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When booking airline tickets, many travellers consider the price, as well as other details, but often overlook the possibility of a refund. This can be a serious mistake.
It’s important to know that different airlines have different policies regarding cancellations and refunds. Many offer a choice between non-refundable and refundable flight tickets.
Refundable flights are less popular because of their higher cost, but they bring other benefits you should know about.
In this article, you will learn more on the topic, including when you should book refundable plane tickets and what your passenger rights are in case of a cancellation.
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What is a refundable flight ticket?
Refundable flight tickets are tickets that you can return for a refund to your debit or credit card (or whichever payment you used).
Some tickets are fully refundable and will only cost you a small administration fee, but others require an airline service fee.
The main aspects you need to remember about refundable flights are the following:
- They are more expensive than non-refundable ones;
- Most airlines support a full refund policy if you cancel your booking within 24 hours of booking;
- Some air carriers charge a fee to issue a refund, while others have a strict cancellation policy;
- It is recommended to book a refundable flight if your travel plans are still uncertain.
What are non-refundable flight tickets?
If your tickets are non-refundable, this means you cannot return them in exchange for a refund. However, if you can’t use them, you might be able to apply their value toward a flight credit. You will be able to use this flight credit in the future.
Depending on the airline, it can charge additional fees for changes made to a non-refundable ticket.
In some cases, if you have travel insurance, you might be able to get some kind of refund even if you booked a non-refundable flight.
When to book refundable flight tickets?
Generally, if there is some uncertainty about your travel plans, it’s better to play it safe and get a refundable flight. This is insurance that you won’t lose your money if your plans change and you have to cancel.
However, if you are travelling for business, there is a high chance that you won’t be cancelling your trip. This means that you don’t need to book a refundable ticket. The risk of losing money here is minimal, especially if your employer is paying.
Note that whether or not you have a refund option often depends on the class you’re booked on:
- or first class.
Often, refunds are not offered to the most basic / economy class.
Refundable flights and COVID
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, many air carriers have changed their cancellation policies.
If your flight is cancelled due to COVID, you are entitled to a complete refund of your ticket. According to European Regulation EC 261/2004, the airline is required to refund you within 7 days of the cancellation.
Right now, most air carriers and travel agencies prefer to offer vouchers instead of refunds. However, you should know that you have the right to request a refund and decline the voucher. Be aware that if the airline goes into administration, passengers holding a voucher will lose their money.
You might have noticed that many airlines are offering refundable tickets these days, in an attempt to encourage people to book.
Here is an example of the latest policies of two US-based air carriers.
United Airlines allows for free cancellations or changes to your booking only within 24 hours. Refunds are not given to economy tickets, but other classes might qualify.
In the US, change and cancellation fees can go as high as $200 domestically and $750 for international flights.
Currently, due to the coronavirus pandemic, United Airlines have expanded their refund policy to cover passengers who have been adversely affected.
American Airlines have a similar airline cancellation policy.
You should know that they have eliminated all change fees for first, business, premium economy, and main cabin tickets. This applies for all domestic and short-haul international flight tickets (but not for long-haul ones) that are issued on or after 31 August 2020.
Flight delays and cancellations due to COVID-19
Normally, if your flight is disrupted, under EU 261, you might be eligible for flight compensation.
However, if your flight is delayed or cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, you won’t be entitled to compensation. The reason is, this is considered extraordinary circumstances. In such cases, airlines are not responsible for your flight disruption.
Still, you will be entitled to either a full refund of your ticket, or an alternative flight to your destination if available.
Refundable flights: To sum up
Now you know more about your passenger rights and how to protect them. The difference between non-refundable and refundable flights has become clear. Once again, it is important to always read the policies of air carriers because they can change, especially when we take into account the current state of affairs worldwide.
In general, you should consider booking refundable flight tickets when your travel plans are uncertain.
If you go ahead and use the tickets you booked but experience a delayed or cancelled flight, you might be eligible for compensation.