Let me put it bluntly: if your flight is canceled and an airline doesn’t issue a prompt refund, you should dispute the charge with your credit card company.
In 1994, charismatic attorney for O.J Simpson Johnnie Cochran told the jury, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” He was referring to a glove found at the scene of the crime which prosecutors contended was worn by OJ Simpson to murder two people. Small problem: the gloves did not fit him. Thus, the catchy phrase that soon became part of popular culture.
Well, I’ve got a new catchphrase:
If The Airline Refund Doesn’t Impute, You Must Dispute.
Impute, in this context, means to credit. See, the airlines are playing a dangerous game while having the audacity to ask for your tax dollars at the same time.
Every U.S. airline has a contract of carriage that allows for refunds in the case of flight cancellations. United might argue its leaves open an exception for force majeure events, but that actually doesn’t matter. That’s because the U.S. Department of Transportation requires airlines to offer refunds for flight cancellations.
Here’s the pertinent language on the DOT website:
What happens when my flight is cancelled?
- If your flight is cancelled, most airlines will rebook you for free on their next flight to your destination as long as the flight has available seats.
- If your flight is cancelled and you choose to cancel your trip as a result, you are entitled to a refund for the unused transportation – even for non-refundable tickets. You are also entitled to a refund for any bag fee that you paid, and any extras you may have purchased, such as a seat assignment.
- If the airline offers you a voucher for future travel instead of a refund, you should ask the airline about any restrictions that may apply, such as blackout and expiration dates, advanced booking requirements, and limits on number of seats.
This could not be any clearer. If your flight is canceled and you do not want to be rebooked or take flight credit, you are entitled to a refund.
What To Do If The Airline Denies Your Refund Request For Flight Cancellation
You can write the CEO, you can keep calling back, you can email, you can file a DOT complaint, but I will tell you what I would do if an airline denied me a refund on a flight they cancelled: call my credit card company and dispute.
This is not something I recommend lightly. I know airlines are in a difficult position and if you can use the voucher, take it..I have a flight that was cancelled and will take the flight credit, because I plan to get right back up in the air as soon as the situation improves.
But some were traveling for weddings or funerals. Some were traveling for business meetings which were cancelled or held via video conference. Those travelers should not be held hostage in clear contravention of U.S. law.
How Long Should Refunds Take To Process?
United now will offer refunds for flight cancellations…but only after a year. Is this a way for airlines to still honor the “letter” of the law even while ignoring the “spirit” of the law?
The DOT requires that refunds be issued within seven days to credit cards or within 20 days if paid by cash or check.
How quickly is an airline, travel agent, or online travel agency required to process a refund?
- If a passenger is owed a refund, an airline, travel agent, or online travel agency must process it within seven business days if the passenger paid by credit card, and 20 business days if the passenger paid by cash or check.
Airlines are in a horrible position right now. Thus, I don’t recommend lightly that you dispute ticket charges if your flight is cancelled. But do know that option is open to you. Also note that even if you should not have to wait more than a week for your refund to hit.
If The Airline Refund Doesn’t Impute, You Must Dispute.
I had a flight with Spirit from the U.S. to an international destination. I cancelled it and they first prompted me to take a date change, which I refused and asked for a voucher, given their coronavirus policy offered the choice of a date change or a voucher. Two days later, though, as things got worse and I realized I would no longer need the voucher, I made the case to their customer service, who basically ignored what I said and offered me a voucher they had already provided me. I kept emailing — and also used the Elliott executive contacts — and, after a few days, I got a full refund. Not sure if it was because I got lucky with the language I used in my emails — noting the Level 4 State Department advise — or if it was because I contacted the executive contacts, but I was pleased to get a refund, which I see hit my Chase Sapphire Reserve today.
Hang up and call again — or email and call again (often emailing the executive contacts) — is a good strategy.
Confused about your comment re. the time element, Matthew. The US DOT clearly seems to state:
“If a passenger is owed a refund, an airline, travel agent, or online travel agency must process it within seven business days if the passenger paid by credit card, and 20 business days if the passenger paid by cash or check.”
Could you elaborate, please?
Great catch and mea culpa for not seeing that. I was going off of this page, which lists no time limit:
But thank you. I’ve updated my post.
Can you dispute the charge if you’ve already paid the credit card bill? I’ve never tried.
How about flights when booked using ultimate rewards points? Already getting anxious about a call I need to make to UR travel to cancel an upcoming United flight for Saturday that they cancelled and rebooked me on a later flight that night.
While technically you could work with either Chase or United, I would try to work directly with Chase first, placing the onus on them to reach out to United for a refund (and leaving them on the hook if United refuses).
Any idea if the DOT guidelines apply to internal flights in another country? For example, we were supposed to go to Ecuador and fly several internal legs on TAME and Emetebe. These flights are cancelled, but the airlines in question have only offered vouchers. Is this something that can be disputed with my credit card?
Does not apply.
I booked a RT flight from HKG-ZRH-ORD on Swiss back in February. I cancelled the flight within 8 hours of booking. Swiss is dragging their feet with the refund. I contacted them on Twitter and they basically scolded me for wasting their time during this critical period. But it’s been more than a month, and I should’ve been refunded long ago. Finally after exhausting all options of communication with the airline I filed a chargeback and a DOT complaint.
Good for you. Nice of you to give them more time than they were entitled.
I have a flight scheduled with Air New Zealand in May. They’re offering a credit good for a year, but not a refund. Do I have any recourse?
Does it touch U.S. soil?
No, open jaw between Australia and New Zealand.
Sadly, your credit card company likely won’t help you. You can try, though if Air New Zealand’s COC promises refunds for flight cancellations.
I think there’s a good chance the credit card company will help. He paid for a service that the airline is unable to provide. Credit card companies can decide in his favor even if the airline doesn’t agree. Plus, if there is no entry ban and the airline chooses to cancel due to light loads, isn’t that a cancellation within the airline’s control?
I had a question for experts here. Emirates cancelled my return leg of the flight and sent me an email stating my unused portion of ticket was $526 and that they would issue me a voucher. I said I need a refund as they had no flights to my airport. They processed a refund of $332 only. Is this allowed? Their email clearly stated the following
“The amount you will receive in the form of a travel voucher is USD526 for the remaining portion of your ticket.”
Pretty sure the glove DID fit him but OJ made it appear as if it didn’t.
Well, I managed to get through to Air New Zealand. They said they could only offer the credit as per policy, but the agent recommended waiting for at least a month or two (the flights start May 28) to see if the policy changes.
Haven’t contacted AmEx yet.
Oops, meant to reply to Josh (above).
Our flights to New Zealand were cancelled by Singapore airlines we received a full refund from Singapore airlines in a matter of weeks.
Will always fly Singapore!!!!
@Matthew, perhaps you could post about EC 261/2004? A lot of airlines are denying refunds for flight cancellations and are only offering vouchers instead, despite the regulations and last week’s EC notice. Off the top of my head, SAS is the only one who’s said from the get-go that pax are entitled to refunds if their flights are canceled.
Anyone have any guidance regarding cancelled flights on Royal Air Marcoc? Outbound flight (IAD to Casablanca) was scheduled for Apr. 3 but was cancelled and I will be unable to make the trip later. Royal Air Maroc no longer picks up the phone and my emailed request for a refund (sent five days ago) has gone unanswered.
I have already called my credit card (Chase Sapphire Reserve) to dispute the charges.
Any further recommended steps? Thanks!
At this point, just leave it in the hands of Chase.
Impute doesn’t and can’t mean what you think it means here.
blah, blah, blah. I expected nothing less from you. Just appreciate the rhyme and save your breath next time, please.
On a more positive note & tone, how about:
If the voucher doesn’t suit, you must dispute.
If the airline does not restitute, you must dispute.
If the refund does not execute, you must dispute.
If your refund request becomes moot, you must dispute.
Great suggestions! 🙂
Flight booked Jan 20′ from US to Mex for Oct 20′ via a 3rd party. I knew beforehand this airline was not traveling International (appears to be going through bankruptcy), however 3rd party only offered a refund so long as I paid an additional 10% of the ticket price. Should I expect a refund after filling a dispute w/ the CC?
I’d contact your credit card company.
While I typically roll my eyes at online pedantry, Mike’s suggestions do make more sense than the current headline. 🙂
Great article as always except don’t like issuing rationale that the airlines are in hard times right now. Who cares? If it was nov 2019 and you lost we’re job, what would they have said to you calling asking for a refund. It goes both ways. What is so awful is the employees on the end being left without a job but who GAF about the airline.
I am very sympathetic to your sentiment and know you’re right about what would happen if the shoes were on the other foot, but as a business owner myself, I particularly appreciate what a cash crunch the airlines are in right now. That doesn’t justify withholding a refund in the least, but it helps to at least explain it – they are fighting for survival, not just being their usual greedy selves.
“If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit”
I had a refund dispute with an airline company, which was jerking my chain. It cancelled a flight, from my local airport, which I needed to be on, to connect to an international flight, which was also being operated by the same airline. The airline ignored my repeated requests for a refund. Finally, I had enough of their bs. I filed a legal summons against them, through my local small claims court. It took about 4 days for them to get back to me, with an apologetic attitude. Not only did I demand every penny back, but also the cost of the summons, plus the cost of the notary fee. P.S. I received every penny back. I regret that I didn’t demand more money for the stress and inconvenience of that matter. Incidentally, when I asked those incompetents why they forced me to go to court, and why they didn’t simply refund the money to begin with, their idiotic excuse was “we were busy with our merger”!
I don’t believe that punitive damages are commonly awarded in small claims court, if at all.
How about payments for seat assignments? Do you think I would have a leg to stand on—no pun intended—if I disputed those? I and a companion were originally scheduled to fly BOS>MUC in LH PE in April, and we ponied up the $50 each for good seats. (LH PE on the A380 has a middle section with four seats, which we couldn’t abide for a redeye.) When we were forced to move our trip to May, LH required us to pay *another* $50 each, claiming that a refund for the original $100 would follow.
We’re now scheduled for the same flight in August, $200 in the hole, and are back where we started with no seat assignments.
Any chance I can convince LH to use the damn funds we’ve already spent? It’s not even about the refund per se, just getting them to acknowledge that a seat assignment doesn’t “cost” them anything, and so they should be willing to transfer the ones we’ve already paid for, especially in this insanely difficult time.
United still won’t give me my miles back for my cancelled flight to Lisbon without paying a $125 fee. They will only give me a credit. They will not budge on the issue. Any recommendations
Since it is a direct transaction between you & United & no money was paid (except for taxes), you can’t involve any 3rd party, such as a credit card company.
It is a “services not provided” situation, where you fulfilled your obligation by using your miles. United wasn’t able to fly you.
I would try to escalate it with United; it probably will take dozens of phone calls to even speak to somebody high enough.
Then contact travel bloggers & journalists, even your local TV station.
Also try to find other United mileage passengers.
Best of luck!
As you have reported, called United for a refund on four tickets I bought for family to Italy and two tickets to Arizona totaling $4,212.20. As expected, I was told I could apply for MY money back after one year. I shared with the nice agent that is was against DOT policy, and he was polite and told me there was nothing more he could do and referred me to the United Web Site. I skipped the letters to Oscar and the DOT and went straight to my credit card and disputed all six charges. Will let you know what happens. It very unfair for United to keep our money for flights they have canceled.
What if you’ve already received the credit? I had a non-refundable ticket and was able to receive a credit only because of the original blanket change fee waiver. Now AA has suspended service for a segment to South America (for a time period that includes my original booking dates) so if I’d waited they would indeed have cancelled my ticket.
What if you flew the outbound and the return was canceled? Can you dispute for part of a charge? How would I even calculate the amount? Aeromexico canceled my return leg from Colombia to Mexico weeks before the situation got dire in either country. It seems like they were just reducing volume and I got unlucky.
Aeromexico is not responding on Twitter and their call center hold time is reportedly 6 + hours ( I hung up after 2).
Difficult question. I would start by disputing the full amount, since they did not complete their end of the bargained-for exchange.
Hi Matthew- I have a similar situation as Martin however my outgoing flight was cancelled. My returning flight is not cancelled but will the credit card dispute still work for the whole amount since I purchased the flight as round-trip single total?
I tried to contact by phone, by email to travel agency to re-schedule my oversea tickets this summer because of covid 19, but no luck. Can I file dispute with my credit card company? Thanks
I think you should do that. Disputing the charges with your credit card company might be your only option & even that might be difficult & lengthy.
Read my situation.
I also requested a full refund on 2 Alitalia tickets that I booked through Expedia for the Budapest – Rome – Los Angeles route. The purchase took place at the end of January for a March – April round trip flight. The passengers are not US citizens or green card holders & are over 70.
First Alitalia changed one of the flights by 2 days, resulting in a 3-night layover in Rome in the middle of the highest peak, then the planes were not allowed to fly at all. I thought it would be a simple process & specifically requested a full refund, not a voucher or coupon. Expedia just emailed me the rather inflexible vouchers. Due to the reduced number of flights, now it would be needed to change planes twice… not exactly feasible for elderly passengers.
I disputed the charges with Citicard & got them conditionally reversed. I faxed in all supporting documents: correspondence, flight ban rules, Alitalia’s Covid-19 policy screen shots, DOT & European rules for full refunds… 14 pages total. That was in March, even before the original flight dates. I thought that it was a resolved case.
At the beginning of June, however, my credit card was charged again for the airplane tickets. After finally reaching a competent live person at Citi, I learned that Alitalia disputed my refund request, so Citi made me pay again – a mandatory process, I was told. I am waiting to see Alitalia’s response & I was advised to dispute the new charges again… Alitalia will have one more chance to force the charges again. Then Citi’s dispute department will fight with them directly, I was told.
This approach by the airlines is ridiculous. Having a travel agency in the middle doesn’t help either, as Alitalia wouldn’t deal with me directly & Expedia is conveniently unreachable. They only care for their commission anyway, so it is also in their interest not to refund the tickets.
I am not sure how & when this will end; Santa Claus might be coming to town by then…
Has anybody gone through rounds 2 or 3 with credit company charge-backs?
My flight on Virgin Atlantic was cancelled – requested a refund and was told 120 days. I understand the Airlines predicament and have been waiting until they just filed Chapter 15 bankruptcy. Not sure where that left me so I just filed a dispute with my credit card.
Sounds like what I’m going through at the moment with capital one. I purchased a ticket using my capital one card through the capital one portal using miles for a portion of the cost of the ticket and charging the balance to my capital one card. Capital one travel is the vendor in this case and capital one the credit card has been a nightmare to deal with. I got so frusterated that I reached out directly to the airline, explained the details and was able to get the airline to issue a refund. You would think this would be the end of it. Not by a long shot. Capital one is still refusing to refund me the money. I really don’t know what more to do in this case
We are in a similar boat. 5 tickets from Atl to ord to Paris from MAY. United cancelled the Chicago to Paris trip and never notified us (not that it mattered, we weren’t going). They did tell us we can have a refund. Have documentation that refunds were processed. Chase says it was never rec’d. We disputed the charge, which Chase told us to do, FINALLY hearing back today that the charges stand. My husband has been trying to escalate up the food chain with both the airlines and Chase. This is super frustrating because Airlines says they sent and Chase says they didn’t get. He’s been on the phone all morning trying to get a manager or supervisor with no luck. What do we do now?
This is very wrong, Lisa. Try contacting United via Twitter. They tend to be much more responsive. Send a DM to @united.
This is what’s happening to us!
We bought tickets on Emirates, they cancelled the flights and said the refund would take 90 days./ We had $ 6000 in tickets and disputed the charge with our credit card. That was in June, now in late September we are receiving a chargeback from the credit card company. Why???
Cn’t the airline ban you from flying with them again if you dispute the charge?