U.S. airlines that offer refundable and non-refundable tickets include Southwest, JetBlue, Delta, United, and American.
Traveling by air can be very expensive, which is why many people often prioritize lower fares. In fact, the cost of an airline ticket tends to be a deciding factor in buying a ticket, along with comfort and convenience. Here's why you should also consider the potential for refunds when choosing an airline.
- Refundable flights are generally more expensive than non-refundable ones.
- Consider booking a refundable flight if you're uncertain about your travel plans.
- Some airlines charge a fee to issue a refund and others have strict cancellation policy terms.
- Airlines must issue full refunds if you cancel your flight within 24 hours of booking.
Are Plane Tickets Refundable?
Plane tickets are, by law, fully refundable within the first 24 hours of booking if you book at least seven days in advance. However after that, each airline has a different policy for refunding airfare.
Most airlines offer a choice between refundable and non-refundable airline tickets. Refundable tickets tend to be much more expensive. Non-refundable tickets are often cheaper, but they do carry risks.
If you don't use your non-refundable ticket, you won't get your money back in most cases. However, you can often reuse the ticket for another flight with the same airline. The non-refundable ticket that can be reused is non-transferrable, meaning that if you bought the ticket for yourself, you can only apply that amount toward a new ticket for yourself, not for another person.
With a refundable ticket, you typically pay more but you have the reassurance of knowing that you can get the money returned to you if your travel plans change.
The higher costs of a refundable ticket can range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars, depending on the kind of flight you book—economy, business, or first class. Basic economy tickets are usually completely non-refundable, meaning not only will you not get your money back, you cannot reuse them.
How Refundable Tickets Work
When you buy your airline ticket, you will likely have an option to book a refundable ticket. These are bookings you can make that can be fully refunded—or in some cases, partially—if you cancel your flight for any reason.
Whether it's better to book a refundable or a non-refundable ticket depends on your needs and budget. If you're traveling for business, you may not need a refundable ticket because your plans may be less likely to change than if you were planning a vacation.
If there's any doubt that you will travel, you should consider a refundable ticket. The cost of paying extra will be better than paying for a ticket that you don't use.
There are a few things to keep in mind about refundable flights. Some airlines charge a fee to issue a refund, while others have a strict cancellation policy. In the latter case, you may only have a certain window of time during which you can request a refund.
If you're a frequent flyer who has racked up a lot of miles, the airline may be willing to overlook its policies and grant a refund. Keep in mind that all flights are, by law, fully refundable within 24 hours of booking.
Other Considerations for Non-Refundable Tickets
There are circumstances when you may be able to obtain some manner of refund for a non-refundable ticket. As mentioned above, airlines are required by law to provide full refunds to all buyers, regardless of ticket type, who cancel within 24 hours of booking tickets that they purchased at least seven days in advance.
Refunds for Canceled or Changed Flights
If the flight for which you bought a non-refundable ticket is canceled or changed by an airline, you're entitled to a refund. If canceled, the airline may attempt to book you on another flight but you may request a refund instead. If changed, you may be entitled to a refund, depending on the airline's policy for changes and flight refunds.
Check with your airline to see whether it offers credits (aka, vouchers) for non-refundable tickets toward future flights.
Travel Agency Bookings
Bear in mind that for tickets purchase through an online travel agency, you must deal with the agency rather than the airline when it comes to refunds. Plus, some agencies may have charges associated with flight changes or cancellations.
A Cancel for Any Reason travel insurance benefit can ensure that you're able to recoup a certain portion of the money you've paid for a non-refundable ticket. And it doesn't matter why you have to cancel the flight.
If you use frequent flyer miles to travel, you may be able to get a refund (or change your flight), but a fee may be involved. Check before committing your miles to a flight if getting a refund is a must.
Refund Policies at Major Airlines
Every airline takes a different approach with its refund policy. Here's how airfare refund policies compare at five major U.S. airlines.
Some tickets offered by Southwest are refundable, with no penalties, including the airline's Business Select fares and Anytime fares. Southwest's Wanna Get Away tickets—the cheapest ones available—are non-refundable. But their cost may be applied toward future travel during a certain period of time.
JetBlue does not charge a change or cancellation fee for most of its airline tickets, including Blue, Blue Plus and Mint fares on all routes. If you want to change your flight, you will have to pay any difference in ticket costs.
The exception is Blue Basic. If you want to cancel or change a Blue Basic ticket, you will likely have to pay a $100 fee for travel in the Caribbean, Central America, or North America and a $200 fee for travel to other regions.
3. Delta Air Lines
Delta offers refundable and non-refundable tickets for domestic and international flights. It typically does not charge fees for changing your tickets, with the exception of its Basic Economy tickets, which are completely non-refundable and non-changeable, for the most part.
Delta has some cancellation or change fees to consider with non-refundable tickets. For domestic travel, Delta charges a cancellation or change fee of $0 to $400, depending on the travel route. You will also have to pay the difference in any flight costs.
4. United Airlines
United Airlines tickets are generally non-refundable, although some fares do allow for refunds. Refunds and changes are not permitted with Basic Economy tickets.
United does permit cancellations or changes for any ticket without a penalty if the flight is canceled or changed within 24 hours of booking.
5. American Airlines
American Airlines works quite similarly to United and Delta in terms of how it offers refundable and non-refundable tickets. The cancellation or change fees are similar as well, in that they range upwards of $200 depending on the type of flight.
What Are My Rights for a Flight Refund?
You are legally entitled to a full refund within 24 hours of booking if you cancel a flight that you booked at least seven days in advance of departure. You are also entitled to a full refund or a new flight if your flight is cancelled. Depending on the terms of your ticket, such as with a refundable ticket, you may also be entitled to a refund if you cancel for any reason.
When Do Airlines Refund Your Money?
Airlines are required by law to process your information in a timely way. The U.S. Department of Transportation defines this as within seven days if you purchased your ticket with a credit card and within 20 days if you purchased it with a check or with cash.
When Am I Not Entitled to a Refund for Airline Tickets?
You are not legally entitled to a refund if you cancel a ticket that is non-refundable for personal reasons, such as if you arrive late to the airport or if you're sick. You're not entitled to a refund if you don't like the airline's service, or if you incur extra expenses such as rental car or hotel expenses. Although, many airlines will grant refunds in these scenarios, they are not legally obligated to do so.
The Bottom Line
Whether it makes sense to purchase refundable or non-refundable plane tickets can depend on the circumstances of your travel plans and how concerned you are about potentially losing money if your trip doesn't pan out.
Be sure to check with the airline or your travel agency on cancellation, change, and refund policies for non-refundable tickets before you buy them.