How to Get a Refund on a Nonrefundable Ticket

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Did you buy a nonrefundable ticket and now have to cancel your flight? Not sure if you can or how to get a refund on a nonrefundable ticket?

Most airlines have a strict no refund policy on nonrefundable tickets.

But there are times when you can get your money back. Or change your flight to something that works better for you.

It’s never fun when something comes up and you have to cancel your vacation or bucket list dream trip. Whether you planned it months ago or made last minute plans, it’s never fun to realize that the trip you’ve been dreaming of isn’t going to happen.

Then to find out that that you’ll lose all that money you spent on your flights.

A nightmare situation for sure.

But it doesn’t have to be. Here’s everything you need to know about getting a refund on a nonrefundable airline ticket.

This post was originally published on September 28, 2018, and updated on January 31, 2020.

 

In March I did a mileage run to Beijing. While at the San Diego airport I got a text alert.

My flight was delayed for four hours.

Four hours!

I’d have more time at the Qantas First Lounge, American Airlines Flagship Lounge, or the Qantas Business Class Lounge.

Or I could go to the American Airlines Admirals Club lounge because I get free lounge access from a credit card. If you don’t have a credit card with lounge access, here are a few tricks on how to get into every airport lounge.

Four hours wining and dining before a long flight wouldn’t have been too hard.

But I would miss having dinner with a friend in Beijing. And I was looking forward to seeing her.

The mileage run wasn’t crucial because I still had 9 months to requalify for American Airlines Executive Platinum status.

When I got the text notifying me of the delay I knew I could cancel and get a refund of my non-refundable flight.

Because the delay was longer than two hours. You can request a refund for delays longer than two hours.

Flight delays greater than two hours aren’t the only way to get your money back. Here are all the ways you can get a refund on a nonrefundable ticket.

Pro-tip: The refund process is easier if you book directly with the airlines. Either online, calling the reservation center, or at the airport.

It can take more effort when you book through a travel agency or use points. Read: Why you shouldn’t book your ticket using ThankYou points.

How to Get a Refund on a Nonrefundable Airline Ticket

United Airline plane
Photo courtesy: United Airlines

1. Book on Airlines That Don’t Charge Change Fees

You can get a refund on a nonrefundable airline ticket when you book on airlines that don’t charge change fees or have flexible policies.

If I had booked on Southwest, Alaska, Allegiant, and Frontier, I could have easily gotten a refund. Because their refund policies are more flexible than the other airlines.

But my nonrefundable ticket was on American Airlines and I used points. Points booked through the Citi ThankYou travel agency. At 6 am on a Saturday, they were closed. One reason you should think twice before you book a ticket using points.

Southwest

You can cancel a Southwest flight within 10 minutes before departure. When you cancel your ticket, you get a travel credit for the cost of the flight. You have one year to use the travel credit.

This includes flights booked using points earned from cards like the Southwest Premier and the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Alaska

If you cancel or change your Alaska Airlines flight you can get a full refund less a $125 cancellation fee. Alaska waives the fee for MVP Gold and MVP75K members. The exception is Saver Fare tickets. Only the 24 hour DOT rule (see below) applies to Saver Fares. 

Allegiant

Allegiant lets you change your ticket up to one hour before your flight if you bought Trip Flex insurance.

Frontier

On Frontier, you can cancel or change your flight 60 days or more before your flight without paying fees.

Pro-tip: You have to cancel your flight to get a refund. If you don’t show up at the airport, considered a no show, you won’t get a refund.

2. Cancel Within 24 Hours 

You can get a full refund on your airline ticket if you cancel within 24 hours after purchase. 

This Department of Transportation (DOT) rule applies to all airlines selling tickets in the US, including international airlines. This means if your flight departs from the United States, you can cancel a nonrefundable ticket within 24 hours of purchase on any airline.

Some airlines like American Airlines, have a slightly different policy.

American allows you to hold a ticket for 24 hours without payment. This is their way to comply with the DOT rule. If you buy your ticket from American Airlines and cancel in 24 hours, you will be charged a change/cancellation fee.

Pro-tip: The 24-hour rule doesn’t apply to tickets made within seven days of travel.

3. Embrace Flight Delays

Flight delays are another way you can get your money back on an airline ticket.

No one wants to get to their destination later than they planned but flight delays make canceling nonrefundable airline tickets easy. Depending on how long of a delay, you can get a refund. So embrace those notifications that your flight has been delayed. 

When buying your ticket remember to tick the box to get notifications about your flight. Turn on notifications in the airline app.

Check with the airline you’re flying for their flight delay policy.

If you’re flying on Delta, you can get a refund for delays greater than 90 minutes.

For flight delays longer than two hours American Airlines will refund the value of your ticket and fees such as baggage and/or seat assignment.

On United Airlines, you can get a refund for flight delays of two hours or more.

You can get trip delay reimbursement coverage of up to $500 per ticket from your Chase Sapphire Reserve card for delays longer than 6 hours or overnight delays.

Pro-tip: If you’ve used part of your ticket, you’ll get a refund on the unused portion.

4. Watch for a Schedule Change

If there’s been a schedule change in your flight, you can get a complete refund on a nonrefundable airline ticket.

A schedule change can include departure or arrival time change, flight changing from nonstop to one with connections, a long layover, or a different type of airplane.

In the past, you could cancel if your flight if the change was only a few minutes but rules have tightened up. Check with your specific airline for their policy on schedule changes.

You can get a refund for schedule changes of 30 minutes or more on United.

American Airlines requires a schedule change of 61 minutes or more to get a full refund.

Delta Airlines gives refunds on changes greater than 90 minutes

Pro-tip: This is one reason why you should set flight alerts for your flight.

5. Canceled Flight

If the airline cancels your flight you’re entitled to a refund on your nonrefundable ticket.

Fees paid for bags, seat upgrades, and or seat assignments are also eligible for a refund.

Pro-tip: Most airlines will rebook you on another flight. It’s your choice if you want to accept the new flight. You can choose not to fly and get a refund.

At the airport and your flight was canceled? Here’s the secret travel hack on how to another flight.

Pro-tip: Your Chase Sapphire Reserve card reimburses you up to $10,000 per person for canceled trips.

6. Jury Duty

Got a summons for jury duty? You could get your money back.

This may be the one time you’ll wish you got assigned to jury duty! 

United allows you to get a refund if you get assigned to jury duty. You have to send in a copy of your jury duty summons.

7. Illness

If you or a family member suffers an illness that restricts you from traveling, you can get a refund on your United Airlines tickets.

You’ll have to submit a doctor’s letter stating that travel wasn’t recommended.

The other airlines don’t have an illness refund policy. But that shouldn’t stop you from politely asking for a refund due to the circumstances.

Being a member of their frequent flyer program, especially if you have elite status can help.

If your situation is newsworthy or headline-making, that could help your case. But you shouldn’t cause a scene or be disruptive.

Pro-tip: Reaching out on social media can make a difference.

If that doesn’t work and you paid for your flight with your Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can get reimbursed for your costs up to $10,000.

8. Military Orders

You can get a refund on nonrefundable tickets if your military orders change.

Family members and/or traveling companions of military members might be able to get their tickets refunded. Be sure to ask nicely.

9. Death

You’re entitled to a full refund if you die.

Yeah, that last part is funny. Like you’re really going to try to get a refund from beyond.

Your family can go after a refund for you. 🙂

Pro-tip: Some airlines like American Airlines will refund nonrefundable tickets if your travel companion dies.

Conclusion

When you buy a nonrefundable ticket you can’t get your money back if you have to cancel. But there are some circumstances where you can get a refund on a nonrefundable ticket:

1. Book on airlines with flexible policies to get a refund on nonrefundable tickets
2. Cancel within 24 hours to get an airline ticket refund per DOT rules
3. Flight delays of 90 minutes or longer let you change or cancel your flight without fees
4. Watch for a schedule change. If the new time or date doesn’t work for you, you can cancel your flight and get your money back.
5. When the airline cancels your flight you can get a full refund.
6. If you get called in for jury duty, some airlines let you cancel your flight.
7. An illness is another way to get your money back if you bought a nonrefundable ticket.
8. Should your military orders change you can cancel your flight for a full refund.
9. Death. If you die, your family can get a full refund on a nonrefundable ticket on your behalf.
 

You can get a full refund on your ticket if you cancel within 24 hours, there’s a schedule change or flight delay of at least 61 minutes, get summoned for jury duty, receive military orders, get sick, or die.

These circumstances apply to cancellations vs. changes. Changing your ticket is a different process and usually involves paying a fare difference if the cost of your ticket has gone up.

You can also get a refund on baggage fees, pet fees, priority access, and preferred seats.

Not getting any help when you call to get a refund? Consider hanging up and calling again (HUCA). It doesn’t hurt to call back. You’re likely a different representation, hopefully, one who is more willing to help. If not, consider asking for a supervisor.

Some credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, offer travel insurance protection benefits. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can get reimbursed up to $10,000 for flight delays, canceled flights, and illness.

So did I cancel my Beijing ticket because of the four-hour flight delay? No, because I booked my ticket through the Citi Thank You portal which is considered a travel agency.

I wasn’t 100% confident they’d issue me a refund vs a travel credit. That’s why you shouldn’t book your ticket using ThankYou points. So I stuck it out and flew the flight.

When was the last time you got a refund on a nonrefundable ticket?

Pin this to your travel or travel tips board:

When you buy a nonrefundable ticket usually you can't get your money back if you have to cancel. But there are 9 different ways you can get a refund on a nonrefundable ticket. Here’s how… #travel #traveltips #travelhacks #travelwell4less

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Debra Schroeder

Debra is a former 12-year travel industry executive and has traveled the world using airline miles and credit card points since 1994. She'll teach you the secrets of traveling well for less.

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13 Comments

  • The below responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.
  • Paul H Huang September 30, 2018 at 5:23 pm

    I wonder if you can still request a refund after your trip has started in some situation stated above. Like, you take a trip to Beijing, stayed there for a few days and, your return flight had a weather delay or schedule change, would it be possible to request refund for the half itinerary?

    • Debra Schroeder October 14, 2018 at 12:29 pm

      Hi Paul H Huang,

      Yes, you can request a refund on a partially flown ticket.

      However, it might not be for half of what you paid. The exact amount will depend on what you paid for that portion of the flight – the airlines have this figured out in their systems. Just wish they’d show it to us when we book. 🙂

  • Maloney October 13, 2018 at 8:48 am

    This is honestly some of the best travel advice I’ve read in a long time! This is why I mostly fly Southwest but I had no idea there was so much flexibility with the rest of the airlines!

    • Debra Schroeder October 14, 2018 at 12:27 pm

      Hi Maloney,

      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂

  • Clare Colley October 14, 2018 at 9:50 am

    I had no idea that the american airlines gave you refunds so easily, and to get refunds after so little delays is unbelievable, I wish the airlines were that flexible in europe, though we can claim if we have been delayed after a certain number of hours. The US also seems to have more flexible options for changing your flights too than we have in europe, we have some budget airlines but its very hard to change or cancel your flight and get any money back!! Thanks for the tops I will certainly be checking next time I fly through the US.

  • David October 19, 2018 at 10:29 am

    There’s a few in here that I wasn’t aware of. Some of these are different in the UK/EU so I’ll have to look into some of them. I was able to get refunds before for cancellations which you’d expect!

  • Danik October 19, 2018 at 2:48 pm

    Fantastic advice here and some I never knew before. I have managed to get my money back on a non-refundable flight before (as the european Union has similar rules and regs as the U.S.), but took a while to obtain but it can be done like you said. I also got 80% of money back on a flight which was over four hours delayed which lead to eventually cancelation then rebooked on the next flight the next day (and also getting three free meals and hotel room provided by the airline…I was very happy). I can’t believe family members can try and get a refund on a ticket of the person who has died. Is it only in the states. I am going to try and see if that can be done this side of the pond. 😀

  • Linda (LD Holland) October 19, 2018 at 3:41 pm

    I read this blog post with interest. There have been several times when we thought we would need a refund. In the end, we were able to pay and change a ticket instead. This post was a good reminder to know the airlines policy about delays, changes and cancellations they cause and ability to get refunds. We have used the 24 hour rule once when I made a big mistake on ticketing (booked the wrong direction).

  • Jennifer Prince October 20, 2018 at 7:30 pm

    That is SO true that working directly with the airline is a lot better. And I don’t know if I would have thought to test out getting a refund on a nonrefundable ticket, but I’ll try it if the occasion ever arises!

  • Anda October 20, 2018 at 8:36 pm

    Excellent tips, Debra! I was aware of some of them, like the 24-hour policy refund, or the flight delays, or schedule changes. However, I had no idea that you can get a refund for illness reasons. I always thought that unless you buy an insurance, you can’t get any refund for breaking a leg, or getting sick before you fly. As for getting a refund for death, I’d rather pass on that, lol!

  • Yukti Agrawal October 20, 2018 at 8:58 pm

    I love how you can get so many tempting deals and advantages while booking for tickets with US’s airlines as in Asia we are not getting so many tempting offers. To get a refund on a non refundable ticket is really worth, as sometimes my plans get change at last moment. The Chase Sapphire Preferred looks like the best card for me as to start initially, I would love to get started as traveling for free because the welcome offer is 60,000 points with spending $4,000 in the first three months. The important feature about this card are earning 2X points on travel and dining, no foreign transaction fees, and transferring points to 13 airline and hotel partners like Hyatt, United, and Southwest. Thanks for sharing some good tips on saving money while booking tickets.

  • AMAR SINGH October 21, 2018 at 8:05 am

    I did quite envy some of the frills and benefits that are possible in the USA and surely we dont get these in the UK.Even though with some great customer service here in the UK the thought of getting a refund on a non refundable ticket is not something I would have thought of even but this post has helped to get some great tips and understanding on how to work around this aspect. One thing I do agree that buying directly though the airline or even booking accommodation directly with the hotel has its benefits when you want to cancel or have issues around your booking. Thanks for some great tips.

  • daniel October 22, 2018 at 11:43 am

    Great list!! I could personally use most of the tips mentioned. I can literally count the number when I have my wasted my money on unattended flight tickets for various reason. Most of the time my tickets were non-refundable so therefore I have wasted my money. Sadly I wish these rules were implied on most the international flights too as those are the ones that cost significantly more.

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