If You Shouldn’t Fly When You’re Sick, Why Can’t You Get a Refund?

Photo (cc) by kalleboo

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is raising a number of questions about flying when you’re sick.

It turns out that getting a refund if you cancel your ticket because of illness isn’t easy, or even possible, in many cases.

Traveler columnist Christopher Elliott wrote:

A passenger who is ill might prefer to cancel and receive a full refund for the ticket. That’s possible if you’ve purchased a top-dollar, refundable ticket. But most passengers opt for the cheaper, nonrefundable fare. If you’re too sick to fly, you can rebook a different flight but there will be a change fee of $200 to $300. And you’ll have to pay the difference if the new fare is higher than the old one.

If you’re denied boarding a plane because of a visible illness, the airline may refund you in full, Elliott said. Otherwise, if you don’t want to eat the costs of canceling or exchanging an airline ticket, then flying sick may be the only option, although it’s not a good one.

If you want to return or exchange an airline ticket (even if there’s a hefty cost), Michael Baker of Demand Media said there are steps you’ll need to take:

  • Check class fare. This information, typically a single letter, can be found on your receipt or itinerary. If you’re flying economy, a letter Y or B denotes full-fare economy class, which indicates your ticket is refundable. If you see another letter, that means a discount fare, which is nonrefundable, Baker said.
  • Refund policy. If you do have a refundable ticket, you may be able to return it electronically if you purchased it via a credit card. Or you may need to do it on the phone or in person at the ticket counter, according to Baker. You could also potentially exchange it for an equitable flight.
  • Exchange policy. Most of the time, you won’t be able to get a direct refund, but you could get a flight voucher for a future trip. Of course, there’s a catch. “You almost always will have to pay an exchange fee as well as the difference in ticket cost if your new ticket is more expensive than your first ticket,” Baker said.
  • Emergency refund/exchange policy. If your travel plans change due to an illness or death, some airlines have fewer restrictions, but you’ll need to provide documentation of the emergency situation. “Travel insurance, such as that offered by certain credit cards and travel agencies, can ensure you get a full refund should you need to change a ticket for this reason,” Baker said.
  • Cancel in advance. A minimum of 24 hours’ notice is often required to cancel a ticket.

So why is getting a refund on an airline ticket so difficult? It seemingly boils down to money. According to Elliott, domestic airlines brought in $2.8 billion in ticket change fees last year, an increase from the $2.5 billion it collected in 2012. It’s not known what percentage of the ticket change fees were due to an illness.

Have you ever tried to get a refund on an airline ticket? Share your experiences below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
15 Great Amazon Finds You Can Buy for Less Than $5
15 Great Amazon Finds You Can Buy for Less Than $5

These products offer big value at a small price.

7 Hobbies That Help You Live Longer
7 Hobbies That Help You Live Longer

Research shows some hobbies can add years — or even decades — to your life.

4 Streaming TV Services That Cost $20 a Month — or Less
4 Streaming TV Services That Cost $20 a Month — or Less

Here’s how to ditch cable and satellite TV — and save a bundle — without giving up your favorite shows.

12 Ways Retirees Can Earn Passive Income
12 Ways Retirees Can Earn Passive Income

These simple ways of earning income without a lot of active, ongoing effort can stretch your retirement dollars.

10 Colleges That Offer Free Tuition for Seniors
10 Colleges That Offer Free Tuition for Seniors

These schools let retirement-age students study, tuition-free, while earning college credit.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco

This leader in bulk shopping is a great place to find discounts in the fixed-income years.

Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines
Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines

Fall is the time to schedule vaccines that can keep you healthy — and even save your life.

11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older
11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older

There is no need to wait until you’re 65 to take advantage of so-called “senior” discounts.

11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous
11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous

When you get the impulse to stockpile these everyday items, pay close attention to their expiration dates.

8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies
8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies

In this age of higher-priced drugs and complex health care systems, a trip to the pharmacy can spark worry. Freebies sure do help.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America
The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America

A new model parks atop the list of vehicles that thieves love to pilfer.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62
10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62

If you can, here are several good reasons to retire earlier than we’re told to.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income
26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income

These states won’t tax any of your Social Security income — and in some cases, other types of retirement income.

14 Things That Are ‘Free’ With Medicare
14 Things That Are ‘Free’ With Medicare

These services could save you money and help prevent costly health problems.

5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles
5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles

Pushing your car to 200,000 miles — and beyond — can save you piles of cash. Here’s how to get there.

5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees
5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees

Retirees agree: These are the things that give them purpose and fulfillment in their golden years.

10 Things You Should Never Do With Bleach
10 Things You Should Never Do With Bleach

Does the pandemic have you reaching for bleach more than ever before? Learn the ins and outs of using this powerful disinfectant.

15 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now
15 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.