I surveyed my subscribers this morning about their hopes/plans for future travels (more on that later), but one subscriber had a very good question along with her answer:
Great question Sharon!
There are a few variables involved with your question.
Your two best bets for being guaranteed a refund is to cross your fingers and hope the airline changes your schedule or cancels the flight altogether.
If the airline makes the change:
If they cancel your flight, most airlines will offer a credit toward future flights. However, you are not required to accept that. They might not make it immediately obvious, but if you don’t want to spend hours on hold, you can usually find a place on the airline’s website to request a refund for canceled flights And this holds true – even for “non-refundable” flights.
If the airline makes a significant change to your flight schedule, you are also entitled to a refund in full. (Airlines vary on what they consider a “significant change”, and that amount of time varies between 30 minutes and 6 hours. If you find out that your airline’s schedule has been changed, it’s always a good idea to look at their change/refund policy and insist on a refund if the change was significant enough. That way, you can take your money elsewhere if a different airline has a better deal.
When you make the change.
The good news:
In reaction to Coronavirus issues, nearly all airlines have started offering extremely liberal change policies. If you decide not to take the trip you booked, you will most likely be able to change your flight with no fees or penalties whatsoever.
The bad news:
Although most airlines aren’t charging fees if you want to make a change to your schedule, you will have to pay any difference, if fares are higher for your replacement flight. But don’t worry – when you search for flights using “The Triangle of Travel” – that shouldn’t be a problem. (Two of the “corners” of the triangle of travel are to 1) go where the deals are, 2) and be flexible.) Here is another post covering my concept of “The Triangle Of Travel” in more detail.
When you make the change (vs the airline making the change) – Most airlines are only offering credits toward future travels vs giving cash refunds, so if in doubt about whether travel restrictions will be lifted, it’s best to book it as far in the future as possible.
Given the uncertainty about when/where we’ll be able to travel, be sure to check each airlines’ change policies in advance before booking any flights.
If at all possible, we recommend booking directly with the airline. That way, if you have to change or cancel, you don’t have to deal with a third party to get your refund.
Your options are a lot better if the airline changes your flight than if you change it. So if you’re thinking about changing or canceling a flight, be sure to look up your airlines’ individual change/cancel policies, and wait until as late as possible to make that change. It’s a bit like a game of “chicken”, but it’s well worth waiting to see if the airline changes or cancels your flight.