In the midst of the pandemic, I snagged an airline refund; here’s how to get one if you are qualified

During the coronavirus pandemic, as many passengers are realizing for the first time, airlines owe you a refund if they cancel or substantially change your route, not just a travel voucher.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation warned airlines that, amid the record number of flight cancellations that have left airports eerily bare, the regulation still remains. After an increase in concerns over refused refunds, the warning arrived.

Travel experts have been warning passengers with non-refundable tickets for weeks, including myself, not to rush to cancel American Airlines flights in the expectation that the airline will first cancel or adjust it and refund their money.

This week, I put the advice to the test, but without throwing a lot of cash on the line.

I had no use for my American Airlines return flight from Phoenix to Chicago on April 14, with a scheduled trip to visit my family in Arizona scuttled for Easter. (I used regular flight points for the flight to Phoenix from Southwest Airlines and was able to delay the trip without penalty.)

Weeks before, I should have cancelled the American leg and banked the airfare for a ride to the future without Paying such onerous adjustment costs because my flight was shielded by one of the several travel waivers of the airline’s coronavirus.

But I waited because I chose a $50 one-way simple economy fare refund and had a first-hand look at the method of refunding.

The opening for the refund landed late Monday in my inbox.

“The subject line: “Your journey has been updated.”

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When their flights are delayed or altered, American Airlines and other carriers alert passengers if an email was given at booking time. During the coronavirus pandemic, travelers need to pay attention to these emails if they hope to receive their emails Airline rules disagree over what is called a substantial shift of timetable, but if the change is as little as 61 minutes, American has long approved a refund. Owing to the mass timetable shifts arising from the pandemic, the airline recently adjusted its time span to four hours, but it only applies to new fare sales, because absolutely no one is purchasing airline tickets right now.

First, I tried to cancel the flight on American website, but the airline may not make it clear to those who press cancel that they will be eligible for a refund, like its rivals.

They want you to rebook or take a refund at a later date, particularly when there is no cash coming in during a pandemic from new bookings.

USA TODAY travel correspondent Dawn Gilbertson was told by American Airlines of a delay in her flight. In lieu of a travel voucher or credit, she used the details to get a refund.

And if you find the American online refund form, a popup window says: “Don’t worry that your ticket’s value is safe. You will be able to use the value of your unused ticket and seat purchase for a future trip when you’re ready to rebook. Right now, there is no need to request a refund or call reservations.’”

I wanted to contact American’s general reservations line to make sure I wasn’t immediately given a voucher if I cancelled online. (I do not have a status in the frequent flyer network of the airline that offers access to dedicated customer support lines.)

The hours-long wait times typical a few weeks ago have decreased, and for a callback, I was quoted a 27-minute to 37-minute time period.

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Within 30 minutes, I got a call back and met with a nice agent called Liz. I informed her that my flight had changed and I was expected to be eligible for a refund.

Liz looked at the change and agreed, but she did not accept the refund officially or process it. She cancelled the flight and instructed me to fill out a request for a refund at She assured me that I should simply cancel it online and then file the appeal, because all applications for refunds go through the same online channel.

My ticket number and my name were all I wanted to apply the request on the American website, she said.

“Do you have your number for the ticket?’ she asked.

She was staring up at it and I was jotting it down.

“The processing of the refund takes about seven to 14 days,” she added.

It took less than five minutes to make the conference call.

The form was a cinch to complete and I got assurance that it was submitted and under review. My $50 ($48.40 to be precise) should appear on my credit card statement by the end of the month, in time to offset the inflated price of hand weights that I’m about to order.

Due to the coronavirus crisis, can the airline cancel your flight? DOT claims you’re already owed a refund,

How to get a refund of your own if you’re worthy

1. On your own, don’t willingly cancel the flight. Wait for the carrier to cancel it or make major adjustments that would make you eligible because of a travel allowance or coupon to get the money back.

2. For notices of American Airlines Cancellation or changes, keep an eye on your account. Note that airline rules vary according to what constitutes a substantial difference in the timetable, so what worked for me does not adhere to your itinerary. If you have a refundable ticket, you are not entitled for a refund if your flight has not been cancelled by the carrier or has changed substantially.

3. Haven’t you received an email? On the airline’s website, review your reservation and see if there are any updates. Check the flight status tab on the airline’s website if the flight is in the near future.

4. Be persistent and cite the DOT’s refund instructions for cancelled or dramatically altered flights. If you have been told the During a pandemic, regulation does not adhere, note the DOT’s compliance notice issued April 3.

5. Don’t berate reservation agents for airlines. Be steadfast, not disrespectful.

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