it.
To hold airline tickets online:
Go through the booking process as you usually would.
Once you get to the payment screen, select the hold option.
Make sure you read the terms and conditions because each carrier is different.
Free 24-hour Cancellation Option
Pro tip: The 24-hour cancellation grace period usually doesn’t apply to tickets that are purchased 0-1 days before the date of departure.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requires airlines to do one of either option:
1 – Provide passengers with a 24-hour hold option before purchasing a ticket
– OR –
2 – Allow passengers to cancel and receive a full refund within 24 hours of purchasing their tickets.
Some carriers offer both options, while others will offer either.
Airlines make changes to flight numbers, times of travel & availability of flights weekly. Sometimes your itinerary is affected by these changes, and sometimes it’s not. If the times of your flight(s) change (depending on how much it changed), you can request to cancel your itinerary and get a full refund.
Some airlines will allow a refund if the flight times have changed by 59 minutes or more. Other airlines will only allow a refund if the flight times have changed by 120 minutes or more. Every carrier is different, so make sure you check.
If changes happen but it’s under 59 mins, the airline will allow you to change the time of travel and/or leave the day before or after your original ticketed date.
Pretty cool, huh?
You’re also eligible for a refund if your direct flight is discontinued, and now only a connecting flight option is the only option. This will allow you to depart from or arrive at a different airport within 300 miles from your original origin/destination. Check with the airline to verify.
Canceled or Delayed Flight
If your flight is canceled – regardless of the reason- you can obtain a full refund instead of being re-accommodated on the next available flight. This also applies to flights that are majorly delayed or cause you to misconnect at a connection point.
If the unfortunate event happens where you fly into your connecting city and you misconnect, your flight is delayed and/or canceled, you could decide to go right back to the city you originally departed from. The airline will put you on the next available flight back and then you will be eligible for a partial refund for the unused portion of the ticket.
A voluntary change is considered to be anything causing you not to travel that the airline didn’t cause.
Pro tip: Consider buying your airline ticket from an airline that is more flexible when it comes to making voluntary changes and/or requesting a refund (e.g. Southwest, Alaska, Allegiant and Frontier).
Here are 4 main ways you can make a voluntary change to your ticket (without being penalized) or possibly get a refund:
So, depending on what’s happening today, airlines issue travel notices that allow changes and/or refunds based on each specific situation.
Due to the Coronavirus, most airlines make a one-time exception that waives the change fee (and other terms of certain tickets). Remember that this is a courtesy and travel notices come with restrictions.
Now, depending on when you purchase your ticket, what dates you’re traveling and your destination will determine what changes you can make with your ticket.
The airline’s travel notices are usually listed on their website, so be sure to check there anytime you are looking for options. Depending on what each travel notice is will determine what you will be able to do.
A Death in the Family
This is an unfortunate situation not to travel; however, airlines do offer changes and refunds due to the death of an immediate family member. Immediate family is considered spouse, parents, parent-in-law, siblings, children and grandparents. You will usually have to provide the name and phone number of the funeral home if you want to make a change to the ticket. Keep in mind you will still need to pay any difference of fare – if any.
Suppose you prefer to cancel altogether and request a refund. In that case, you’ll have to submit an official refund request and provide a copy of the death certificate.
When all else fails, both options will certainly help with what you are looking to do.
Some (not many) airlines will allow you to cancel or rebook if you have been assigned jury duty. United Airlines has done this before. They do require you to send in your summons for verification.
Some carriers don’t have a waiver due to someone falling ill; however, most carriers make expectations for a critical illness.
A critical illness is usually considered when you or an immediate family member (e.g., spouse, parents, parent-in-law, siblings, children, and grandparents) are hospitalized and or seriously injured.
You can call customer service to verify their options; however, if you’re denied, reach out to customer relations or contact the carrier via one of the social media platforms (Twitter is preferred by many passengers).
This option is great for active military personnel. Most carriers will offer flexible options if you are activated for duty. You will need to provide your commander’s name and phone number. Remember you will still have to pay any difference of fare – if any.
If you have dependents who are also traveling, the waiver usually applies to them too.
Pro tip: If you are active military personnel and travel personally or on orders, you are usually given a 3-5 bag allowance. Check with your carrier to confirm what they allow.
Last Resort Solution
We live in a world focused around social media so it should not be a surprise this is a great way to not only get an immediate response from an airline but they are also more open to allowing changes or issuing a refund (usually in the form of a voucher).
Major carriers do not want consumers to express how unhappy they are with regard to their products and/or services on social media platforms. They usually have a department that only handles social media communication, so it’s a big deal to airlines. If you post something about how unhappy you are, you will be able to get some kind of resolution 90% of the time.
Contact Customer Relations
This option will take some time because you usually have to submit a written request and then wait 2-6 weeks before they get back to you.
How long does it take for an airline to refund my money?
The refund process varies depending on which carrier you’re traveling on. Usually, it takes 7-10 business days for a refund request to be processed and issued back to the original form of payment.
Now of course, driving is ideal in most cases; however, if all else fails, I highly suggest driving to your destination. Even though the prices of a rental car have jumped since the pandemic, it’s still a possible option.
Think about it.
It might take a while for you to get a refund or be given the option to make a voluntary ticket. In some cases, you won’t get either.
If that turns out to be the case for you, determine what it would cost you (with your time and money) to rent a car instead.
Yes, you can get your money back from a nonrefundable airline ticket! . . . It’s just a matter of which loophole or workaround.
- Make sure you cancel the itinerary before the departure of the flight. Each carrier’s cancellation policy is different, so check with them to verify what they require to cancel the itinerary.
- Verify if the carrier has a 24-hour hold option. If they do, use it!
- Sign up for flight notifications to stay up-to-date with the status of your flights.
- Because changes happen all the time, you will need to use this article as a guide, but ultimately, you will need to contact the airline directly to verify their policies – each carrier is different!
- When possible, purchase your airline tickets directly from the carrier – instead of through a 3rd party booking source.
- Buy travel insurance – just in case something happens!
Let me know in the comments below if this info has been helpful.
Until next time.