Canceled flight? You deserve a refund from the airline.

Airlines have spent the past month doing everything they can to avoid giving out refunds for canceled flights. Their favorite alternative: offering travel credit instead.

First off, did you purchase trip insurance?

If not, you should have. However, even if you didn’t get your trip insurance, you are entitled to a refund for a canceled flight. For them not to refund you isn’t ethical, and it’s not even legal, and you can’t buy groceries with a gift card from an airline. But they’re hoping you don’t know any better. Here’s what you need to know.

Know your rights when it comes to a canceled flight.

Know your rights

If an airline cancels your flight, you’re eligible for a cash refund. Period. It’s federal law.

If an airline significantly changes your flight itinerary, you’re also eligible for a refund. Annoyingly though, the law doesn’t define exactly what a “significant schedule change” is.

Though it varies by airline, in general these would be considered significant:

  • 2+ hour change to your arrival or departure time.
  • Nonstop flight changed to a connecting flight.

If an airline cancels/changes your flight, you’re eligible for a refund, even if:

  • They only canceled/changed one flight in your itinerary.
  • You had a basic economy ticket.
  • It’s on a foreign airline. As long as a flight takes off or lands at a US airport, the airline must follow US law.
  • Even if the airline could really use the cash, that doesn’t give them the right to keep your money.

Third-party Bookings

If you booked through a major online travel agency (think Expedia or Priceline), the good news is they’re generally following the airlines’ refund policies. If your flight is canceled, you’re owed a refund, even if you booked through a third party.

Be Proactive About Your Right to a Refund

Few airlines are proactively telling passengers about their right to a refund because they’d prefer you accept a voucher instead. If they’re stonewalling, these are the three things you can do:

  1. Hang up, call again. Airlines have thousands of call center agents and each has discretion to grant a refund. Countless times I’ve been told no on the first two calls, only to be told yes on the third call.
  2. File a complaint. The Department of Transportation will forward your complaint to the airline and threaten “enforcement action” if they don’t act soon. Here’s the form.
  3. Credit Card Dispute. Banks have protections for customers in case they pay for something that they don’t ultimately receive (like, say, a flight that got canceled).

Wait to Cancel

If you voluntarily cancel, you’re only entitled to a voucher. Even if you’ve decided not to take a future trip, hold off as long as possible in the hopes the airline cancels your flight.

Get Trip Insurance!

Get Trip Insurance

This post originally came from Scott’s Cheap Flights.