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airfare, refund question

Greetings. I'm planning to book our flight to Spain for a trip in May this month. But, I have had problematic tendonitis in my shoulder such that I wonder if I'm going to need surgery. I see the orthopedic doc tomorrow so should have more answers. However, what I am wondering is how do I find out if the flights I want to book are refundable? I always assume that none are refundable but maybe that's not the case? also, it seems like I've only seen this info upon booking the tickets. So, am wondering if there's a way to learn about the refundability of our plane tickets before I buy them.

I know, there's alot of "ifs" here but it's on my mind so thought I'd pose the question to see if anyone knows. I was just perusing the kayak.com site and didn't see anything obvious. any advice is welcome!

thanks!

Posted by
368 posts

You would have to buy a flexible ticket, which from my experience, are not the ones you buy from expedia, etc.

However, I did try a test booking on Expedia for Calgary to London, and once I selected the flights this showed up at the bottom of the summary screen:

Flight rules and restrictions

* Tickets are nonrefundable. Ticket changes are not allowed.
* Tickets are nontransferable and name changes are not allowed.
* Please read important information regarding airline liability limitations.
* For residents of Québec, prices include a contribution to the Indemnity Fund of C$3.50 per C$1,000 of travel services purchased.
* Prices may not include baggage fees or other fees charged directly by the airline.

* Read an overview of all the rules and restrictions applicable to this fare.

* Read the complete penalty rules for changes and cancellations applicable to this fare.

So, I would try a test booking for your criteria and see what it says, but giving past experiences, you will have a restricted ticket via an online vendor.

You could probably go through the airline itself, or a travel agent to get a flex ticket. Or you could buy some trip insurance.

Posted by
147 posts

thanks Jon. yea, kinda sorta what I figured. but I didn't know about a flexible ticket or getting one from a travel agent. I suspect those might cost more.

I think I will see what the doc says tomorrow. I still have a bit of time to heal completely, which is what I'm hoping for!

but thanks for the info. I think I'll try a test ticket as well, see what it says. appreciate it!

Posted by
963 posts

Have to agree- you're going to see almost all of the heavily discounted seats being nonrefundable- but useable on the same airline with a change fee and possibly a higher airfare. You could pay more to get a refundable fare, but why? Personally I wouldnt buy tickets until you get a doctor's advice.
If you are a member of an airline's frequent flyer program, you may get 24 hours grace to cancel, as Continental does- but beware the clock, as they have charged me $150 to refund even a mileage ticket when my time zone did not match theirs. Delta used to allow 2 or 3 days, havent booked them lately.

Posted by
2779 posts

You've got the right to get all of the taxes and airport fees fully refunded. Airlines don't tell you upfront because that's how they fund handling all the refunds. On a flight from the US to Europe taxes and fees easily amount to $200 which you'll get back if you reclaim it.

Posted by
207 posts

While my tickets were not refundable, I was able to pay $150 and change the dates and location. If you find a great price if you book directly thru the airlines you can usually put a hold on the tickets for 24-72 hours without paying any money up front.

Posted by
121 posts

Toby - even if you buy from a discounter (expedia, travelocity, etc.) you can usually change the ticket if 1)you have a good reason and 2) you are persistent. It may take some time and definitely you will have to speak to a supervisor but you should be able to change with a fee involved of course.

Posted by
147 posts

thank you so much for all the replies! I saw the ortho doc last week and began therapy yet again. neither the doc nor my therapist think I have any torn tendons which means I do NOT need surgery. which means I will likely heal well before our departure to Spain in May!! that is if I can keep from reinjuring it :( seems to be my biggest issue right now. even taking off my coat earlier today I felt a twinge of pain yet again. so hard to deal with....just normal day to day life can be challenging right now.

anyway, I'm going to bookmark this message in case I need it. thanks so much to all of you that replied! I really appreciate it.

Posted by
147 posts

so Steve....what you're saying is if I do have to change our tickets, they could charge me as little as $100 per ticket? and of course it could be more.

Posted by
881 posts

Hi, Toby. Good news! Moving forward -

If you think this might be a problem again, do follow Steve's advice and check into travel insurance - make sure to read about pre-existing conditions, and what the rules are and purchase your travel accordingly.

Re Airlines: Best piece of advice I can offer - Buy your airline ticket from a US airline, on a US site, and make sure it's ticketed by a US airline. Five huge advantages for this situation:

One - Your dealing with US law and customer service attitudes, which is a little easier for us, and broadly speaking usually a bit more customer friendly.

Two - If you do get a non-refundable but changeable ticket (the vast majority of tickets out there), you can use it to fly anywhere that US airline goes! Aka - You'll have a lot more options on Delta or NW out of MN than you would with Iberia.

Three - The US govt (Dept of Transportation) makes all airlines post their contracts of carriage in easily readable places - aka you can find the rules a little easier.

Four - Most US airlines DO have policies regarding refunds or lowered change fees for medical reasons. This is pretty standard practice. You generally have to provide a note from your doctor that you cannot fly. Policies vary from airline to airline but generally involve A) Refund, or B) Lowered Fees.

Five - If you think it's tough getting a refund from a US airline.. try getting one from Al Italia. I've even seen people with approved refunds never get them or get them literally years after the fact.

Contrary to the statements above, you can purchase these changeable and "Y" class tickets (class of service) on Expedia, etc. Expedia even has a check box that says, "Avoid most change penalties".

PS - Most 1st class tickets are completely refundable and changeable.

Hope that helps! Give me a shout with any questions.

Posted by
21659 posts

I am surprised that Steve doesn't know when you log into various search engines you can select the advance search function. This will allow you to select refundable tickets, business class, first class. etc. You can purchase refundable tickets from the various web sites. The refundable tickets will always be more expensive.

Posted by
881 posts

Hi, Steve. Interesting. That's been the exact opposite of my experience as someone who worked on refunds (and well beyond that) all day, and as mentioned above, I was able to find medical refund rules on 100pct of the first three tickets I looked up yesterday.

What agency or airline did you work for? I'd like to steer clear of those tickets!

Posted by
881 posts

That's funny Steve, in my experience doing a position where pretty much all I did was work on airline/hotel refunds for customers, I almost always got refunds or fees waived for medical reasons. (I didn't sell travel at the time, just did refund processing, etc on the back end for a few years years).

Admittedly the -VAST- majority was fees waived. But, it wasn't anything special or exclusive to our company. Almost every airline (except some international and more regional ones) had medical policies in the ticket rules to waive fees (or occasionally refund) due to doctor certified medical reasons. And all I had to do was look them up, and send in the doctor's letter. The fax machine was my friend. LOL.

International Airlines were the biggest bugger about it (that was difficult!). which is why I recommend purchasing through the US airline, even if you're flying on the international a/l's plane - better rules, easier to deal with for refunds/changes.

Ironically, death of passengers is where I would run into the most problems. I actually had both Delta, and Al Italia refuse to refund the fares of customer's who died. One was to his elderly widow on a fixed budget. Sad.

Interesting (and believable) that we've both had opposite experiences working with the airlines - pretty typical of them. LOL

Posted by
881 posts

Out of curiosity, I just ran a couple fares from MSP to MAD (Minn St Paul to Madrid) on Expedia and Orbitz to see if things have changed since I left the biz 3 years ago.

I used the first 3 flights offered, with no cherry picking. 3 different airlines.

Toby - ALL had policies to waive change fees or refund for medical situations.

United
"CANCELLATIONS TICKET IS NON-REFUNDABLE. NOTE - A. EMERGENCY PROVISION TICKET MAY BE USED TOWARD THE PURCHASE OF ANOTHER TICKET IN THE EVENT OF AN EMERGENCY OF PASSENGER/ IMMEDIATE FAMILY MEMBER OR TRAVELING COMPANION. DOCUMENTATION REQUIRED." <--Usually means fees waived.

Return Flight
"D. EMERGENCY PROVISION -- TICKET MAY BE USED TOWARD PURCHASE OF ANOTHER ANOTHER TICKET DUE TO AN EMERGENCY OF PASSENGER / IMMEDIATE FAMILY MEMBER OR TRAVELING COMPANIOIN. DOCUMENTATION REQUIRED"

American and Al Italia both used the same language:

"WAIVED FOR DEATH OF A PASSENGERS FAMILY MEMBER UP TO 1ST DEGREE RELATIONS OR FOR PASSENGERS HOSPITAL ADMISSION"

Delta

"IN CASE OF CANCEL/NO-SHOW. WAIVED FOR ILLNESS OR DEATH OF PASSENGER OR FAMILY MEMBER
3. ILLNESS/DEATH WAIVER MUST BE SUBSTANTIATED BY A VALID MEDICAL/DEATH CERTIFICATE"

So, Toby I think you're safe if you're going to fly again in the next year. =) Trip insurance is still a good idea.

Posted by
21659 posts

Chris, I doubt if you will receive an answer. Some posters need to improve their creditability of their answers by enhancing their backgrounds. Remember the CIA operative who could spot a money belt at a hundred yards or the travel agent who......

Posted by
881 posts

An even better source than a television news article specifically citing/linking one-off airline H1N1 bird flu refunds (which I'm not sure how they apply to this question)are the background airline ticketing systems, and the airlines Contracts of Carriage.

For looking up the AA fare rule I quoted directly in the airline booking systems, Steve (I'm assuming you have access as a ticket seller):

4FMSPMADJUL10-AA*NHAW1MUS

Should do the trick. Pretty stndrd a/l FBC req. Everyone else - you can find these direct reports on most travel sites, by looking on the fare rules/change fees links. I found them easily on both Orbitz, ad Expedia.

Great Hint: It's pretty easy to spot when someone (or some page)is quoting the airlines booking systems directly, and not some secondary source - as most of the airlines booking systems only use ALL CAPS for notes. Not many sites linking directly from there take the time to reformat! - Quick way to tell if you're getting the direct source! =)

Even just looking on that link you provided, Steve United's medical refund policy was quite readily available and easily quoted...

United Airlines:
"Medical, personal and travel emergencies
In certain scenarios where travel plans are impacted by a situation outside a customer’s control, United will refund any change or cancellation fees associated with the customer’s itinerary changes. To find out if you are eligible for or how to request this type of refund, please view United’s policy on medical, personal and travel emergencies."
Which they provide the link to, and defines eligible as:
"Serious illness or injury to the customer, a travel companion or an immediate family member"
Pretty easy to find.

I'm not sure how that supports your supposition that tickets are not refundable with medical reasons.

Toby, the information I quoted was directly from the airline booking systems. Call them to verify your ticket's rules when you're ready to purchase! =)

Posted by
881 posts

For everyone: =) Another great resource is what's called the airlines Contract of Carriage.

This is a document the DOT(Dept of Transportation) requires all US airlines to file with them, and make readily available to customers. Basically, it's your contract with the airline.

These days they're pretty easily found online by searching "Airline Name Contract of Carriage".

While sometimes hard to read, if the airline has a blanket policy on medical refunds you can often find it there. (Though a lot of them just do it in the fare rules of the ticket, like above.)

Here's United and Northwest for example!

United:
http://content.united.com/ual/asset/COC18Dec09final.pdf
"SERIOUS ILLNESS OF THE PASSENGER, TRAVELING COMPANIONS OR IMMEDIATE
FAMILY MEMBERS
SUPPORTING DOCUMENTATION: DOCTOR'S NOTE STATING INABILITY TO FLY "
also
"REROUTING-WHEN ALLOWED UA RULE: 0255
...
EXCEPTION 1: IN THE EVENT OF ILLNESS/DEATH OF THE PASSENGER/IMMEDIATE
FAMILY MEMBER (TRAVELING OR NOT)/TRAVELING COMPANION; REROUTING/FLIGHT
CHANGES MAY BE MADE AND ANY APPLICABLE CANCELLATION, REFUND, CHANGE
FEES WILL BE WAIVED...
THE PASSENGER MUST SUBMIT TO UA A
PHYSICIAN'S CERTIFICATE STATING THE CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH NECESSITATE
WAIVER UNDER THIS PROVISION."

Northwest:
http://www.pdfdownload.org/pdf2html/pdf2html.php?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nwa.com%2Fplan%2FNW_DGR.pdf&images=yes
TITLE 70, SECTION _G
" 1) AFTER TICKETS HAVE BEEN ISSUED, NO REFUND WILL BE
MADE."
"EXCEPTION: IN THE EVENT OF DEATH/ILLNESS OF THE PASSENGER/
IMMEDIATE FAMILY MEMBER, RULE 270 WILL APPLY."
Rule 270
"1) IF NO PORTION OF THE TICKET HAS BEEN USED, THE REFUND
WILL BE AN AMOUNT EQUAL TO THE FARE AND CHARGES
APPLICABLE TO THE TICKET ISSUED TO THE PASSENGER."

Bit of a bear to read, but if you need help on one of these, just let me know! =) Chris

Posted by
147 posts

whoa! what a wealth of information. but I was getting a little lost, will have to read this in more detail later. and hopefully I won't have to worry about it at all!

thanks all.

Posted by
10965 posts

There's a simple answer to this...take out trip cancellation insurance. Not very expensive but you'll sleep better at night...and it will guarantee that your shoulder will be fine. Doesn't it always work that way? You only need insurance when you don't have it.

Happy Travels.

Posted by
881 posts

Hi, Steve. Interesting that you worked for the world's largest travel agency. I did too. I was Tier I, II, III support, worked in the Executive Customer Service and Hotel Advocacy groups, and was on the SME, CCD, CID, and training special teams training new sales and support agents thru Tier II and corporate travel. (Feels like I spent my whole time there on special teams.) I was also the first ever Employee of the Quarter so you might remember me from when they started that

How about you, what dept/position did you work in? If you were working in any position in the company that did direct sales and worked on refunds (as you mentioned) we would have crossed paths at some point - especially if you(or your dept) were having that many medical requests turned down.

We may not have spoken personally, as you're in a position that sells travel directly to customers (according to your posts), so you would have needed direct supervisor permission to contact my department, and even then only after the support desk, help desk, supervisor couldn't resolve the issue. But - I'd bet we know some of the same people then (or maybe bounced an email or couple cases back and forth!) Neat! =)

I'm just curious as to why you use secondary sources in your posts, such as news articles and travel web sites. I've found several mistakes in the articles you posted, and for the most part they support my position that refunds and fee waiving are available. I'm going to take a closer look at them in my next post.

If you have access to the airline/ticketing/booking systems, why not get the information from there directly. It's much more accurate. (And even without access, I was able to bring it up pretty quick...)

Posted by
881 posts

1)Smarter Traveller pretty much backs me up:
"nearly without exception, airlines will offer at minimum a credit for a future flight... some airlines will waive their change fees and/or offer you a full refund."

2)Minyanville:
- They quote Delta and UA's regular fees, but not the medical policies that I quoted above. They fail to mention American refunds for hospitalization. Pretty shoddy workmanship.
-Of the airlines they review, Delta, United, American, SW, all offer some kind of refunds or fee waiving for illness. Only Air Tran did not. I'd call that more than "occasional".

3) Chris Elliot/Orlando Sentinel
- In that case it was lack of work on Travelocity's part, and lack of the customer not contacting the airline directly. In this case the airline was the one who charged the card, not Travelocity, hence Travelocity was not authorized to give a refund. Seems one phone call fixed it.

4)USATODAY
- Read the end of the article. The airline had a medical refund policy, and authorized a refund, it has just been misfiled. Resolved in 1 call.

5) MSNBC
- Umm... this is the exact same AP article as from #3, please see the reply up there.

6) Consumerist Article
- On every American flight I've looked up today just some random searches), they all had the Exception for hospitalization, as quoted above.
The article was pretty much unconfirmed anecdotal evidence. You'll notice the airline was never contacted to verify, or resolve the issue in this article.
The customer could have requested a copy of the tickets rules, and notes from their call. If they could indeed show the ticket had the hospitalization rule, and that they called in advance to cancel, odds are they'd have gotten a refund. (Unless a codeshare airline had stricter rules). If not, they'd have good grounds for a suit.

That's why you're last bit of advice is very good. Ask your questions of the source, and get trip insurance.

Posted by
21659 posts

Buying insurance is a common recommendation and a very good idea BUT make sure you read the fine print. Not all policies cover all situations in the same way and to the same degree. I would be a little concerned about pre-existing conditions. Remember insurance companies are great at finding tiny loopholes so that they don't have to pay you. And often there is a time line on pre-existing so watch for that in the fine print.

Posted by
147 posts

Frank II, you're exactly right! things DO work that way ;)