- Travelers preparing to take to the skies this holiday season should book their flights carefully to avoid losing money if the pandemic worsens.
- The airlines waive switching and cancellation fees, but this does not mean a refund if you have to cancel.
- Using airline points and miles or travel credit can help ensure maximum flexibility and get the best deal.
- You can find more stories on the Business Insider homepage.
With the pandemic outbreak in March, thousands of travelers rushed to cancel flights as the global outbreak decimated the ability to travel. Non-essential travel became discouraged and completely banned internationally as borders quickly closed and staying at home became the fashion.
As the public embarks on a pandemic approaching their eighth month and Thanksgiving fast approaching, many are considering returning to heaven to visit friends and relatives. After all, the winter vacation season has historically been the busiest travel time of the year for Americans, thanks to the accumulation of family-oriented vacations over a three-month period.
But the pandemic has created an ever-changing new normal, and US cities and states that are currently low risk could become the next epicentres in a few weeks, raising doubts about future travel plans. Realizing this, airlines have cut some change and cancellation fees and provided new tools that will make it easier to secure travel plans this holiday season when used properly.
Travelers booking flights should follow a core principle to avoid bombarding cash – or avoid it as much as possible – as the possibility of a refund for a customer initiated cancellation is slim. If paying with cash is the only option, flyers should consider a refundable ticket or put up with the fact that they will likely only receive travel credit for future trips.
Cash tickets can also be refunded if an airline initiates a flight cancellation or changes a flight after booking. Our guide to planning for changes describes the circumstances under which a flyer can receive a refund for a non-refundable ticket.
Here are two ways to protect your wallet while on vacation.
Use of travel credit or a gift card
A Delta Air Lines gift card.
melissamn / Shutterstock.com
Passengers who have canceled a flight due to the pandemic are likely sitting on a stack of travel credit from the airline they booked with. It’s like a gift card in that the value can only be used for that one airline.
Using these credits on vacation can help avoid cash purchases and loss if the flight has to be canceled for any reason. Airlines can only issue an additional credit if the trip ultimately has to be canceled and no cash is lost, although this depends on the airline.
Credits also have an expiration date, so if a trip is guaranteed to be a success, it is better to use them now. They usually expire after a year, but some airlines extend these dates as travel is still in question as new outbreaks appear in the US.
For example, Delta Air Lines allows passengers to rebook flights for travel up to September 30, 2022 if they cancel a flight booked before April 17 for travel between March 2020 and September 2020. United Airlines is also extending some electronic travel certificates. Future flight credits have a term of one year.
Other airlines allow flyers to rebook with travel credit, but must either use the full amount or withhold the difference.
Every airline differs in how they treat travel credit. Passengers should call their prospective airline to confirm the details prior to booking. However, the use of travel credit should be a priority before paying with cash.
Using airline points or miles
American Airlines and Delta Air Lines planes in Los Angeles.
Thiago B Trevisan / Shutterstock.com
This holiday season is also the perfect time to take advantage of some of the frequent flyer miles that have accumulated as the major airlines give these tickets the greatest flexibility. American Airlines and Delta Air Lines both offer free cancellations with full miles refunds for tickets booked through the end of the year. This offers the greatest flexibility for the holiday season.
United Airlines, on the other hand, waives the miles refund fee – known as the award refund fee – only if flights are canceled at least 30 days prior to departure.
Here is an overview of the policies of the three major US airlines:
- Delta Air Lines: Award flights booked through the end of the year can be changed or canceled regardless of cabin class, and miles are refundable with no refund fee.
- American Airlines: Award flights booked through the end of the year can be changed or canceled regardless of cabin class, and miles are refundable with no refund fee. Web Rewards cannot be changed, but can be canceled and a new flight booked without a refund fee.
- United Airlines: Award flights booked by the end of the year can be canceled regardless of cabin class without a refund fee, as long as the change is made at least 30 days before departure. Changes can also be made to any ticket free of charge until December 31st. From this point onwards, only Economy Class tickets for trips to the USA, Mexico or the Caribbean can be changed free of charge.
Again, every airline is different and flyers should consult their prospective airlines with any questions before booking.
No more remorse
A Delta Air Lines Boeing 767-400ER.
Thomas Pallini / Business Insider
Travelers can also take advantage of the new change and cancellation fees and make sure they get the best flight deal. Airfare is constantly changing and while we all believe we are getting the best deal right now, prices can drop just hours later.
Ordinarily, an airline would not be willing to reimburse the difference, but the new guidelines could force their hand. For example, if a flight purchased for 10,000 Delta Sky Miles is now available for 8,000 miles, a flyer can cancel their original ticket and immediately rebook on the same flight, with the difference being converted into miles.
This strategy works best for award tickets as these points or miles can be instantly refunded but can be used for a cash ticket. Depending on the airline, a flyer can cancel their existing ticket, convert it into travel credit and rebook it immediately. The difference remains in the travel credit and can be used for a future booking, but this again depends on the airline.
It took a little more work and the occasional check of the airline’s website to see if prices had changed but to get the best vacation travel deal.