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How to Get a Cash Refund, Even If You Already Accepted a Voucher (In Most Cases)

How to Get a Cash Refund, Even If You Already Accepted a Voucher (In Most Cases)
Meg Butler

As airlines navigate the unfamiliar territory of mass flight cancellations during the pandemic, they’ve relied heavily on vouchers. But, as we’ve recommended, it’s better to let the airline cancel your flight first, then request (or demand) a cash refund via email or phone. But what if you’ve already accepted (or were automatically credited) a flight voucher because hold times made it virtually impossible to connect to a human being?

Related: Wait Before Canceling Your Flight


If the Airline Has Canceled Your Flight, You Can Get a Refund

While airlines have been pushing for vouchers, governing bodies have stepped in to make it clear that passengers are entitled to cash refunds when airlines cancel their flights, even if they’ve already accepted a voucher.
On Friday, April 3, the United States Department of Transportation made it clear, in a public enforcement notice that–when an airline cancels a passenger’s flight–the airline must give the passenger a cash refund, not a flight voucher, if they request it. The EU, just a few days prior, reiterated its policy via EU Transport Commissioner Adina Valean:
“Airlines must refund canceled flight tickets. They can of course also offer a voucher but — and this is very important — only if the customer agrees to accept this.”

In the public enforcement notice, the DOT has specifically told airlines to contact customers who have been given vouchers for canceled flights to let them know that they have the option for a refund in order to avoid penalty.

How Do I Get My Voucher?

If the airline canceled your flight and you were given a voucher, reach out to the airline and tell them that you would like a cash refund instead of a voucher. However, even though the Department of Transportation has been clear in its position, several people have reported encountering less than helpful agents.

The best way to ensure that they comply is to use the term “original form of payment” in your request. E.g. “American has canceled my flight, and I’d like to have the ticket refunded to the original form of payment.”

They should comply within 7 days. If they do not, you have a few options:

  • hang up and call again. Not all agents are as helpful as others. Before escalating the issue, it’s a good idea to reach out again. If that does not work…
  • Tweet the airline to bring attention to the issue
  • initiate a chargeback with your credit card issuer
  • File a complaint with the Department of Transportation (and let the airline know that you are doing so)

And, if you have reached out to request cash instead of a voucher from a US airline, please let us know the outcome in the comments section.

If You Have Canceled Your Flight, Getting a Refund is More Difficult

If you didn’t wait for the airline to cancel your flight, canceled yourself and then accepted a voucher, you’ve locked yourself out of the cash refund option. In most cases.

However, now that the DOT has publicly ordered airlines to give out cash refunds for flights that they’ve canceled, you may have more standing to argue for cash instead.

A Few Slim Chances for a Quick Cash Refund

We have heard anecdotal evidence of some who called the airline shortly after receiving their vouchers and were able to negotiate a cash refund instead.

If you’ve passed the “shortly after” mark, it can’t hurt to request a refund in writing, via email. It should say something to the effect of “I couldn’t get through to/didn’t want to bother the call center handling emergency changes/the website made it difficult to get a cash refund so I accepted the voucher. However, if possible, I would like to request a cash refund instead.”

They may say “no,” but requesting now on the heels of recent news may be your best chance of getting a reversal.

If you’ve agreed to a voucher but haven’t received one yet, (these are complicated, busy times for airlines), some have reported success with requesting a cash refund in writing and receiving it that way.

The Long Game

Most of the vouchers given by the airlines are valid for one year. At the end of that year, provided that that particular airline is still operating/operating under the same name, you can request a cash refund from most airlines.



View Comments (20)


  1. OZFLYER86

    April 2, 2020 at 7:29 pm

    airlines in general can’t afford to refund anyone. The funds aren’t held in trust, they are used when you pay.

    Just read this

    Passengers from around the world are set to be repaid $57.5 billion in air travel ticket refunds, according to data.

    which is from this news article

  2. PHL

    April 3, 2020 at 8:24 am

    Even in pre-COVID19 days I knew this was the recommendation when there was a trip that I couldn’t take, but couldn’t get a refund. Wait until day of flight to see if airline cancels or delays beyond 60 minutes and request cancelation and refund.

    I don’t know why I didn’t heed my own practice and all advice when I canceled 2 April trips a few weeks ago. As of now, they are still on the schedule but this is a moving target and if they end up canceling my original flights, I’ll be kicking myself. I’d much rather have the $1100 back than credits I may not use for many months, or never.

  3. pauljo

    April 3, 2020 at 9:22 am

    We bought a nonrefundable ticket to leave on 5/6 to Paris. Called Delta and they said we could only get eticket, but since we bought the ticket in September of last year it would only be good until then. But everything on their website that I can see notes it can be used up to 12/31.

    So what exactly is the final date we can fly? And if we can’t make a trip by then, can we sell it to someone else before it expires so they can use it?

  4. emcampbe

    April 3, 2020 at 10:32 am

    Sill going back and forth with UA about canceled flights (they canceled) – no alternatives. UA canceled first. Phone agent and sup refused to refund. Then requested a refund online, and has been ‘under review’ for 9 business days now (their timeframe is 7).

    I will try to call once more, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to require a DOT complaint. Airlines, I don’t care who they are and if the ticket was non-refundable are not, can not break their side of CoC (since they’d never allow me to break mine), not to mention DOT regs. The option to refund is not theirs when a flight cancelation has occurred, regardless of reason – it is the customers. There are many situations where a voucher is adequate (for example, the other trip which I canceled – not them). This is not one of them.

  5. Morgacj2004

    April 3, 2020 at 11:30 am

    I got lucky yesterday. I had previously cancelled a RT flight to Spain in August for three of us. The flight was on Air Xanada and Lufthansa but booked on UA. I originally was given a voucher to use by November 2020. I called UA yesterday via the Korean language line ( good trick to avoid a 2 hour hold, use any language other than English or Spanish) got thru in 5 minutes. I will be given a full refund because there was a flight change associated with the itenary I was not charged any change fees. Refund will be processed in 6-7 business days.

  6. kkua

    April 3, 2020 at 11:51 am

    @pauljo, most computer systems are not equipped to extend its validity past 364 days from date of issue. It’s because the reservations systems were designed pre-Y2K problems. Historically, the system was designed pre-Y2K and only uses 2 digits to store the year, so when the clock turned, they came up with a patch instead of redesigning the system from scratch. Subsequently, the fare fules also stayed the same 364 day framework.

    I only know of 2 workarounds: 1. they cancel the ticket, build a new reservation, check the price and use the cancelled ticket value against a new ticket. This workaround does not quarantee the same fare. and 2. reschedule trip to return home a day before expiration (to guarantee fare price) and wait for ticket expiration.

  7. not2017

    April 3, 2020 at 12:05 pm

    We had return KLM flights from Europe on March 19. We canceled them as we flew back earlier on BA/AA, on March 14. Not wanting to wait, I took the voucher that Delta offered. It is good until 12/31/2021 on Delta, KLM, Air France and Virgin Atlantic. It is approx. $500. Yeah, we had a really good fare. For me the credit will definitely be used. It isn’t a whole lot money that won’t be used for awhile. Realizing that the airlines have situations that they have never dealt with before, I am happy with the credits. And, KLM did cancel our flight out of Barcelona. So we could have received a total refund.

  8. Mrs. Ripper3785

    April 3, 2020 at 12:38 pm

    @pauljo, just got an email from Delta that they are extending ticket validity for 2 years. I can’t find a link so I will post excerpt from the email-

    “That’s why today we are announcing that we are extending the ability to plan, re-book and travel with us for up to two years. Tickets normally expire one year after purchase, but we’re providing waived change fees and greater flexibility to travel through May 31, 2022, for customers who have:

    Upcoming travel already booked in April or May 2020 as of April 3, 2020
    Existing eCredits or canceled travel in March, April or May 2020”

    The email says to click on this link for more details but the policy or instructions aren’t jumping out at me.

  9. jimbous

    April 6, 2020 at 12:45 pm

    U.S. DOT: Also, It looks like refunds are available even though a voucher was accepted:
    “For now, carriers have been told to contact customers who have been given vouchers for canceled flights to let them know they have an option for a refund.”

  10. Shareholder

    April 6, 2020 at 6:39 pm

    It appears if your booking was made through a non-US travel agency/web site this ruling may not apply even if the cancelled flights are to/from the US on a non-US airline.

  11. philip456

    April 7, 2020 at 5:08 am

    No-one seems to be mentioning chargebacks???

    I paid for a flight on BA with Amex. When they cancelled my flight the only online options were a voucher or rebook. I tried to phone but couldn’t get through.

    So, I logged onto the Amex website and raised a dispute, for goods/services not received. I uploaded a screenshot of the BA flight cancellation and I’m now waiting to see what happens.

    I’m surprised that journalists and forum users are ignoring this avenue.

  12. BeachMom33

    April 7, 2020 at 5:33 am

    Trip planned WestJet from the US to Calgary in July. I’ve read that WestJet hasn’t cancelled flights for April. How is this possible when the borders are closed? A voucher will be wasted money for me as I’ve other vacation plans for next year and I’ll lose on the voucher. Is the DOT forcing airlines that are not based in the US to also do refunds because they fly in the US?

  13. Gemma2

    April 7, 2020 at 6:37 am

    Anyone know what is the policy (other than silence) of Aerolineas Argentinas for cancelled domestic flights? Filled out an on-line form ages ago but heard nothing. Wondering if I should repeat.

  14. conference junkie

    April 7, 2020 at 7:43 am

    Delta is smart in extending. It is sure to help them conserve cash. I am more likely to take a voucher if I know I have 2 years to use it rather than one.

  15. MRM

    April 7, 2020 at 8:30 am

    Let’s just simmer down for a minute here. Airlines are people too, and some of these folks are losing their homes due to the epidemic. I was just reading a story a week ago about how some airline execs are having to sell their 3rd/4th homes abroad – and some are even losing their 2nd vacation homes! Perhaps we should all take a minute and consider what these folks are going through – they are losing their vacation spots that they’ve spent years travelling to and enjoying – all funded by salaries built upon the backs of fees-paying passengers…

  16. askmrlee

    April 7, 2020 at 9:02 am

    Delta canceled my domestic flight this past weekend auto rebooking to a flight 7 hours later. Online I proceeded to NOT check-in for the new flight but found their Refund and Cancel form which is hidden but available during the rebooking process.

    Below is the link presented during the rebooking process I used this to request a refund clearly stating that Delta canceled my original flight and I wanted a cash refund.

  17. vector

    April 7, 2020 at 9:49 am

    A few days ago, Delta cancelled my LGA DEN flight that was scheduled for later this week. Used a citicard for the transaction. Went to citicard website today and disputed the charge and got an almost instant email stating “Dispute has been resolved” “you’ll see the credit in the next two business days”. One down, five to go!

  18. DoctorWill

    April 8, 2020 at 12:22 am

    While many of us would like to see the airlines face some new requirements in exchange for a bailout, it seems they are trying to get out from under the requirements they already face…specifically, the requirement to give a refund.

    If you want one, it’s probably best to request it sooner rather than later, just in case the US government caves on this.

    I might feel more sorry for them if the Big 4 in the US hadn’t spent nearly $40B on stock buybacks in the last five years.

  19. Pabloblanco

    April 8, 2020 at 2:08 am

    I canceled my flight to Moscow and got a voucher, the return flight from Moscow was canceled. Am I eligible for a refund?

  20. VaguelyAsian

    April 27, 2020 at 10:02 pm

    @pabloblanco most likely, yes. if yu purchased on one itinerary, chat with their reps to see if they will refund

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