Humans don’t have crystal balls to predict when our travel plans are going to change. Sudden illnesses, family concerns, natural disasters, or even just a change of heart can cause us to cancel our flight. It’s likely that you didn’t purchase a refundable plane ticket in advance because at the time of booking, you felt sure that you’d make it to the boarding gate.
Fear not, with these tips, we’ll show you the best ways to get a plane ticket refunded or changed even if you booked a non-refundable fare.
Can you get a refund on plane tickets? Read the fine print.
*Please check official airline websites for policies and details.
When you purchased your flight ticket, you likely had the option to upgrade to a flexible or refundable option. Check your booking information or call the airline to confirm what type of ticket you’re holding. No matter what type of ticket you have, read your airline’s terms and conditions for flight cancellations. Ticket types often have their own criteria for being refunded or changed.
Many budget savvy travellers book the the cheapest plane tickets that they can find. Unfortunately, cheap tickets are rarely refundable (but still worth getting). If you’ll be taking the trip eventually, see if there is an option to upgrade your ticket to a flexible one for an extra cost. This might be cheaper than buying a completely new ticket.
Why you should call your airline as soon as possible
When you know you won’t make your flight, call the airline immediately and ask for customer service. Many Australian airlines have a policy where you can change your flight details within the first 24 hours of booking free of charge. Though many airlines are notorious for being as helpful as a lifejacket during a fire, there are some airline angels out there who can help you change your ticket or start the process of getting a refund.
First ask for a refund, then pursue a voucher or flight change. Note that the closer you are to your departure date, the harder it is to get your plane ticket refunded.
When to ask for a flight change vs. flight refund
Getting a flight refund is when you have the cost of your flight fully or partially refunded. This is a lot harder to obtain if you’ve purchased a non-refundable ticket, as the airline isn’t going to relinquish those precious dollars easily. For non-refundable tickets, you will almost always receive a flight voucher in lieu of cash.
If you’re a frequent flyer, a flight change might be a more realistic option than getting a flight refund. Many airlines allow flight changes for a fee plus the cost of the price difference between flights. If you change the dates or destination to a cheaper flight, you can often cover the flight change fee or even get a flight voucher for the excess. Don’t assume that flight change fees are non-negotiable, sometimes they’re waived if you have a strong argument, are a loyalty member, or are the only friendly caller that the customer service agent has talked to all day.
Always ask for a refund on your airport tax. While not all airlines offer this, getting something back is better than nothing.
How to change a flight or cancel your plane ticket
You’ll need to contact the travel agent you’ve booked through or the airline. Third party booking platforms or travel agents can be great for finding the best deals or packaging multiple flights. However, they often have rules that differ from the airlines and you will need to communicate to the airline through them to start the refund or flight change process. Oftentimes, changing flights through a travel agent costs more and is more time consuming than doing it with the airline directly. If you fear that you’ll need to change your flight in the future, it’s best to book directly with the airline.
Some airlines are more flexible about changing your airline ticket without a fee than others. A good strategy after searching for flights on Skyscanner is to go through the top suggested flights, read the featured airlines’ policies, and then book your flight.
Popular airlines and their flight change policies
- Air New Zealand
- Cathay Pacific
- Singapore Airlines
- Tiger Air
- Virgin Australia
Instances when your airline might issue refund for your plane ticket
Some airlines make exceptions to non-refundable flights in cases of extreme travel advisory warnings like terrorism threats, injuries, or due to a death in your family. However, many airlines have a strict “no refunds” policy no matter the circumstance.
There was a case in the US where Jerry Meekins, a terminally ill veteran, was given no-fly orders from his doctor. When he filed for a refund, the airline denied his request. It was only because of a media uproar that his flight was refunded. This case is sadly an exception to the rule.
Instances where you are guaranteed to have your plane ticket reimbursed
According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, you are entitled to a refund if your airline cancels your flight — even if it’s nonrefundable. If bad weather creeps up or a major event occurs, airlines will often either issue a full refund or allow you to change your flight without fees. You might also be entitled to a refund if there’s a schedule change, route change, or a severe delay. If your flight changes, act fast. Many airlines will only give you a few days to claim the refund or voucher for your flight.
Another instance where airlines must refund your plane ticket is if the airline bumps you from a flight. This is not the same as voluntarily being bumped off for in exchange for flight credits. This only applies when the airline gives you no option other than to miss the flight.
How to get the law on your side
If you have a strong case for getting a refund, or your entitled refund hasn’t been credited, you can contact the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and lodge a complaint. You can read their requirements on when you’re entitled to a refund for a cancelled service. There is also the industry-funded Airline Customer Advocate. This agency handles customers of Jetstar, Qantas, Rex, TigerAir, and Virgin Australia.
When to involve your travel insurance company
If the airline won’t issue a refund for your plane ticket, your insurance company probably won’t either. Rarely, there are exceptions to the rule. Read through your travel insurance provider’s terms for your entitlements to “trip interruptions.” It depends on your circumstances, but if all else fails, you might be able to get a refund or some form of compensation through your travel insurance rather than the airline itself.
Your travel insurance will often cover the cost of your cancellation in cases like:
- You or your travel companion gets injured or falls ill
- Illness or death of a family member
- Unstable political situation developing in the destination that you plan to visit
- Extreme weather (typically linked to official travel warnings)
- Legal obligation where you must appear in court
There are many other reasons and situations where you may be covered. So, even if the airline will not refund your plane ticket, your travel insurance might.
Some insurance policies offer a “cancel without reason” option for an extra cost. It’s worth comparing the price of this travel insurance add-on to the price of a refundable plane ticket.
Should you buy a flexible or refundable plane ticket in the future?
The answer to this question is personal. Flexible or fully refundable flights can sometimes cost up to double the price of a non-flexible or non-refundable flight. Unless your travel plans are vague, you are usually better off booking the flight on the dates that you intend to fly without the flexible or refundable option. If nine times out of ten you take your flights as planned, then you’ll probably save more money than booking refundable tickets, even if your canceled flight does not get refunded.
Ready to hop on a plane yourself? Skyscanner Australia can help you arrange car hire, hotels, and of course, flights, for any destination.
About the author
Chantae Reden // Chantae Was Here
Chantae Reden is a journalist who writes about adventure, politics, extreme sports, and travel. She believes every stranger is a potential friend. You can find more adventure writing on her blog, Chantae Was Here or on The Salt Sirens, her ocean-sports website.