Like many people these days, the plans I had for this spring and summer are either in limbo or canceled. Some of those plans involved flights across the country or world. One flight I booked with an online travel deal website and the other I booked with the airline directly. Does it matter on getting a refund? When am I required to get a refund? Does it pay to wait to act? -- Landbound
Dear Landbound, since Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home went into effect at the end of March, many people's plans have been canceled. Weddings, graduations, Mother’s Day brunches have all either been postponed or outright canceled in the wake of the global pandemic that, as of Tuesday, had killed 614 Minnesotans. Some things may be easier to cancel than others, especially if you’ve already shelled out the money like in your case.
Kyle Potter, the editor-in-chief of the Minnesota-based flight deal and travel website Thrifty Traveler, told one of the Answer Man’s co-pilots that travelers really need to know their rights about when they are eligible for a refund.
“Airlines are not out to help people right now,” Potter said, noting that airlines are also not going out of the way to give people their money back.
The U.S. Department of Transportation says that if a flight gets canceled, you are eligible for a refund, no questions asked, according to Potter. If there is a significant delay, you are also eligible for refund, but the DOT does not define what "significant delay" means and airlines vary on their definitions.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Thrifty Traveler has published numerous articles on how to get refunds and what to do when an airline plays hardball. There is even a handy flowchart. In terms of getting a refund, Potter said it doesn’t matter if you book directly with the airline or with a third-party travel deal site.
“The law is the law when you are owed a refund by the airline you are flying with,” he said.
Booking directly with an airline can help avoid some headaches. Potter said they have been telling people for years that it is best to book direct with the airline and cut out middle man unless there is a huge price difference.
Still have travel plans in the air? Potter said to wait before calling to cancel or reschedule because airlines themselves are canceling or rescheduling a number of flights and those announcements normally don’t happen until two to three weeks before the travel date.
Most important -- you need to be proactive to get the money you are owed. Potter advised would-be travelers to stay on top of upcoming flights and travel reservations and know your rights.
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