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Finally Good News on Airline Ticket Refunds

One of the continuing travel flash points for so many of us has been our frustration at getting airlines, hotels, cruise lines and tour operators to refund our money during the coronavirus crisis — money we paid as deposits, or in full, for airline flights, hotels, cruises, and tours that were cancelled — or about to be cancelled. The travel industry, desperate to preserve cash, embraced — and then tried to force on us — the concept of vouchers to be used against future trips. They did so in full disregard for either the Fair Credit Act, a long standing U.S. Department of Transportation rule, and in some cases, even their own contracts of carriage.

For example, Delta Air Lines’ contract of carriage reads that if Delta cancels your flight, the airline will — at your request — issue you a full refund for the flight credited back to the original form of payment.

The U.S. Department of Transportation rule says you are entitled to a full refund if the airline cancels your flight.

But airlines weren’t exactly volunteering this information to passengers. In many cases, the major U.S. airlines were bleeding between $60 million and $100 million a day — each — and they were only offering vouchers against future flights, and in some cases, giving you two years to use the vouchers. In some cases, they tried to sweeten the deal, offering as much as a 25% premium over what you originally paid for your ticket in terms of the voucher’s dollar value.

However, even when passengers complained and insisted on the refund, many airlines refused, claiming that the cancellations were caused by circumstances beyond their control.

If you’ve been following my online reports, then you know I continued to remind the industry of its legal and moral obligations. I also reminded the airlines that consumers are not banks, and we didn’t loan them the money interest free for up to two years. We paid our money for a service that was not provided. And if the airlines continued to refuse to refund the money, then I also told you to lodge a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Now, I have some good news to report.

Apparently the Department of Transportation heard you. The department has now announced that its cancellation/refund rules are NOT optional, and that the airlines are legally required to give you that full refund if they cancelled their flights. And this also includes any previously charged change fees that were applied.  If you were previously denied a full refund for a flight that the airline cancelled, it’s time to contact again and remind the airline that the Department of Transportation has also stated it will take enforcement action if its rules aren’t obeyed. The airlines now need to tell you that you have the option of a refund, even if they had already issued you a voucher.

But I have one caution. Remember, the airline must initiate the flight cancellation — not you. (Translation: if you’re holding a reservation for a flight this month or in May and the flight hasn’t cancelled yet, your best bet is to wait until the airline cancels it first. I know, it’s a bad game of chicken, but if you blink first, the Department of Transportation rule does not apply).

There is much more news to share with you. So watch for my next online report tomorrow (Monday afternoon on petergreenberg.com) with more details on this. I will also answer your emails. So…stay safe, stay healthy, and….stay tuned.