9 Tips For Cancelling Flights During Coronavirus

Filed Under: Advice

If you have any upcoming air travel planned, chances are you’re dealing with uncertainty, confusion, and a lack of clear communication from airlines.

Frankly that’s not surprising, since at this point airlines are struggling with what to make of the current situation, and are adjusting their schedules and policies almost daily (or in some cases even multiple times per day).

Therefore I wanted to provide some general tips to consider when trying to reschedule or cancel any upcoming travels you may have.

Policies vary by airline (see our post on coronavirus travel policies & advisories), so be sure you check the website of the carrier you’re flying with for more details. But generally speaking, in no particular order:

1. Know your refund options

Airlines are in a cash crunch, and in order to conserve cash as much as possible, airlines are doing everything they can to offer passengers future ticket vouchers rather than cash refunds. These typically have to be used for travel on that airline within 12 months of when the ticket was originally issued.

However, in many cases airlines are deceiving passengers here. If your flight is cancelled, chances are that you’re entitled to a cash refund, even if the airline denies that’s the case. For example, this applies for all flights to & from the US (due to DOT regulations), and also applies to flights from most of Europe (due to EC261 regulations).

Don’t necessarily believe airlines if they claim a refund isn’t possible. Note that this is specific to situations where your flight is cancelled, rather than situations where you have a schedule change, or where you voluntarily want to cancel your travel.

Many airlines are pretending refunds aren’t possible, even when they are

2. If you don’t like the cancellation policy, wait

I’ve received many questions along the lines of “I have a trip planned for May and I’m not comfortable taking it, but the airline isn’t letting me cancel, so what should I do?”

It’s very simple — if you don’t like the current policy, just wait for now. There’s no incentive to cancel your flight sooner rather than later if the policy doesn’t work for you:

  • This situation is far from over, so chances are all the current travel waivers will be extended
  • It’s likely that airlines will be cancelling lots of flights over the coming months, and if you’re on one of those, chances are that you’re entitled to a refund

In those situations I highly recommend just waiting it out and seeing how things go.

3. Don’t agree to an offer you don’t want

This is similar to the above, but different.

Some airlines are getting creative with trying to get passengers to accept a travel credit rather than a refund for cancellations. For example, Frontier is offering a $50 voucher if you cancel your flight on them by March 25 and accept a future travel credit

Why is the airline incentivizing customers to cancel flights? Probably because they plan on loading massive cancellations of flights after March 25, and then passengers will be stuck with a Frontier credit rather than the ability to get a refund.

Now, to be clear, for some people this might be worth it — if you think you can get more value out of the ticket credit plus the $50 credit then that can be a good option.

In some cases these incentives could even make sense. For example, anecdotally American is offering a 20% bonus when you choose to select a travel voucher over a cash refund.

But otherwise just wait it out…

Frontier is incentivizing people to cancel flights

4. Only call if you’re traveling soon

Airlines are asking people to only call if they’re traveling soon (in the next 48-72 hours), and I’d highly recommend honoring that for the greater good.

Many airlines are still operating rescue flights over the next few days before immigration policies change, and leaving the phone lines open for people who can take these could be the difference between them getting home and not.

If at all possible, avoid calling airlines right now unless you’re traveling soon.

Avoid calling airlines right now if possible

5. Try Twitter, foreign call centers

As airlines finish up operating their last flights to some places, odds are still good that we’ll see really long hold times when calling airlines. Therefore I’d recommend considering an alternative to get in touch with airlines:

  • If your airline offers customer service on Twitter, this is an excellent option that avoids long phone hold times
  • If you want to get through to an airline faster, often dialing up one of their foreign call centers can get you through much faster than the US call center; you can find the foreign call center phone numbers on most airlines’ websites, and then can use Google Voice or Skype to call

6. Don’t worry about cancelling your flight right now

Again, different airlines have different policies, but many airlines aren’t even requiring you to call in and inform the airline if you don’t intend to take your flight.

They recognize how hard it is to get through on the phone, so in many cases are letting you keep a future ticket credit even if you don’t call in to cancel. Of course be sure that’s also the policy for your airline.

In many cases you don’t even have to cancel your flight before departure

7. If all else fails, dispute the charge

I only recommend this as an absolute last resort, but in the event that an airline is breaking the law by not refund a ticket on a cancelled flight, disputing the charge for the flight with your credit card company might just be the most practical course of action.

Disputing the charge might be your only real option

8. Don’t expect any airline schedules to stick

Regardless of whether you plan on taking your flight in the future or not, I absolutely wouldn’t expect most current flight schedules to stick permanently. We don’t know how long this situation will last, and I expect the industry will look radically different even as we start to recover from this.

My point is that if you’re booking flights, make sure you leave a big buffer, because I think we’ll see significant schedule adjustments.

This also applies to cancelling tickets because even if your flight shows as operating now, odds are good that it could still be cancelled, potentially making you eligible for a cash refund.

Expect airlines to make significant schedule changes

9. Be nice to frontline airline employees

This is the most important point of all. Airline employees have it really tough right now. All airline employees are facing uncertainty about the future of their jobs, and those working in call centers are incredibly overworked and stressed, as I’m sure everyone is letting out their frustration on them.

Try to be nice, and realize that if they can’t give you what you want, it’s not their fault. Thank them for what they’re doing, and be kind.

Bottom line

This is a confusing time. It’s not just consumers who are left with this uncertainty, but frankly airlines seem to be adapting by the hour as well. Hopefully the above contains some useful tips for anyone needing to reschedule travel.

  1. I have a Korean Air flight from Beijing to Jeju late May. I expect they’ll cancel and refund at some point, so I’m holding out on doing anything

  2. @ Ben — Why do you say that disputing a charge is “as an absolute last resort”? It seems straightforward to me and skips the airline’s bs. Either they will follow the law, or they won’t. They will get one chance from me to follow the law, and then I will go straight to a dispute. We have over $50,000 of paid flights booked between now and the end of 2020, and there is no way that value can be used before the tickets expire. We will require refunds whenever flights are cancelled, and we will fight tooth and nail for them, including legal action.

  3. Two questions.

    1) does award travel fall into the cash refund category? I assume not, hit wanted to clarify.

    2) British Airways online cancelation are offering a travel voucher rather than giving the points back.

  4. I booked a Star Alliance award flight via United (for travel on 5/13) that currently has the following notice:

    “A travel waiver is in effect for your reservation. To make changes now, select “Change flight” below. To rebook travel later, select “Cancel flight” and you’ll be able to rebook with change fees waived.”

    Do you know if I should wait until the flight gets canceled or since this being an award flight and there is a travel waiver, that I can get United to redeposit my miles back to my account for free (since I will have to spend those miles using United’s portal at some point anyways)?


  5. My Iberia flight still landed at SFO on Sunday March 22nd from Barcelona according to SFO website, no cancellation on all my (supposed) flights on intra Spain either. So airline cancelling flights didn’t happen soon enough for my trip, although the the whole Spain was in lockdown the minute I scheduled to arrive. It doesn’t make sense to fly an empty plane, but I guess, it does.

  6. I have a AA 5K web special award from MIA-IAH this saturday (3/28). The flight is operating as normal. Is there a way to get my miles back or just hope the flight gets cancelled ?

  7. I had a non refundable flight booked in Jan from jfk to cdg then back from ams to jfk on Delta. I recieved an email from delta showing my flight was rescheduled 2 days out from the original booking. I called the gold line and the person on the line verified my flight was pushed out and i was eligible for a refund. I then was transfered to refund team, was on hold 20 mins or so and they said they put it through. I was told it might take up for two months to show back up, but it was smooth enough of a process.

  8. I have a flight to Europe (paid biz) booked for late June, which I fully anticipate will still be in a problem period for travel. Fortunately for me, I suppose, even if the flights don’t cancel, there was a schedule change within the last week or so that added about six hours to the total travel time, so I hopefully can get a refund that way without too much hassle.

    The unfortunate part of all of this is that I booked the ticket using Chase points, so I’m stuck waiting for said refund for well over three months (unless Chase eases their call-in restrictions sometime between now and mid-June).

  9. Again, please don’t clog up the phone lines or chats trying to turn your credit into a refund. There are stranded passengers who need to travel immediately and need to speak to an agent. You can contact airlines later for a refund once agents are not so overwhelmed.

  10. Another trick: call late at night. Larger airline call centers are open 24/7. I called United at 1am on Sunday and got right through.

  11. If you have an Agent – have them call as they have access to the Agency lines which (usually) do not have nearly the wait time the regular lines do.

    Waiting is the biggest bullet point here. There are so many schedule changes happening, lots of airlines will refund if the change is more than 90 minutes (I know for a fact Delta does). Check your flight status each day. As Ben mentioned, there’s no need to cancel sooner rather than later, so have patience.

  12. I have a trip with my wife to Fiji late May, they haven’t cancelled the flight yet. I’m holding out, but I also need to take care of hotel issue, so I kinda have to know before 48/72 hours.

  13. Gene

    A credit card will refuse you disputing a charge if you have not made a reasonable effort to work with the airline. Or if you are offered reasonably equivalent value.

    It’s an airline issue and not a card issue, so trying to shift the burden onto the card issuer is not reasonable.

    Those are the reasons it should be a last resort. only when all else fails. The author is quite correct.

  14. What if I cancelled a flight because my travel was no longer necessary (meeting cancelled due to Covid19 so no need to fly)–what are my options in this situation? Credit, Refund, or just out of luck?

  15. Trying to get home from Guatemala before they shut down flights, I called the UA Singapore number via Skype. Got right through, to a US agent even.

  16. @ Charles — Depends on the airline and what waiver was in place. If your travel is covered by a waiver then you get a ticket credit, and not a cash refund, typically.

  17. I have a trip with easyjet on 5th April we are over 70 and we are taking grandchildren bearing mind the government restrictions how do I claim a refund , i have not been informed flight cancelled and cannot contact easyjet.

  18. For those asking about AA award cancellation policies I cancelled 2 April flights today. First of all the call back time (AA Platinum line) was 18 minutes instead of over 3 hours a few weeks ago so looks like call volume has really dropped.

    I got both award tickets cancelled and the miles added back to my account with no fees or hassle. One was a discount web special so even that wasn’t a problem.

    YMMV but I have had no issues at all with AA on flight changes or reimbursement.

  19. My refund experience for cancelled (paid, not award) flights so far:

    CX – cancelled ticket via website, full refund was credited in 19 days
    TK – cancelled via their app, got the full refund in 2 days
    Scoot: automatically issued 100% value of voucher
    SK, LO: contact form sent, waiting for the full refund

    For TK, i received ~35USD more due to currency fluctuation 🙂

  20. To @Gene regarding “last resort,” I got this out of another article on the subject:

    “Typically you’re required to make a good-faith effort to resolve a problem directly with the merchant first. Be sure to call the airline before initiating a chargeback and document your efforts.”

  21. @AC, were your award tickets using AA miles on AA metal or partner airlines? I’m getting concerned as i have an upcoming flight (in May) on JAL using AA miles so not sure how that process would work. Thanks

  22. Ben,

    Thanks for putting this info together in one place – very helpful.

    Like @Steve above, my question is about reward travel. Possibly another article for you 🙂

    I had rolled my own RTW reward trip on two United itineraries. The first falls within current COVID-19 waivers, the second is just outside them. United’s fee for points restocking goes up tomorrow from $75 (per itinerary, I believe, rather than per ticket?) to $125.

    Several COVID-19 events impact the travel – 1. US travelers can not enter Australia, 2. Air New Zealand has suspended my flight (SFO-AKL); 3. Singapore is not allowing transit; 4. Turkish Air (SIN-VCE) has suspended my flights; and 5. Venice is effectively shutdown.

    I contacted United on Twitter and was told I could change the itinerary withing the waiver (basically, US to Australia via NZ) without fee, but it I cancelled the restocking fee would apply. The second itinerary (Australia – Italy via Singapore and Istanbul) being outside the waiver period, there would be a fee to change and a fee to restock. In other words – pound sand.

    Any advice on how to proceed at this point?

    Thanks – and thanks for all the great info you provide!


  23. @ Scott — Award flights sure are complicated in this current situation, so let me address that in a separate post. Thanks!

  24. One impact of taking a flight credit that was eluded to, but not explicitly, is as a result of the current time limits on utilizing flight credit in the current circumstances. With a flight credit, not only is the airline retaining your money and business, and limiting when you can travel (due to the end date), but as so many passengers will have to re-book during that period (to utilize their credit), the prices will go up and you’ll almost certainly end up having to pay significantly more, and you will be responsible for that difference.

    While this is still a generous offer for voluntary cancellation on tickets that could not normally be cancelled (and by the way, most airlines are only giving credit to the same destination, not general credit), it is terrible for situations where the airline cancels the flight and tries to fob customers off with flight credit over a refund. Even if they offer an incentive of bonus credit or voucher, the likelihood is that it won’t make up for the price increase you’ll experience due to increased demand as people try to utilize their flight credit.

    My advice would be that if an airline cancels your flight, demand a refund over flight credit even with a bonus, unless they substantially increase the bonus, significantly extend the period of credit use, or you paid a high fare and/or will definitely need to travel anyway during the period valid for the credit.

  25. I have two business class tickets booked to Paris from LAX on April 11 with a return on April 18. I also bought trip insurance. I’ve read through all the detailed print but still can’t determine if it covers the virus situation. Do you think it makes sense for me to go ahead and cancel my flight and then submit a claim to the insurance company? Or just wait and see if British Airways cancels the flight first and then I could try to get a refund?

  26. Why is Lucky suddenly spelling the word ‘canceling’ as “cancelling”? While I don’t mind variations in spelling of the English language based on location, I’d like consistency. And that spelling isn’t consistent with what Lucky has put out before.

  27. 7 about disputing the charge is not practical because you have only a certain amount of time to do that otherwise the issuer probably won’t consider

  28. I cancelled and got a refund from UA today after 5 schedule changes. Website id not offer this option but Agent was happy to process. Flight was for mid April and I called after 2am Eastern Time, no wait.

  29. Where can i find those ticket prices i get with the “british airways contact center” online ??
    Someone with info on this…please.

  30. Brian Dumbrell – You are flying Easyjet , but from where to where ? I suggest you check their website to see if Easyjet are flying between the 2 airports you have booked . If you are trying to get home to UK , then contact your Embassy in city where you are staying and ask about a repatriation flight . You should not be thinking of flying at 70 years old , but you have not explained the circumstances.

  31. I have a flight from SNA to JAX on April 8th booked with miles on AA… What recommendation as far as getting miles put back in my account?

  32. Hello! What should I expect in terms of a refund if I have already used the outbound portion of my ticket? 50% or less? And does my eligibility for a refund on an airline-cancelled flight vanish if I’m told I booked a “non-refundable” ticket? (Flying with KLM). Thank you!

  33. Anyone have any tips on how to “demand a refund”? So far no luck with Air NZ or Expedia. They both say it’s up to the other one. They are saying we have to re-book our new “credit” flight by April 20th (the day we were scheduled to fly back) which is insane. We are moving due to the military (tentatively!) so will not be here to fly again and also more importantly – who the hell knows when we can fly internationally again?!

  34. I bought 4 non-refundable American Airlines tickets to Shanghai for mid-September. AA notified me that all flights to China are canceled until October 2020. The email said the value of the tickets can be used on a future flight only by the person named on the ticket. This was a rare family opportunity to take such a vacation not likely to happen in the future due my health. They canceled us, shouldn’t they refund my credit card what I paid?

  35. Ben,

    I have nearly $12k in tickets to Italy (Florence) for mid-June on United that I booked in October 2019. They cancelled our return direct, non-stop flight out of Zurich, and put us on a connecting flight, which eventually returns 4 hours later. When I called to ask for a refund–not a credit, I was told that their policy is now 6 hour-delay entitles me to a refund. I am pretty certain the flight will be ultimately cancelled, but now United is requiring me to cancel by 4/30/20, or I only get a flight credit until October 2020. We are not able to re-book by then and the $12k will be lost.

    Doesn’t cancelling our direct flight and putting us on a connecting flight constitute a substantial change and/or isn’t it tantamount to United cancelling, to entitle us to a refund?

    I had planned to wait it out until June, but United called my bluff with the 4/30/20 cancellation deadline.


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