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Understanding flight cancellation policies ahead of spring break

We've got a breakdown of delay and cancellation policies for you should know for major airlines.

INDIANAPOLIS — A wintertime holiday fiasco that canceled flights en masse hasn't hampered our lingering post-pandemic travel itch. As calendars tick closer to spring break and airports prep for another heavy travel period, Americans are flying abroad and taking the whole family with them — near-misses on the runways and exorbitant junk fees be damned.

Though no lives have been lost, it's been a rough few months for passengers on U.S. flights, whose experiences with rarities like widespread system failures and in-flight fires have sparked alarm in the skies and prompted the chief of the FAA to investigate multiple incidents. Just recently, a United Airlines flight attendant was attacked by a man who tried to open the cabin door and said his father was Dracula on a flight from Los Angeles to Boston.

If these recent situations have made you more anxious about flying, it's crucial to understand the ins and outs of what remains one of the most common uncontrollable variables on flights: delays and cancellations. 

The Transportation Security Association just last month sent out a notice that it is expecting an influx of travelers from February to April 21 — the apex of spring break season.

"We expect to meet our wait time standards of 30 minutes or less in standard lanes, and 10 minutes or less in TSA PreCheck lanes. However, there may be some situations where the capacity of a checkpoint is exceeded," TSA said in a statement.

Credit: WTHR.com
Thousands of travelers are expected to travel out of Indianapolis International Airport for Spring Break.

That expected increase in overall capacity gives insight to what travelers may expect at airports this spring, and why travel experts are urging travelers to make decisions that could help mitigate the impact of delays on your vacation.  

"During spring break, it's not that you're more likely to get canceled. It's just the more people that are traveling, the more likely it is that an airport is going to be busier than usual. And, then if delays happen within that construct the trickle down effect is more," said Madison Blancaflor, who is a senior editor with the popular travel website The Points Guy

It's a misconception that federal law requires airlines to compensate travelers with a hotel, meals or money if their flight is delayed for long periods of time, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Mandated compensation for flights only applies to actual cancellations, not things like creeping delays, where airlines can push a flight back and back and a delay becomes unexpectedly longer. 

"If an airline cancels the flight, a flight that you are ticketed to be on, you are entitled to a full refund. However, if an airline is delayed, or they say something might be canceled, and you preemptively cancel your flight, things are a little different there," Blancaflor said. 

The DOT has not yet specifically defined what counts as a "significant delay." Whether you are entitled to a refund from a delay depends on a lot of factors – such as the length of the delay, the length of the flight, and your particular circumstances. DOT said they determine whether you are entitled to a refund on a case-by-case basis. 

Airlines are required to provide passengers with information about a chance in the status of their flight if the flight is scheduled to depart within seven days. They also have to give status updates 30 minutes, or sooner, after the airline becomes aware of a status change. 

If a flight is delayed for 30 minutes or more, the airline has to update all flight status displays at U.S. airports that are under the airline's control within 30 minutes. 

Don't count on compensation if you preemptively cancel your delayed flight at a shot for a seat on another airline, either. You can ask your airline to see if they can rebook you on another airline, but that's always been a coin flip in Blancaflor's experience. 

"Anecdotally, there are mixed results as to whether an airline will do that. I've reached out to the same airline, two different times and have gotten two different answers," Blancaflor said. "Definitely worth asking if there is a flight out that you need. It's always worth the call to ask, especially if it's the only flight out for the day. If there's not another option on the airline you're originally set to fly, never hurts to ask," Blancaflor said.

And although it remains a hallmark of good customer service to compensate travelers in some capacity if delays impact their travels, that's something you'll probably need to (nicely, mind!) ask for. They won't just hand it to you, but can be worth the payoff.

"You might just get a flight voucher, or something like that to use on a future flight with the airline," Blancaflor said.

The odds of getting a voucher or compensation could also increase if you take the time now to enroll in a loyalty rewards program with your preferred airline. Taking the time now to enroll in Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check can also help you move through airports move through airports more easily. Try for Global Entry if you plan on flying internationally. 

Ten airlines provide flight service out of Indianapolis: American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Allegiant, Air Canada, Delta, Frontier, Spirit, Southwest, Sun County and United. Here's a more in-depth look at their delays and cancellations policies, according to each airlines' website.

American Airlines

Loyalty Program: AAAdvantage Program

With American Airlines, you have up to 24 hours from the time you first buy your ticket for a refund if you booked at least two days prior to departure. The 24-hour refund policy applies to all ticket types, but you have to cancel the trip to get a refund.

Reservations booked as part of group block do not qualify for the 24-hour refund.

If you bought your American Airlines ticket directly from them, you can request a refund online or contact Reservations. They will process your refund back to the original credit card within seven days, and it should appear on your statement in one to two billing cycles. 

For cash and check purchases, American Airlines says they will process your refund within 20 days after receiving a complete refund request.

Keep in mind, refund requests must be submitted while your ticket is valid — one year from the original ticket date. American Airlines will not process refunds on expired tickets.

If you bought your ticket from a travel agent or a website like Expedia, you should contact the agent or travel site directly.

American Airlines does not refund nonrefundable tickets except when:

  • You cancel within 24 hours from the time you first buy your ticket.

  • There is a schedule change of more than four hours and you decide not to travel.

  • There is a schedule change of 90 minutes or more within 72 hours of your scheduled departure time and you decide not to travel.

  • There is death of the passenger or traveling companion.

  • Military orders or change in duty.

Refunds will be made to the original form of payment. Supporting documents may be required. You may be entitled to a refund of some taxes included in the price of your ticket:

  • Upon written request, taxes or fees not imposed by the airline that are specific to destinations can be refunded.

  • Taxes or fees won't be refunded if American has an obligation to pay regardless of travel.

  • Refundable taxes and fees will be refunded to the original form of payment.

Request a refund on American Airlines here.

Alaska Airlines

Loyalty Program: Alaska Air Mileage Plan

To cancel your ticket online and receive a refund or credit, your purchased reservation must have been issued at alaskaair.com, Alaska Airlines reservation call center or an Alaska Airlines ticket counter.

Make sure your ticket does not contain a "Saver fare" beyond the first 24 hours of booking. Other guidelines to ensure your Alaska Airlines flight qualifies for a refund or credit:

  • Not contain a government fare

  • Not be more than one year from date of original purchase, or for partially used tickets, not be more than one year from original outbound travel date

  • Not be part of a group or vacation package booking

  • Not contain an unaccompanied minor booked on a carrier other than Alaska Airlines

  • Have been ticketed using U.S. dollars as the form of currency

Refundable reservations that meet the criteria above may be refunded to original form of payment.

Wholly unused nonrefundable reservations, including Saver fares, canceled within 24 hours of initial purchase may be refunded to the original form of payment, as long as travel commences more than 24 hours after booking. 

You can review Alaska Airlines' 24-hour cancellation policy for more information.

After the first 24 hours, nonrefundable tickets may be issued a credit certificate or credit deposit into the wallet in your account. Applicable change fees will be charged at the time the credit certificate or deposit is issued.

If your reservation is not eligible for an online refund or credit, you may still cancel it online to clear any service requests and make your seat available for those still traveling.


Loyalty program: Allways Rewards

At Allegiant, click on the Manage Travel link on the website to cancel online for a full refund within 24 hours, as long as your scheduled flight departure date is at least one week — or 168 hours — away at the time of booking. 

Your reservation is non-refundable.

  • After 24 hours, purchases are non-refundable. A credit voucher good for future travel will be issued for qualifying changes/cancellations.
  • Itineraries cannot be changed within seven days of departure, and no credit will be issued unless you have purchased Trip Flex™.
  • View Terms and Conditions for detailed information on modifying reservations or visit Manage Travel to cancel online.

Make changes up to one hour prior to scheduled departure with Trip Flex.

  • Including Trip Flex at the time of booking gives you the flexibility to make a change or cancel your reservation up to one hour before departure without fees.
  • Without Trip Flex, a change fee of up to $75 per person each way will apply, and within seven days of travel, no changes are permitted and no credit will be issued.

For a fee, Trip Flex allows passengers to make one change to the date, flight, or destination with no added fee. You can also modify your itinerary once, up to an hour prior to departure for airline ticket purchases, and up to 72 hours prior to departure for air/hotel package purchases. 

While a one-time change or cancellation is permitted, your itinerary is non-refundable. Exceptions to this cancellation and refund policy may include bookings related to special promotions and sales and on some holiday travel dates, which are non-refundable.

You can also cancel Trip Flex and receive a full refund up to 24 hours after the original purchase if no modifications have been made to your itinerary. 

Air Canada

Loyalty program: Aeroplan Program

If you cancel your booking with Air Canada, your refund eligibility depends on the type of ticket you purchased. There are multiple fare tier systems you can see here.

Delta Air Lines

Loyalty program: Delta SkyMiles

Delta Air Lines cancellation policy will differ between non-refundable and refundable tickets, although you can still get a refund on non-refundable tickets. 

If you booked your flight within the last 24 hours, head to Delta's 24-Hour Risk-Free Cancellation page. Main Cabin tickets and higher that are canceled prior to departure will retain the value of the ticket. Be sure to review your basic economy ticket to see if you are eligible to cancel your ticket prior to departure and receive an eCredit.

With a non-refundable ticket, you can change your flight when you pay a change fee of $0-$400, depending on your travel route, plus the price difference. Delta Basic Economy tickets are non-refundable and non-changeable in most cases, but may be canceled for a partial eCredit. 

However, Delta Air Lines will still owe you a full refund if they cancel your flight. You have one year from the ticket's original issue date to use the ticket, subject to any applicable waivers 

If you purchased a non-refundable ticket, in some cases, a cancellation charge will be deducted from the cost of your flight. Any remaining value will be provided as an e-credit that can be used toward the purchase of another ticket.

For customers who book direct on Delta.com or the Fly Delta App, a "risk-free" cancellation means you have up to 24 hours after booking to cancel the ticket for any reason, and receive a full refund. 

If your flight is delayed for more than 30 minutes or canceled completely, you can rebook your own flight. Rebooking your own flight gives you access to the same flight options that our agents have, and your bags will be re-routed to whichever flight you select. Rebook your flight as many times as you need to, until you’re on your way.

Rebook when:

  • Your flight is delayed longer than 30 minutes.

  • Your flight has been canceled and was issued by Delta, a joint venture partner, SkyTeam or codeshare partner.

  • Your Delta flight was canceled and was ticketed by another carrier with whom Delta has an agreement

Customers who do not show up for a flight without changing or canceling their reservation prior to departure will lose the value of their ticket, and Delta will cancel all remaining flights in the itinerary. Basic economy tickets are non-changeable.


Loyalty program: Frontier Miles

If the date of travel is outside seven days, all tickets may be canceled for a full refund up to 24 hours from the time of purchase. No cancellation fee applies. You can request a refund on your Manage My Booking page by logging into My Trips. 

Note that tickets purchased within seven days of travel will be held as credit and are subject to a fee.

Beyond 24 hours from the purchase, or the booking was made within seven days of travel, a cancellation fee may apply and can be found on their website. Value of the ticket, less non-refundable charges or fees may be applied to the purchase of a future ticket. 

Cancellations made with theWORKS!, which includes a carry-on bag, a checked bag, a seat selection, priority boarding, refundability and changed flights, are different. Refundability is included with the purchase of theWORKS!, so cancellations will not incur a cancellation fee. 

Visit Flyfrontier.com and retain the value of your purchase for use within one year of the transaction date. 

To request a refund, simply fill out our online refund request form.


Loyalty program: Free Spirit

With Spirit, cancellation fees increase the closer to your flight the cancellation is made. 

If the cancellation is made 60 or more days from departure, the cancellation is free. Cancelling 31-59 days from departure will get you a $69 cancellation fee, seven to 30 days from departure is a $99 cancellation fee, and zero to six days from departure is a $119 cancellation fee. 

If you cancel a reservation within 24 hours or less from booking, for a flight that is seven or more days away, you are eligible for a full refund in the original form of payment. 

Guests who are not entitled to a refund will receive a reservation credit for the remaining balance of the original purchase after change, cancel, or other non-refundable service charges are deducted. Airfare and government tax and fee differences may apply when making itinerary changes to a reservation. Change and cancellation charges do not apply to bookings made prior to April 5, 2021.


Loyalty program: Rapid Rewards

If you're flying Southwest and have been affected by an involuntary change, you can change your flight date or time by up to 14 days from your original travel date at no additional cost.

If you decide not to travel as a result of a Southwest-initiated schedule change you can choose to:

  • Receive a method-of-payment refund 
  • Hold the value of the ticket as a flight credit that you can use to buy a future flight.

If your flight is canceled by Southwest, and you choose to cancel your trip as a result, you are entitled to a refund for the unused transportation – even for non-refundable tickets, according to the company's website. 

You can change your flight as many times as you want, but you will be asked to pay a fare difference if the flight you're changing to costs more than your previous itinerary.

You can change or cancel your flight up until 10 minutes before your scheduled departure time. For example, if you had a flight scheduled to depart at 8 a.m., you'd have until 7:50 a.m. to make changes or cancel the flight. If you do not travel and do not change or cancel, your reservation will be subject to the airline's no-show policy.  

Travelers are also entitled to a refund for any bag fee that you paid, and any extras they may have purchased, such as EarlyBird Check-In® or Upgraded Boarding.

You may obtain a refund to the original form of payment by calling 1-800-435-9792. You may also request a refund by using the E-Mail Us option on the Southwest website or app and submitting the appropriate information. 

If you do not contact Southwest to request a refund following a Southwest-initiated flight cancellation, you will receive a flight credit that does not expire which can be applied towards future travel as opposed to a refund, but you are entitled to a refund upon request.

Note: Southwest has the most flights of any airline in and out of IND Indianapolis International Airport. 

Sun Country Airlines

Loyalty program: Sun Country Rewards

Sun Country Airlines has a similar fee system to Spirit Airlines. Full payment is due at the time of booking. Airfare and additional components — car rental, paid seat selections, and bag options — are non-refundable but they can be changed or cancelled prior to departure, according to Sun Country Airlines' website.

There is no fee to cancel a flight 60 days from departure. Within 59-14 days there is a $39 fee. Within 13 to zero days there is a $79 fee per segment. If the airfare of the new flight is lower, the difference will be made up in the form of a voucher, which has to be used one year from the date the trip is purchased. 

Any increase in airfare from a changed flight is the responsibility of the customer. 

United Airlines 

Loyalty program: MileagePlus Rewards

Under United's 24-hour flexible booking policy, if your ticket was purchased through United in the last 24 hours and you completed your purchase one week or more before the original scheduled departure flight, it may qualify for waiver of change or cancellation fees.

Basic economy tickets are not eligible for changes, but are eligible for a full refund inside 24 hours of booking as long as you completed your purchase one week or more before the original scheduled departure flight.

If your ticket qualifies, you can go to the website to cancel your reservation and receive a refund. Different policies will apply based on the country or region of your billing address. Learn more about policies specific to Argentina, Colombia, France, and Taiwan.

United adjusted their refund guidelines to be more flexible in early June 2020. If you experienced a significant United schedule disruption and were denied a refund between March 1, 2020 and June 6, 2020 and no longer wish to use your travel credit, you can fill out the refund form and the airline will review your claim to determine if you are now eligible for a refund.

A refund may be requested for any fare that allows refunds, but most fares are nonrefundable and are not eligible for voluntary refunds. However, the value of your ticket may be eligible to be applied toward the price of a new ticket for a fee. Depending on the rules of the fare purchased, a cancellation fee may apply. 

Tickets are valid 12 months from the day of ticket issuance, except for tickets purchased on or before Dec. 31, 2022, which are extended from original date of issue to Dec. 31, 2023. 

Travel must begin by Dec. 31, 2023. Once travel begins, travel must be completed within 12 months from the outbound travel date.

The refund amount you will receive depends on several variables. For example, tickets that are partially traveled will be calculated at a prorated amount based on the rules of the ticket purchased and segments flown. Fees and surcharges collected in conjunction with the ticket will only be refunded if applicable.

Credit card refunds will be processed within seven business days of the request. All other refunds will be processed within 20 business days of the request

Your refund will be credited back to your original form of payment.

Need to check the status of your refund request? Visit the refunds page, and open the "Check Status" tab on the right.


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