We get the best questions, like this one: “Can I get my money back when bad weather delays or cancels my flight?”
Since winter will be here before you know it, and hurricane season is still in full swing, we thought it was time for some answers.
And the answers start right here in a podcast by travel expert Rick Seaney:
Getting Refunds Varies
More and more airlines are at least open to the possibility of refunds in the event of major, news-making storms (think of 2012’s Super Storm Sandy or Hurricane Irene from the year before). If you’re caught up in a major weather situation and don’t know or are not sure about refunds, go ahead and ask. You may get lucky, but the more likely outcome is a voucher good for travel on future flights.
What Most Travelers Don’t Know
Many passengers assume that all airline tickets are alike, but there are important differences including those of refundable tickets vs. the more common non-refundable tickets, which are the ones most likely purchased by leisure travelers because they’re cheaper. Keep a sharp eye on the fine print as you make your way through the airfare purchasing process; if tickets are non-refundable, it is spelled out, though it won’t be in big, bold letters. Sometimes – although it’s very rare and occurs only in certain unusual circumstances – airlines will offer refunds on non-refundable tickets, but you cannot count on this.
Big Weather Events – Your Options
The airlines have gotten very good at dealing with significant weather events. When a big storm (or hurricane or snowfall) makes news, chances are excellent that the airline is aware of it and may make do one or more of the following:
- Offer to waive change fees. This allows you to reschedule flights at no additional cost (and this is important because change fees can cost as much as $200 per person).
- Offer a refund/voucher: Refunds are not unheard of, but again, they are rare. The far more likely scenario is you will be given a voucher in the amount of your paid ticket, good for use on future flights.
Sometimes the airline will contact you to let you know about your options but more likely you’ll hear about it on Facebook, Twitter or see an alert on the airline’s website.
And you, the passenger have certain responsibilities:
- If you hear about very bad weather heading your way, call the airline
- Be prepared to provide alternate travel dates
- If you must cancel altogether, ask if you can get a refund or voucher for future flights
- Follow your airline on Twitter (or Facebook) for the very latest updates
Everyday Weather Delays – Your Options
This is trickier. Minor weather, unforeseen problems – or even remnants of super-storms and the like – can create unexpected delays, often while passengers are waiting at the airport. For more information, see Fly Rights: A Consumer Guide to Air Travel.
In a nutshell, if a flight is delayed or canceled, here’s what to do.
- Get in touch with the airline immediately. Your goal is to get out on the next flight out – but a planeload of other passengers are pursuing the exact same goal.
- Tweet. Many airlines follow Twitter closely and if you send a message about your flight dilemma, you may be among the first to get your problem solved.
- Airport actions: Get in line to speak to an airline gate or reservations representative, and at the same time, call the airline – you never know which contact will respond more quickly.
- VIP lounge: Consider purchasing a day-pass to your airline’s members-only lounge; it will include access to an airline rep who will be a lot less busy than the ones at the gates.