Can you get a refund if you cancel your flight amid the coronavirus pandemic?

Airlines waiving change fees, but not much more
Posted at 3:05 PM, Mar 12, 2020

Amanda Stewart was planning a big Disney World trip for her family this spring, booking flights for her family on Southwest Airlines.

But in recent days, this nervous mom decided she'd rather stay home for now.

"With coronavirus popping up in the United States, we started getting worried," she said. "So, we just wanted to cancel and get a refund."

But when she called Southwest Airlines, she said, "we couldn't get a refund."

Travel agent explains what airlines are offering

Lesley Sawhook is a travel agent who these days is more of a counselor to her clients at Exclusive Travel Partners, an online agency with 30 agents nationwide.

Clients are now calling nonstop asking about postponing cruises, European vacations, and even some domestic flights.

"My email has been blowing up — and my phone — with concerned guests who are traveling this spring break and beyond," Sawhook said.

"Some of my guests who do have small children are genuinely concerned and are trying to get me to cancel those dates."

Sawhook, however, says it's almost impossible to get a refund for a flight or cruise, even with insurance.

For instance, she says that "cancel for any reason" insurance may let customers cancel, but typically refunds just 75% of their money back in the form of a voucher for future travel. Some travel insurance companies are not covering coronavirus-related cancelations unless for travelers who have not been hospitalized by the virus.

Almost no airline, cruise line, or travel company, Sawhook explains, will give travelers cash back, unless they purchased a fully-refundable, full-fare ticket, which almost no leisure passengers do.

Airlines relax penalties

But the good news, Sawhook says, is that more airlines and cruise lines will let travelers reschedule to later this year without the usual penalties.

"I had to make a change with Delta airlines and they waived the $200 penalty; American Airlines is doing the same," she said.

As for Amanda Stewart's upcoming flight, a Southwest spokesperson said the airline could not give her a full refund.

However, the spokesperson said Stewart still has some options.

"Unlike most carriers, Southwest never charges change fees, and our non-refundable fares can be applied toward future travel without penalty," Southwest said in a statement.

In the meantime, travel agents like Sawhook are trying to give nervous travelers a little bit of comfort in this uncomfortable time.

"We all don't want to lose the business, so if that means moving things to keep everyone safe, we will do that," she said.

In a time of crisis, it can help to have a trusted travel agent and that way you don't waste your money.


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