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Airline Tickets: When to fight for a refund instead of a voucher

In 2020, DOT numbers show that close to 30,000 complaints were filed against US airlines related refunds.

INDIANAPOLIS — Airline carriers are bouncing back after their worst year in history, according to the International Air Transport Association.

But bouncing back is not coming without challenges. Between maintenance and staffing issues, some carriers are experiencing delays and canceling flights.

When am I owed a refund?

Even if a ticket is non-refundable, the Department of Transportation says refunds are owed under certain conditions.

If a flight is cancelled and the passenger chooses to cancel the trip as a result, the passenger is entitled to a refund for the unused transportation. Passengers are also entitled to a refund for bag fees, or extras including a seat assignment.

A passenger is also entitled to a refund if the airline made a significant schedule change and/or significantly delays a flight and the passenger chooses not to travel.

Scott Keyes, the founder of Scott's Cheap Flights, said the catch is that the word "significantly" is not defined by the DOT.

That is up to the airline.

"Generally, if even if it's published, it tends to be pretty hidden in pages and pages of fine print," Keyes said.

Credit: UPI
Spirit Airlines agents work behind the counter on day one of their service to St. Louis at St. Louis Lambert International Airport in St. Louis on Thursday, May 27, 2021. By the end of 2021, Spirit will operate nine non-stop flights to destinations like Las Vegas, Tampa and Cancun. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI

Who publishes what

Some airlines spell out what they consider to be a significant delay

Others like Allegiant, Frontier, and United Airlines do not. Southwest Airlines also does not appear to define significant change with a certain number of hours.

However, two United agents 13News spoke with, said two hours is their threshold.

Credit: Associated Press
In this Oct. 14, 2020 file photo, empty ticketing counters are seen in Terminal 1 at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

What if I disagree with the airline? 

The DOT says passengers can file a complaint if they think an airline is being unfair.

During the pandemic, some carriers quietly changed their definition of a significant delay from two hours to 24 hours until the DOT stepped in to moderate.

In 2020, DOT numbers show that close to 30,000 complaints were filed against US airlines related refunds.

In 2019, just 628 complaints.

  • Alaska Airlines had 969 complaints about refunds which was approximately 86% of their 1,121 total complaints in 2020
  • Allegiant Air had 399 complaints about refunds which was approximately 69% of their 576 total complaints in 2020
  • American Airlines had 4,442 complaints about refunds which was approximately 75% of their 5,949 total complaints in 2020
  • Boutique Air had 7 complaints about refunds which was approximately 47% of their 15 total complaints in 2020
  • Delta Air Lines had 3,334 complaints about refunds which was approximately 87% of their 3,840 total complaints in 2020
  • Eastern had 9 complaints about refunds which was approximately 29% of their 31 total complaints in 2020
  • Endeavor Air had 84 complaints about refunds which was approximately 82% of their 103 total complaints in 2020
  • Envoy Air had 8 complaints about refunds which was approximately 15% of their 52 total complaints in 2020
  • Frontier Airlines had 4,329 complaints about refunds which was approximately 78% of their 5,523 total complaints in 2020
  • Hawaiian Airlines had 1,154 complaints about refunds which was approximately 93% of their 1,240 total complaints in 2020
  • Horizon Airlines had 40 complaints about refunds which was approximately 74% of their 54 total complaints in 2020
  • JetBlue Airways had 1,349 complaints about refunds which was approximately 84% of their 1,615 total complaints in 2020
  • Mesa Airlines had 3 complaints about refunds which was approximately 19% of their 16 total complaints in 2020
  • Piedmont Airlines had 3 complaints about refunds which was approximately 21% of their 14 total complaints in 2020
  • PSA Airlines had 9 complaints about refunds which was approximately 18% of their 50 total complaints in 2020
  • Republic Airways had 50 complaints about refunds which was approximately 81% of their 62 total complaints in 2020
  • Silver Airways had 116 complaints about refunds which was approximately 86% of their 135 total complaints in 2020
  • SkyWest Airlines had 107 complaints about refunds which was approximately 67% of their 160 total complaints in 2020
  • Southwest Airlines had 1,447 complaints about refunds which was approximately 81% of their 1,789 total complaints in 2020
  • Spirit Airlines had 1,232 complaints about refunds which was approximately 70% of their 1,758 total complaints in 2020
  • Sun Country Airlines had 311 complaints about refunds which was approximately 83% of their 374 total complaints in 2020
  • United Airlines had 10,229 complaints about refunds which was approximately 91% of their 11,274 total complaints in 2020
  • ViaAir had 21 complaints about refunds which was approximately 91% of their 23 total complaints in 2020
  • Other U.S. Airlines had 35 complaints about refunds which was approximately 36% of their 98 total complaints in 2020