The DOT just issued an enforcement notice clarifying airline refund requirements
Photo by Wilson Ye on Unsplash

I hope everyone is staying healthy and, if you’re not an essential worker, staying at home. If you are an essential worker, thank you from the bottom of my heart for being a real hero and caring for all of us in so many different ways, from doctors, nurses, police, fire and healthcare workers to farmers, truck drivers, pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, chefs, trash collectors, grocery store workers, and all the many others who are helping to make sure that essential services are still available to us. Thank you again.

I know it’s going to be a difficult couple of weeks and I have many friends and family members who have caught COVID-19, including my uncle George who is currently in a N.J. hospital fighting for his life. So please keep him and all of the other sick in your prayers.

I’m fortunate that my wife and I can work from home and that we’re healthy, we’re together, we have a roof over our heads, and we have food (and toilet paper). As we know since we’re in the travel business, every travel company has pretty much had to pull their budgets, so making money is a real challenge. BTW: One way I make money is through affiliate revenue, so if you’re buying stuff from Amazon or Walmart please consider using my referral links, which are embedded in the respective names (it doesn’t cost you anything more). And in case you’re in the market for a new credit card, here are some of the best credit cards to use for Amazon purchases (no annual fees, cash back and more). As always, don’t ever get a rewards credit card unless you can pay off your bill in full every month.

Hopefully, this pandemic will be over sooner rather than later but it’s beginning to look like the quarantine period is going to last months, instead of days or weeks like some government officials alluded to in the early days.

Before the outbreak, I used to think the world was small but suddenly, with all the airlines cutting flights, borders closing and cruise ships docking, the world seems a whole lot bigger and loved ones feel so much farther away. It’s not so easy to jump on a plane and go see my dad in Florida for a couple of nights or attend my great aunt’s 100th birthday party like I was supposed to this week in Connecticut. This pandemic really makes you appreciate what life was like before these challenging times.

A huge update from the DOT clarifying airline refund requirements

Yesterday, I called American Airlines (Exec Plat desk) to get a refund for my canceled Maui-LAX flight next week. There was no hold time, the agent was very nice and it took a total of two minutes to get a full refund. She said it was a slow day and that yesterday all she did was cancelations except for one booking! Scary times for sure. I’ve heard horror stories of airlines not wanting to give your money back even if they cancel your flight (ahem, United and Air Canada). I’ve previously said that the trick to getting your money back for most airlines that won’t cooperate is to wait until your flight is canceled. If that doesn’t work and they just want to give you a travel credit, I noted that you can ask to speak to a supervisor (if it’s a U.S. airline) and tell them the DOT states that you must give the money back (see last week’s post for the direct link to the DOT).

Then, today, the DOT issued clarification on the subject of airline refund requirements:

The U.S. Department of Transportation today issued an Enforcement Notice clarifying, in the context of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency, that U.S. and foreign airlines remain obligated to provide a prompt refund to passengers for flights to, within, or from the United States when the carrier cancels the passenger’s scheduled flight or makes a significant schedule change and the passenger chooses not to accept the alternative offered by the carrier. The obligation of airlines to provide refunds, including the ticket price and any optional fee charged for services a passenger is unable to use, does not cease when the flight disruptions are outside of the carrier’s control (e.g., a result of government restrictions).

This just enforces what I and many other travel bloggers have been writing about getting your money back from airlines that cancel your flight or significantly delay them and then refuse to give your money back. I’m guessing most of the complaints that the DOT received are from United passengers who are pissed off because the airline had been only offering travel credits, not refunds.

What I didn’t realize immediately is that I can now also demand my money back from Air Canada for my Toronto-to-New York flight next month that was just changed. Score one for the good guys!

If an airline doesn’t cancel or significantly delay your flight, there’s still likely not much you can do except take the travel credit. Unless the flight is to a place that’s forbidding visitors, in which case I would call your credit card company and try to get a chargeback if the ticket was purchased in the last 60 days. If you used a debit card, you’re out of luck. But your best bet is now to cite the language above.

More COVID-19 stories

Here are some of our coronavirus-related stories that we started publishing in mid-January. And please check out our resource page:

Lastly: an online travel summit

A couple of months ago I was asked to be interviewed for a travel summit. The host recorded what I said (as he recorded the other speakers) and is going to release my talk (and plenty of others) to participants this week. Here’s the info: “When it’s time to travel again, be ready to explore the world! The Travel Like a Pro! Summit is a 3-day virtual (online) event during which 26 travel experts — pros at traveling — will share their best ideas, tips, and advice for traveling safely, affordably, and smartly! These experts are travel writers, bloggers, podcasters, video-bloggers (vbloggers). They post insightful, fact-filled articles, podcast episodes, and videos about travel. During the Travel Like a Pro! Summit video interviews, you’ll get advice from highly-experienced travelers who have really been there, done that! Their journeys have crisscrossed the world: Across North/Central/South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and even Antarctica! Go to for your free pass to the Travel Like a Pro! Summit!”

Stay safe, stay healthy!


8 Comments On "The DOT Just Issued an Enforcement Notice Clarifying Airline Refund Requirements"
  1. JW|

    Good chance this will go past May 3, but It’s not going to last months. At least not domestically. You might not be able to fly internationally for a while. Not sure why you’d want to in the next couple months anyways. Plus it depends where you live in the US. The quarantine is going to be removed in some areas before others. Most of the quarantines in China have already been removed after 1 1/2 – 2 months. So unless you have facts, you might not want to make predictions like that.

  2. Buzzy Gordon|

    If you got a really good deal on a flight, and it is cancelled — do you have the option of keeping the ticket with an open date (valid, say, for a year) instead of a cash refund?

    1. Johnny Jet|

      It depends on the airline but I don’t know any that would. You can most likely switch to a different flight right away for no fare difference but 99.9% most airlines will just give you a travel credit to use towards the price of a flight.

  3. Kathe Kline|

    I’m so sorry to hear about your uncle George, and yes, I said a prayer for him just now.

    1. Johnny Jet|

      Thank you

  4. Keith Heifert|

    I listen to you every Saturday with Leo.
    Question : I canceled on AA 1 1/2 days prior to flight and got a credit. They then turned around and canceled the eve of my flight. Am I out of luck for a refund ? I did try and submitted a refund request anyway. Thanks !! Love listening to you guys !

    1. Johnny Jet|

      Thanks for the kind words! This is a good tip to wait to just a few hours before your flight to cancel. I know that doesn’t help you but because you canceled I don’t think they will give it to you (just a credit with no change fee). However, it’s always worth a try. Let us know if they give you a refund.

  5. Darren|

    So here’s what happened: First I called Orbitz. The wait was surprisingly short, only about two minutes. The rep says she would have to have her “offline supervisor” contact United Airlines to approve a refund and that it would take 24 – 48 hours.

    Then for my son’s ticket I called Skiplag (Priceline). This time the rep says I must contact the airlines directly for a refund. So I called United Airlines customer service. The lady says if I cancel I have 18 months to reschedule and that my credit will remain.

    I told her I didn’t cancel the flight, the airline cancelled the flight and I’m entitled to a refund per the Dept of Transportation. She immediately apologized and then proceeded to refund my and my wife tickets, and then my son’s ticket which was booked separately.

    Then I called American Airlines. The rep says they have a refund site: I entered my ticket number and it says “Eligible for Refund”. Mind you this was a cheapie ticket with no changes or cancellation allowed. I entered the ticket number, my email and address and the refund processing has begun.

    My daughter also called United and the lady told her to request a refund on the web. But I think United only wanted to credit her. So I told my daughter to call back and this time a gentleman refunded her ticket.

    So thanks for your help. Perhaps you may want to give the American Airline refund link in your newsletter and advise on other airlines refund processes.

    Stay safe.

    Darren H.

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