Looking for an airline refund due to Covid19? A while ago I wrote an article about how travel is NOT the enemy. Well, neither are the airlines. Sure, there may be a few exceptions to that rule with airlines providing less than poor service. I’ve shared my fair portion of those experiences here from time to time.
But today it seems I cannot see any update from an airline on my social media feed or the first comment is from someone complaining about “still” not having received their airline refund. It’s been a year, after all. Given some of the reactions, I’m not the only one who is starting to get annoyed by these comments and the people posting them. Please hear me out and allow me to elaborate. After which, I’ll present you with some alternative options on what you can do if you’re still hoping for your refund anyway.
Race to the bottom
I’m glad I’m not operating an airline. I’m happy to just be a frequent customer. Running an airline is a tough business, and not just right now in a global pandemic. For decades consumers have demanded ever lower prices for their airfare. If you live by price, you die by price. It’s one of the reason I don’t do much discounting anymore.
We’ve created a race to the bottom by demanding lower and lower fares, partially fuelled by low cost airlines driving the price down even further. Airlines have responded by creating upsells: the advertised ticket price is often not the final purchase price once you factor in the cost to bring your luggage, have a meal or snack on board, or anything to drink beyond coffee or water. Luckily I usually fly on airlines that serve at least a semi-decent cup of coffee, but even that’s not the norm anymore at all…
The #1 rule of travel hacking
One of my most important rules of travel hacking is to NOT look for the absolute lowest price you can find. This goes for booking anything, including airfare and hotel rooms. Hotels and airlines make money by selling the same room or seat for different prices to different people. The goal is to pay less than average. By focusing more on the experience you’ll get along the way instead, you’ll stretch your dollar further without necessarily spending more.
I learned the hard way that the cheapest “basic” airline fares lack important options. I’m not even talking about the lack of luggage allowance, whether checked in or even carry-on. Less obvious, and more annoying, “basic” fares are not upgradeable. This means that even if the airline has unsold seats in business class they will not give them to you just because you booked the bottom price. Paying a little bit more (often only $50-$100) will make you eligible for an upgraded seat, and usually get you other perks depending on the airline. You can thank me later.
Hitting the cancel button
When I had to start cancelling my trips at the start of the first Covid lockdown in March 2020, I was expecting a long time on hold. Most of the tickets I had booked were non-refundable, meaning you don’t get your money back if you have to cancel. Trip cancellation insurance may cover some or all of the lost amount, but unlike travel insurance I usually don’t buy a cancellation policy. My reasoning is that if something happens that is bad enough to cause me to not want to travel (or be able to), the loss of money is a risk I’m willing to accept.
Imagine my surprise when I didn’t need to be on hold. And I also didn’t need to be parting with the money I had paid on non-refundable airfare. It took me about five minutes on the airlines website to cancel my seat. Given the unusual circumstances caused by the novel coronavirus, they issued me a voucher for future travel. Initially that voucher was valid for a year but a quick social media inquiry got that extended to two years. Amazing. Despite still not being able to travel, of course.
Locked up money
If you’ve booked non-refundable airfare, it’s exactly that: non-refundable. I’m no economist, but my educated guess is that if airlines had to refund everyone who booked non-refundable airfare they may as well declare bankruptcy today.
Money locked up in travel vouchers in uncertain economic times can be, or become, an issue. If you’ve lost your job, locked up travel money may impact your ability to buy groceries or pay your bills. Not an ideal situation at all. But it also begs the question if some people have overspent on their tickets to begin with.
In my Travel Revolution program I often deal with the unrealistic image people have about travel and the amount of money required to travel well. It’s usually far less than expected. As such, my motto when spending money on travel is similar to when it comes to investing in the stock market (or gambling): don’t use money you cannot afford to loose.
Instead, look at your options. First of all, let’s do more than just hoping the airlines will survive. They’ve had to lay off thousands of workers and cancel many routes due to the severe drop in demand. Travel is not the enemy, and neither are the airlines.
Instead of commenting on every airline post on social media, here’s what you may be able to do instead (with hopefully better results):
1. Check the validity and terms of your vouchers.
For most airlines the expiry date for your voucher means you’ll have to rebook travel by the expiry date. You don’t always need to have to travel by that date, meaning you may be able to secure a flight for up to a year past the expiry of your voucher, as long as you make the booking by that expiry date.
2. Extend the validity of your voucher.
You can try asking the airline to extend the validity of your voucher. I’ve had some of mine extended from 12 to 24 months by simply asking. Then, use the tip above to possibly push it by another year.
3. Check your trip cancellation insurance.
I usually choose to not buy trip cancellation coverage, but if you have any you may be eventually eligible for a refund that way. Keep in mind insurance is a transfer of risk which covers potential future damage. Until that damage occurs they won’t pay out. That means that as long as you have a valid voucher you have had no damage yet according to most insurers. But once your voucher expires you may be able to file a claim with your insurance company.
4. Contact airlines through private chat.
You may have to wait a few days for a response, but it’s more fun than waiting on hold and usually gets you the same response. In my experience, once an agent responds to the chat they’re fast in following up from that point onward and resolve many issues quickly.
5. Be kind.
Ask for what you want within reason, but be kind. There’s never an excuse for poor customer behaviour or rudeness. As I started this post I’m glad I’m not in the airline business, for more than one reason. Most airlines, when asked, are more than willing to help you and are more flexible than they used to be before the pandemic. Refunding your non-refundable bottom price fare may not be an option, but following the guidelines in this post there will be other options to explore.
6. Making better future travel plans
A more exciting option than trying to get an airline refund that may not be an option, is to start looking at options to plan for future travel experiences. You can start by checking out the Travel Revolution today. We’re offering a complimentary preview for a limited time. Because we will travel again.Find out more