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The 2021 Guide to Flexible Travel

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Changing or Canceling Non-Refundable Flight Tickets

Buying a basic, non-refundable ticket is often significantly cheaper than a flexible one. So when your travel plans seem pretty solid, it might not make too much sense to fork out the extra money on the off chance that something might go wrong. 

More often than not, this works out just fine and travelers get from point A to point B with basic economy tickets having more money to spend on their trip. Unfortunately, the unexpected does happen and these travelers are left with their backs to the wall having to pay hefty cancellation fees or paying penalties for flight changes. 

Many airlines relaxed their rigid cancellation policies because of the Coronavirus pandemic and waived cancellation and change fees for a period of time. As the world starts to take to the skies again and we start finding ways to live with the virus, most of these same airlines have started to revert back to their old refund policies. 

The feeling of uncertainty that the pandemic planted in every aspect of our lives might leave you feeling extra cautious when making future travel plans. We have become programmed to think of worst-case scenarios and, suddenly, the thought of buying non-refundable airline tickets can sound irresponsible. 

Just how rigid are airline policies when it comes to non-refundable tickets? It turns out there are a few tips and tricks to help you get a free change or a full refund even with basic tickets. We’ve outlined a few of these here.

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1. When the law is on your side  

Many travelers are unaware that there are some regulations in place that ensure airline customers are covered in some situations. If your travel ticket is within, from, or to the United States, you are covered thanks to regulations from the US Department of Transportation (DOT). If your flight is at least 7 days away from the time of booking, you are entitled to a full refund within the first 24 hours of booking with no fee. 

This only applies to tickets bought directly through the airline and not via other services providers such as online travel agencies (OTAs). In response to this, many OTAs offer even more flexibility than the regulations require. 

Many airlines offer more flexibility than this too. Companies like Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, and United Airlines offer more flexibility to customers booking above basic fares. American Airlines adhere to the 24-hour regulation but have also made this eligible to travelers who have booked at least 2 days prior to departure rather than 7. Southwest airlines, on the other hand, have never charged for cancellation or change fees regardless of the fare purchased. As a Southwest passenger, you can cancel or change your booking up to 10 minutes before your scheduled departure time, and you don’t need to be traveling first class to do so.

2. Involuntary Refunds

Every airline company has its own policy about what happens in the case where an airline refuses to carry you for any reason or if there’s a delay over a certain period of time. In these cases, if specific conditions have been met, the traveler is eligible for a full refund on the airfare even on non-refundable fares. 

This information can be found in an airline’s “contract of carriage”. Here are the links to the contracts of the airlines we’ve already mentioned in this guide:

Schedule changes are also eligible for a full refund. These include:

  • Change in departure or arrival time
  • Change in length of layover
  • A change from a non-stop to a connecting flight

Should any of these occur, you can submit a refund request to the airline. Very often, the steps to do so are clearly outlined in the correspondence you receive notifying you of these changes. Keep in mind that, in the case of changes in departure or arrival times and the length of layovers, these need to be of a significant difference and not just a few minutes. 

3. Travel insurance and travel credit cards

Getting travel insurance before your trip normally covers you for free cancellation or change in travel dates. Of course, this comes at a cost but it might be worth looking into for that added peace of mind. 

You might also want to check if your credit card provider offers any travel insurance and, if so, what exactly it covers. In some cases, you can submit a claim through the credit card company requesting a refund for flight cancellation. They normally need to see a valid reason such as a family member falling ill and being unable to travel.

4. Frequent Flyer benefits

Being a frequent flyer can also come in handy in the case of sudden trip cancellation or the need to make any changes. Using your frequent flyer miles or points normally unlocks much more flexibility on your booking. In some cases, you might even be eligible for a total fee waiver depending on how many points you’ve racked up or what status frequent flyer membership you hold. 

5. Choose your airline wisely

If you’d like to have all the flexibility and peace of mind that a flexi flight offers without paying extra for that type of ticket, do your research and choose the airline with the policies that best suit your needs. Luckily, the Coronavirus pandemic has caused many airlines to rethink their policies to make them slightly more flexible and, chances are, we’ll see a lot more of that as we move towards a new way of travel. 

Until then, it’s difficult not to mention Southwest Airline’s fully flexible approach to air travel. Southwest never charges a change fee and only takes any fare differences into account. Luckily, this could work both ways. If your new flight is more expensive, you pay the difference. If it’s cheaper than your original ticket, you get refunded that amount. 

It is important to note that any refund of flights or fare differences means that you are given a travel voucher or credit with that airline of that amount to use on a future flight.  

6. Extraordinary circumstances

There are some cases that an airline might deem eligible for free change or cancellation even on non-refundable tickets. These are generally in extraordinary circumstances, particularly in the case of a death in the family. 

In such unfortunate circumstances, you can contact the airline to request a free cancellation or to reschedule your flight in light of the circumstances. You will likely need to provide some form of documentation as proof of the situation such as a death certificate. 

7. Play the waiting game

As we mentioned in point 2, you are eligible for a waived change fee or cancellation from an airline in the case of a significant change in departure or arrival time, an increased layover, or if your flight has been changed from direct to one with a connection. 

These changes are not as uncommon as you may think and, if you booked your trip a while ago, it might be worth just waiting and hoping any of these involuntary changes (or irregular operations) occur. That way, you’re entitled to a refund. Of course, you won’t know of any of these changes until very close to your departure date so it is a bit of a risk. Think of it as a game of chicken with the airline that can go either way.  

8. Try your luck!

If points 1 to 7 don’t apply to you and you’ve exhausted all possibilities of finding a loophole, you can always just try contacting the airline and trying your luck. Many airlines have a dedicated section on their website which allows customers to request a change or cancellation or you can just get in touch via email or phone call. 

Being honest, polite, and choosing the right words can give you some surprising results. It could be the last thing standing between you and a hefty fee.

There’s always FlexiPerk

If you’re a TravePerk customer (or if you’re about to become one) and if flexibility and peace of mind are important to you, you should consider FlexiPerk. TravelPerk launched FlexiPerk in the summer of 2019 in response to the industry’s need for more flexible booking options which, until that point, had been lacking in the world of corporate travel. With FlexiPerk, business travelers and travel managers are given the option to book flight, hotel, car, or train services and cancel at any time, no questions asked.  

The way it works is simple. You pay a 10% fee on every trip in order to be able to cancel at any time up to as close as 2 hours before the trip. Upon cancellation, you are eligible for a minimum refund of 80%. The process of doing so is also much less stressful. You don’t need to run after airlines and service providers for your refund for weeks on end. You simply notify TravelPerk’s customer care via chat, phone, or email and you’ll receive your refund within 7 days. 

With FlexiPerk, you are not at the mercy of the policies of each individual airline. By signing up, corporate travelers can enjoy the peace of mind that flexible travel offers along with being able to search for amazing deals across the TravelPerk platform. 

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