Updated on February 5, 2024.
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Despite all the best-laid plans, there’s flight disruption that completely derails your trip, and you no longer need to take the flight. What happens next? Can you request a refund? What are your options? We’ll go over everything you need to know about flight refunds and getting yours fast.

Key Takeaways

  • Not all flight tickets are fully refundable, but you can qualify for a full refund in scenarios like significant delays, cancellations within 14 days of departure, or involuntary denied boarding when the next flight doesn’t suit your schedule.
  • Passengers can request refunds through various methods, including online platforms, airline apps, customer service, or airport desks. Be aware of potential service charges depending on the method used.
  • EC 261 is a European regulation that holds airlines accountable for avoidable flight disruptions. Passengers facing delays, last-minute cancellations, or involuntary denied boarding may be entitled to both a full refund and additional compensation, which can vary based on flight distance and circumstances.
  • Even if you have a nonrefundable fare, you may still be able to receive a refund or alternative accommodations if the flight disruption is beyond your control. Contacting customer service and explaining your situation is often the best approach.
  • The quickest way to receive a refund is to request a credit on your account. Airlines prefer this method because it benefits them financially. Other refund methods, such as bank transfers or checks, may take longer due to processing times, but they are still viable options.

What Qualifies for a Flight Refund?

Not all tickets are fully refundable, so you’ll have to meet some criteria in order to qualify for a full refund. This includes, but is not limited to, the following.

  • Flights that were delayed more than five hours.
  • Flights that were cancelled within 14 days of departure and the new flight does not work for your schedule.
  • If you were involuntarily denied boarding and the next available flight does not work for your schedule.

In these cases, you are eligible for a full refund on your flight. You can also get full refunds within 24-48 hours of booking your ticket if you change your mind, depending on the airline, as long as your flight is booked in advance.

Some fares automatically come fully refundable if you pay more, so you won’t have to navigate the qualifying circumstances to get a full refund from your airline.

How to Get a Refund from Your Airline

There are different ways that you can get a refund on your ticket if you personally want to request a refund. There is another way you can get a refund when it’s out of your control, and we’ll cover that in another section below.

  • Online
  • App
  • Customer Service
  • Airport Desk

Depending on your airline, you may be charged service charges depending on how you cancel your flight and request a refund, so make sure you know the full terms and conditions to get the full amount of your fare refunded to you.

Online

You will need to have access to a computer, tablet, or smartphone to cancel your reservation online. Log into your account and locate the reservation. You will be able to modify or cancel your reservation from this page. If you are eligible for a refund, you will be asked how you wish to receive it.

Some fares are not eligible for a refund or can only be credited to your account as a voucher. If you have issues with how the refund is being credited, you can contact customer service. Depending on your refund method, it should hit your account within 72 business hours, though some methods take longer. It all depends on how fast your bank or card processes the refund.

App

Many airlines have a convenient app for your smart devices. Not only can you more easily manage your reservations when you use the app, but you can also reference your boarding pass and more.

If you need to cancel your flight to get a refund, open the app and locate your reservation. If it’s not populating, make sure you sign in. If it is associated with your account, it should pop up automatically. Here, you can make changes to your reservation, including rescheduling or cancelling and requesting a refund.

Again, if your fare is eligible, it will ask how you want to receive the refund. Depending on your refund method, it will be credited to your account within a few business days. Remember, not all fares are eligible for refunds, and if you have an issue, you can always contact customer service.

Customer Service

Sometimes, people prefer to call the airline’s customer service team to get a refund. Perhaps they purchased a fare that is nonrefundable, or they don’t want to do it themselves. Whatever the case may be, you can contact customer service and let them know you would like to cancel.

You will need your name, booking reference, and additional flight information to help them locate your reservation. Once they have it, they can cancel it and get you a refund if you are eligible for one. You may be able to discuss it with an airline official if you are not. Some will issue a full or partial refund based on the circumstances.

Airport Desk

If you’re already at the airport, you can work with the customer service team to get a refund. They can help process your cancellation and refund on the spot, but keep in mind if it is due to a widespread issue, you may be waiting a long time in line to speak with a customer service representative.

This method should only be used if you are already at the airport and if there is something preventing you from boarding or your flight from taking place. If these circumstances don’t apply, you should use one of the other methods. Not only are they more convenient, but they are also more effective.

What if the Airline Adjusts My Flight?

In some cases, the airline may need to adjust your flight. This could be because of inclement weather that is forcing all planes to be grounded. It could also be because of a scheduling issue. Whatever the case may be, if the delay is significant and you can no longer make the flight or no longer need it, you can work with the airline to get a full refund.

Even if your original fare was nonrefundable, you should be eligible to get a full refund. This is because their airline or extenuating circumstances were at fault. It was not your fault that you could not make the flight, so you are entitled to a full refund.

If the airline was at fault, you could also get up to €600 in compensation in addition to the full refund. Make sure to settle your original flight accommodations before you file a claim with customer service. In most cases, you will have several years to claim compensation under EC 261.

EC 261 and Flight Refunds

EC 261 is a European regulation that holds airlines accountable for avoidable flight issues that cause delays or cancellations. If you face an issue that the airline was responsible for, you are entitled to a full refund and flight compensation.

The only thing you want to remember is if the airline offers additional incentives, you need to be careful. If you accept them, it may void your right to claim compensation under EC 261. It is important to read the fine print. Sometimes, the airlines will offer you a better deal, so it may be worth it to accept over filing a claim.

You can claim compensation under EC 261 if you face one of the following circumstances.

  • Your flight was delayed more than two hours.
  • Your flight was cancelled within 14 days of its departure.
  • You were involuntarily denied boarding due to overbooking.

Any of these circumstances could net you additional compensation on top of a full refund, but you have to file a claim for it. Depending on the circumstances, you could receive up to €600. The amount you receive will depend on the circumstances surrounding your flight. These include the length of your flight, where it was operating, and where your airline is based.

Based on the above factors, here’s a breakdown of what you can receive.

  • Flights 1,500 km or less: €250
  • Flights more than 1,500 within the EU: €400
  • Flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km not within the EU: €400
  • Flights more than 3,500 km: €600

Just because you accept a full refund from the airline if you cannot make your trip does not mean you cannot file for compensation under EC 261. However, not all flights apply. You have to meet the criteria to qualify.

EC 261 Flight Compensation Qualifications

The airline must be at fault for the flight issue in order for you to receive compensation under EC 261. That means if you need a refund or have a delay because you missed your flight, this law will not protect you.

Instead, it protects passengers if the airline has a technical fault, scheduling issue, staffing shortage, or other issue within their control. If any of these apply, you can file a claim to receive up to €600 in compensation.

If the issue is not in the airline’s control, then you cannot claim compensation. This includes any of the following circumstances.

  • Political instability and security risks that could put flights and passengers in harm’s way.
  • Severe and unsafe weather conditions, including natural disasters, blizzards, ice storms, hurricanes, tornados, and more.
  • Airport employee strikes, which is most typically air traffic control.
  • Air traffic control restrictions, including when runways are shut down or other airport issues that impact flight safety on the ground or in the air.

If any of these apply, you cannot get compensation, but you should be able to receive a refund from the airline. Again, as long as you’re not at fault for the reason for the refund, you have options – even if your fare is technically nonrefundable.

Non refundable Fares and Refunds

If there’s an issue that prevents you from flying that’s out of your control, you should contact customer service. Many of the low-cost carriers allow you to purchase cheap fares, but they are often nonrefundable. But that doesn’t mean if the flight doesn’t take place, you can’t get a refund or alternative accommodations.

On the contrary, you should be able to either get your money back or reschedule the ticket without any fees. You will need to work directly with a customer service agent to help in these cases. It is always best to call and state your case. As you work with the airline, be kind and calm. They are not at fault for the issue.

Ways to Get a Refund

If you are able to get a refund, there are several different ways that you can get one.

First, you can get it credited back to your card, lest any service or processing fees. Additionally, in many cases, if you pre-purchased in-flight add-ons, these will not be refunded. This takes time to process, both from the airline and the bank, so it may take several days to get your money back.

Next, you can get the funds via a bank transfer or sometimes even a check. Again, these methods take time and will not get you the funds back fast if you need them.

You can also get a refund in the form of travel credits. This is automatically available in your account and can be applied to future trips. For those who plan on taking the trip at a later date or are frequent travellers, this option may be worth it for you as airlines may offer additional incentives to use this option.

What is the Fastest Way to Get an Airline Refund?

The fastest way to get an airline refund is to request a credit on your account. This will be automatically available in your account lest the time it takes for the refund to process. The airline prefers to generate credits because they do not lose money. In some cases, passengers forget to use the credits before they expire, so the airline may even make a profit.

The other methods of payment can vary how long it takes to get back to your account. This is because not only does the airline have to initiate the transaction, but the bank also needs to process it. This can leave passengers anxiously awaiting necessary funds because the refund is not timely.

Unfortunately, you cannot speed up the process, so you simply have to wait for the refund to process. The faster you initiate the transaction, the faster it can hit your account, so make sure to cancel your flight and request a refund as soon as you can.

Conclusion

Passengers are entitled to refunds if their fare allows it or other qualifying circumstances apply. The airline is required to pay out in cash if there is an avoidable delay or cancellation, thanks to EC 261. Passengers can also qualify for additional compensation under EC 261. They need to file a claim to receive up to €600 on top of a full refund from their airline.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What qualifies for a flight refund?

To qualify for a flight refund, you typically need to experience significant delays, last-minute cancellations, or involuntary denied boarding due to circumstances within the airline’s control. This includes delays of more than five hours, cancellations within 14 days of departure, and more.

  • Can I get a refund if I change my mind about a flight booking?

Some airlines offer full refunds within 24-48 hours of booking, depending on their policies. After this period, refund eligibility may vary based on fare types and conditions. Always check the airline’s specific refund policy.

  • How can I request a refund from the airline?

You can request a refund through various methods, including online platforms, airline apps, contacting customer service, or visiting the airport desk. Be aware that there may be service charges associated with certain methods.

  • What is EC 261, and how does it affect flight refunds?

EC 261 is a European regulation that holds airlines accountable for avoidable flight disruptions. It allows passengers to claim a full refund and additional compensation if the airline is at fault for delays, last-minute cancellations, or denied boarding.

  • Are nonrefundable fares eligible for refunds?

In some cases, even nonrefundable fares can be eligible for refunds or alternative accommodations if the flight disruption is beyond your control. Contact the airline’s customer service and explain your situation for assistance.

  • What is the fastest way to receive an airline refund?

The fastest way to get an airline refund is often to request a credit on your account. Airlines prefer this method. Other refund options, such as bank transfers or checks, may take longer due to processing times.

  • How long does it take to receive a refund from the airline?

The time it takes to receive a refund can vary based on the method chosen and how quickly the airline and your bank or card processor process the refund. Typically, it may take several days to see the funds in your account.

  • Can I claim compensation under EC 261 if I receive a full refund?

Yes, you can still claim compensation under EC 261 even if you receive a full refund for your flight disruption. However, not all flight disruptions qualify for compensation; it depends on the circumstances and the airline’s fault.

  • What happens if the airline adjusts my flight schedule?

If the airline adjusts your flight schedule significantly, and you can no longer make the flight or no longer need it, you may be eligible for a full refund, even if you initially booked a nonrefundable fare.

  • How can I ensure I receive the maximum compensation under EC 261?

To maximize compensation under EC 261, it’s essential to file a claim with the airline promptly and provide all necessary documentation. The amount of compensation varies based on factors like flight distance and the airline’s location.