How to Get a Refund on a Non-Refundable Airfare?
Fees to modify or cancel you booking are generally super pricey for non-refundable tickets. In the US, change and cancellation fees can go as high as $200 domestically and $750 for international airfares.
That being said, there are a few tricks that you can use to get a refund to cancel your flight. The refund will take the form of either a flight change or credit for a future flight (a voucher).
What are your Rights when Your Flight is Cancelled?
US Passenger Rights for Flight Cancellations
According to the US Department of Transportation, “Airlines don’t guarantee their schedules, and you should realize this when planning your trip.”
“There are many things that can-and often do-make it impossible for flights to arrive on time. Some of these problems, like bad weather, air traffic delays, and mechanical issues, are hard to predict and often beyond the airlines’ control.”
In the US, airlines have no obligations to refund or reroute you when your flight is cancelled. Just like they don’t have to pay flight cancellation compensation.
That being said, in practice, airlines will generally try to rebook you on an alternate flight at no additional cost when this happens. Provided that seats are available.
“Contrary to popular belief, for domestic itineraries airlines are not required to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled.”
Now, keep in mind that if you’re supposed to depart from Europe and your flight is cancelled, you may be eligible to both a refund and a compensation, as the rules described in the next section apply.
Check your Airline’s Cancellation Policy
American Airlines’s Cancellation Policy
While the DOT requires your flight be at least 7 days away to apply for reimbursement, American Airlines lets you request a full refund within 24h of booking as long as your flight is at least 2 days away.
American Airlines also offers a free 24-hour hold on some of their flights, as long as you book them at least seven days prior to departure.
What does it mean?
American Airlines will save your booking and its price for 24h: you will have 24h to cancel your flight if your plans change, at no extra cost.
How to know if your American Airlines flight is eligible to the free 24h hold?
If it is, you will see a “hold” label on the “Review and Pay” page.
You can also purchase an extended hold option.
United Airlines’ Cancellation policy
There isn’t any difference between United’s 24h cancellation policy and what the DOT prescribes.
You can, however, purchase their FareLock service, for a fee. The price of your ticket will be held for 3 or 7 days, depending on the option that your choose.
But there’s a hack to hold an airfare for free with United Airlines: at the payment step, choose “Other forms of payment” and then select “Pay in person”. It will keep your reservation for 24 hours. If you want to pay online, you can still do so within those 24 hours. Once you have made that online payment, you’ll still have the 24-hour free cancellation period prescribed by the DOT and United Airlines. So, added up, you have in total 48 hours to cancel your flight for free.
Delta Air Lines’ Cancellation Policy
The language gets complicated, but essentially, with “Delta’s risk-free cancellation policy”, it doesn’t matter when the flight is, you can cancel “by midnight of the day after the eTicket is purchased or midnight of the departure date of the first flight, whichever comes first.” Contact their customer support team if you’re not sure whether you can take advantage of Delta’s risk free cancellation program.
Southwest’ Cancellation Policy
Southwest has the same cancellation policy as Delta: there is no advance purchase requirement to be eligible to a full refund.
Alaska Airlines’ Cancellation Policy
With Alaska Airlines, the DOT’s rule that full refunds are applicable only if your flight is at least 7 days away is reduced to 24 hours. So you can cancel within 24 hours for free as long as your flight is more than a day away.