Cancellation policies for the 4 major airlines show it’s almost impossible for customers to just get their money back

ReutersFILE PHOTO: Delta Airlines planes and a British Airways plane are pictured at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in SeaTac, Washington
  • Throughout 2020, travellers have been forced to cancel or reschedule trips due to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Most airlines allow customers to rebook or cancel, but it can be difficult to get a monetary refund.
  • Here’s what you can do if you have a flight with United, Delta, American, or Southwest that you need to cancel.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

With US passports virtually useless and coronavirus cases spiking in various parts of the country, many Americans are postponing or cancelling their travel plans.

A recent rise in coronavirus cases along with the discovery of a new strain means some travellers may continue to postpone or cancel their plans. And on December 16, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated travel guidelines for winter holidays, recommending “postponing travel and staying home, as this is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.”

While airlines have been more flexible than usual with allowing customers to change their reservations, the industry is losing billions of dollars as air travel remains disrupted.

When it became clear that air travel was going to be on the decline for the foreseeable future, the Transportation Department said “any airline operating in the US, foreign or domestic,” had to refund tickets for flights the airline cancelled and couldn’t offer an alternative without a “substantial” schedule change,” as reported in the Wall Street Journal.

Many airlines have placed the responsibility on consumers if they want to change their plans, but if fliers want a monetary refund it can be hard.

Here’s a look at what the major US Airlines are doing in the case of cancelled plans.

American

Tickets that expired between March 1, 2020 and September 30, 2020 can be used until December 31, 2021. The airline has dropped change fees for flights originating from North and South America. Basic Economy fares are still ineligible for change fees.

Customers can change their flight once, but additional fees may apply when rebooking. Destination changes are allowed.

If a customer wants to cancel their trip, the value of the ticket will be applied to a later date. There is no outright option for customers to get their money back when they cancel online.

American no longer blocks middle seats.

Delta

Customers can modify their trips, “including any flights purchased before April 17, 2020, departing March 2020 through March 2021 and all tickets purchased March 1, 2020 through March 30, 2021.” The airline has dropped change fees for all flights originating from North America. Destination changes are allowed.

Cancellations are allowed on Delta, and the value of the ticket may be applied to a new reservation up to one year from the original purchase. Basic Economy tickets are not eligible for refunds.

Delta will continue to block off middle seats until the end of March.

Southwest

If a customer using a non-refundable ticket cancels, their funds will be valid until September 7, 2022. Once a customer rebooks the ticket, it will expire 12 months after purchase, following Southwest’s traditional booking rules.

Southwest does offer refunds via the original form of payment, but only on Business Select or Anytime tickets.

Southwest no longer blocks middle seats.

United

United does allow passengers to change or cancel their flights. Tickets issued between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021 are eligible for a flight change of equal or lesser value without a fee change. The same rules apply to any cancelled flights, with customers receiving credits for use at a later date. The airline has also dropped all change fees — including Basic Economy fares — for flights originating from the US.

In the event that the new booking costs more than the old one, the customer will have to pay the difference.

United, like American and Southwest, has resumed the sale of middle seats.

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