The policy of many major airlines allows you to change a plane ticket for any reason and use it for a maximum of one year from the date of the exchange. But if you happen to have booked a more expensive refundable rate, you will be, without a doubt, charged extra money. In most cases, you can exchange nonrefundable tickets without paying a fee, but only as long as certain special circumstances are met.
If you think you have to change your plane ticket, you should consider buying a refundable ticket or an unrestricted one when making your initial purchase. These can be exchanged or returned at any time before departing, without any penalty at all. However, refundable tickets often cost hundreds of dollars more than the non-refundable ones (or even thousands of dollars if you are flying internationally).
These tickets are generally acquired by business travelers who are flying in the short term. If you have a refundable ticket, call the airline or visit their website and follow the instructions to exchange it or get a refund. Most airlines allow you to change your ticket without a fee if you need to change your trip due to a family emergency, such as a death or serious illness. In most cases, the airline will require evidence of such an emergency, such as a death certificate or a medical certificate from affected family member. Call the airline and explain your situation if you have to make changes to a ticket due to these emergencies. If you are too ill to travel, you can change your ticket without paying a fee. Most airlines require proving that you are too sick to fly. It is more likely for you to avoid an exchange fee if you can prove that you will endanger other passengers if you were to stick to your original travel plan. If you have a confirmed diagnosis of a highly contagious disease, the airline will probably be allowed to change your plans at no cost. Call the airline and explain your situation.
In case of bad weather, like a winter storm or hurricane, usually airlines proactively offer travelers the option to change their plans at no cost. If you expect bad weather to ruin your plans, call the airline and discuss your options. Many airlines and other travel websites will offer travel insurance for a small fee before the actual booking. This insurance allows you to change or cancel your travel plans without a penalty in the case of covered circumstances. Be sure to read the fine print, as your reasons to change your plans may not be covered. If you purchased travel insurance and have to change your ticket, follow the instructions on the policy.
A step-by-step process
It is possible for you to obtain reimbursement of a nonrefundable airline ticket, but this completely depends on the airline, the representative who handles your application and the reasons why you are requesting a refund. Some airlines make exceptions like the ones we mentioned before -a death in the family or a serious illness- while others may offer credit on a ticket that can be used to fly in the future. Here’s a brief guide on how to achieve this:
- Contact the customer service department of the airline for which you have non-refundable airline tickets. You can usually find the customer service number on the airline’s website.
- Kindly ask for a refund of your non-refundable airline tickets and explain why you can not use them. If you are requesting a refund due to a death in the family or illness, be prepared to provide documentation such as a death certificate or a doctor’s note.
- Ask to speak to a customer service supervisor if your request is rejected. If a monetary reimbursement is out of the question, try to negotiate credit to be used on a future flight. However, you may have to pay a fine of $50 to $75 to get the credit.
- Understand the restrictions of your right to a ticket credit. In general, you should use the credit within a year and the tickets are nontransferable. Some airlines also the new tickets to have the same route as the unused ones. For example, if your original tickets were for a trip from New York to Chicago, you will have to fly from New York to Chicago with your credit.
Other tips and warnings
The only way to avoid losing money on non-refundable tickets is to purchase fully refundable tickets. If you are worried about not being able to take a flight, make sure that the tickets you buy are refundable. This will ensure that you will get a full refund for your unused airline tickets, regardless of the reason.