How to get your money back if COVID-19 ruined your travel plans
Photo by Miguel Angel Sanz courtesy of Unsplash
Feeling Spent will answer your financial questions on how to survive during the coronavirus pandemic.
Since March, travelers have been scrambling over COVID-19 – to change their travel plans, get refunds and just figure out what’s going on.
The travel industry is reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused more devastating blow that the fallout of September 11. As governments increased travel restrictions, demand collapsed and airlines struggled to stay afloat.
Here is expert advice on what to do if your travel plans have been canceled or if you are unsure of what to do.
Am I liable for a flight refund?
If the airline has canceled your trip or made significant changes, you should be reimbursed, depending on US Department of Transportation. This applies to travel booked before, during and after the pandemic.
However, if you purchased a non-refundable ticket and are the one who canceled, you may need to pay a cancellation fee (which ranges from US $ 200 to US $ 750) and settle for a voucher. trip.
Similar rules apply to Canadian airlines, although the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) suggests that during these extraordinary times a voucher is acceptable. Canadian airlines offer travel credits that expire in 24 months.
Air passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs said consumers should push for money back, especially if they face financial hardship. It highlights the billions of dollars on which Air Canada, the country’s largest airline, relies. “They refuse repayments because they are using public money as a non-refundable, interest-free cash advance,” he said.
In an email to VICE, the office of the Minister of Transport of Canada acknowledged “how frustrating and difficult this is for many Canadians, but also recognizes the existential position in which many airlines find themselves.” The email does not state that travelers should be reimbursed, although common law and consumer protections suggest they are.
How to negotiate a flight refund?
Just because you’re owed a refund doesn’t make it easy, or even guaranteed, that you’ll get one. US-based airlines have been slow to issue them immediately after the pandemic; the Department of Transportation even issued warnings on April 3 and May 12 due to the unprecedented number of customer complaints it received.
While you can contact the airline online or through social media, Scott Keyes, the founder of Cheap flights from Scott, recommend calling because it says your chances of success are better. The best time to call is approximately 30 minutes before the end of customer service hours, as wait times are typically shorter.
If you have any burning questions about budgeting, debt, or invoices, send them to [email protected].
“In the United States, the airlines started to pull themselves together and stopped being assholes about refunds and started following the law,” he said. But some agents still refuse.
He recommends knowing your rights and taking a friendly and polite approach. “The agents responded to requests around the clock, doing a thankless job. And that’s not their policy; these are the frames above them. They are the soldiers on the front line, but they have some discretion as to whether you get a refund, ”he said.
If your soft words don’t work, don’t waste your time trying to convince them. Keyes says a better tactic is to hang up and call back. You will be put in touch with another agent and your “chances of success are better with a clean slate”. He has seen this method work, even after two or three calls.
Lukacs suggests that people doing business with a Canadian airline make a real effort to try and get a refund and document everything: record your phone conversation, keep track of emails, and take screenshots of interactions on them. social networks. But Canadian airlines do not provide refunds even if they are legally required to do so, so your chances of success are low. If travel credit isn’t working for you, there are last resort options to consider.
As first reported by VICE, a class action lawsuit against Air Canada, Air Transat, WestJet, Sunwing and Swoop, led by Lukacs, awaits court certification. If allowed to continue, out-of-pocket travelers could be financially compensated.
What if it doesn’t work?
If you still fail, it’s time to climb.
Keyes suggests that travelers dealing with an American airline company to file a complaint with the Department of Transportation, which has been effective for some of his friends and customers.
If all else fails, Keyes and Lukacs recommend disputing the charge on your credit card. Lukacs says that MasterCard has the clearest and friendliest rules about it, while Visa is somewhere in the middle; American Express was the most “combative and hostile”.
If you haven’t paid with a credit card, Lukacs says it’s worth considering suing the airline in small claims court. But it could take even longer than usual as cases have been put on hold during the pandemic.
Am I liable for a refund on a travel package?
It’s more complicated because flights are regulated by the federal government, but packages, which contain both airfare and accommodation, fall under very different state or provincial laws. To negotiate a refund, follow the same steps as above, but go through your booking agent (i.e. Expedia, travel agent, airline).
I have saved some money for a trip that I will take in the future. Do I have to keep paying?
If you have something in writing that says you will be reimbursed if the trip does not take place due to COVID-19, it makes sense to keep paying.
Timing is also an issue, Keyes says. For example, a trip in the coming months might not be canceled, but you might not feel safe (or good) about going. If your plans are refundable, then your bases are covered.
If you are not happy with your future travel options, stop paying and follow the steps above to negotiate a refund or compensation.
What should I do about future travel plans?
If you’ve already booked a trip in the future, Keyes suggests waiting until the very last minute to see what happens. If the airline cancels or makes significant changes, you must be reimbursed. But if the trip isn’t canceled, the compensation you get doesn’t change, whether you canceled two months or two days before.
“It’s basically like a chicken game where you watch the airline and whichever part flashes first loses,” Keyes said. “If you have a flight in July and have decided not to take that trip, because it’s not sure, it always makes sense to wait as long as possible in order to give the airline more time. to cancel theirs. Before this crisis they would have canceled flights months in advance, but it’s a whole new normal and sometimes they cancel flights days before. “
If the flight isn’t canceled, but you don’t feel safe enough to travel, you’re “the one left with the bag,” Keyes said. However, many US airlines have temporarily stopped charging cancellation fees, saving you money, but you’ll have to settle for a voucher, he says.
If you haven’t booked yet, Lukacs suggests waiting until things have stabilized. This means that you can plan your route and choose your hotel or hostel, but don’t give money for anything.
In a few months, or a year, if you feel secure enough to commit financially, be selective, depending on what has happened since March. Some airlines have established a good track record for themselves during the pandemic, while others have not.
“I would not give my money to an airline guilty of theft and refusing to reimburse,” Lukacs said. “The most important message we can send as consumers is that if you steal consumers’ money, you won’t get any more money in the future.
Follow Anne Gaviola on Twitter.