No, Airlines Won’t Give Auto Refunds & Charge “Day Of” Prices If They Cancel a Flight

by SharonKurheg

A couple of weeks ago, the Biden-Harris Administration announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) had issued a final rule requiring airlines to promptly provide passengers with automatic cash refunds when owed. The new rule will make it easy for passengers to obtain refunds when airlines cancel or significantly change their flights, significantly delay their checked bags, or fail to provide the extra services they purchased (i.e. Wi-Fi, specific seat assignment, etc.).

Ted Cruz and a few other Congresspeople from both sides of the aisle had issues with the new rules. They were insisting that passengers should continue to jump through hoops to get back money for things they paid for and didn’t receive (say, if the Wi-Fi was down or you paid for an aisle seat but the plane was changed and now you were stuck in a middle seat), instead of, you know, making it easy for people.

Some suggested that was because of the tens of thousands of dollars worth of donations Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) have gotten from airlines over the years. You know, the same airlines that are suing the DOT over their new rules requiring them to disclose all airline fees — including those for checked and carry-on bags as well as change and cancellation fees — upfront. But what do we know?

People think Cruz & Co. are on PAX’s side

Interestingly, some of our readers insisted that Cruz & Co. were on the passengers’ side. They suggested the politicians were merely trying to stop airlines from automatically giving us refunds for canceled flights, which would require us to buy “day of” tickets at a much higher price than what we had originally paid.

One reader said:

Automatic and easy refunds would strand a lot of passengers. When there’s a meltdown, everyone will be stranded and given there measly refund. You would then have to buy a $1000 ticket.

And another wrote:

YMMV readers, read carefully what [another commenter]  wrote. Getting your $120.00 back in cash sounds great…Yea consumer!!..but when you find out your same journey later will cost $400.00, it is not good for the consumer.

What the DOT wrote

Maybe nobody read what the DOT actually wrote? Or did they just get their little 3-sentence comments from TikTok and Twitter (currently known as X) and go by that? I included the link in my previous post about the new rules. You can read it here, but I’ll include the most important part (italics are mine) that most people were arguing about:

…Passengers will be entitled to a refund if their flight is canceled or significantly changed, and they do not accept alternative transportation or travel credits offered

What it means

So IF Delta, American, or whoever canceled a flight or made a significant change (they included what would constitute a significant change), they would still make offers to get passengers to their final destinations, the same as they do now. But let’s say you were flying to attend a wedding, meet a cruise ship, or a bajillion other time-sensitive possibilities. And let’s say you missed whatever that thing was because your flight was cancelled and the next flight they offered would be after “the event” happened, the ship sailed, etc. You may have no reason to travel there now, even if the airline offered to get you there 6 hours late. Or tomorrow. Or the day after that. Or whatever. The airline would have to reimburse you because you didn’t accept their alternative transportation or travel credit options (I’m not sure why someone would accept those, but OK).

Now let’s look at the other direction. Say you’ve flown to the wedding, cruise, etc. and are on your way home. Your flight is canceled, but, of course, you have to get home. So you accept whatever alternative transportation they offer, just like always, and yeah, you’d get home late, but you’d eventually get home. No refund given, and no being stranded because the airline eventually got you home.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy

And there ya go. No one is stranded. Quick reimbursement when requested. And no one has to find forms hidden online, fill them out and be on the airlines’ behinds to reimburse you if you do ask for a refund.

Nothing wrong with that.

Now let’s start watching how the airlines complain that they have to (gasp!) be transparent!

Want to comment on this post? Great! Read this first to help ensure it gets approved.

Want to sponsor a post, write something for Your Mileage May Vary, or put ads on our site? Click here for more info.

Like this post? Please share it! We have plenty more just like it and would love it if you decided to hang around and sign up to get emailed notifications of when we post.

Whether you’ve read our articles before or this is the first time you’re stopping by, we’re really glad you’re here and hope you come back to visit again!

This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


derek May 14, 2024 - 2:34 pm

Some of these scenarios are written as if they will definitely happen. That may not be the case.

If there is a massive problem due to IT, weather, or other source, under the new rules, the airline could simply refund your money because their alternative is unreasonable, like travel in two weeks. The better way is if the airline endorses your ticket to another carrier. However, that is now considered a hack and a sign of an experience flier, not the norm.

Max May 14, 2024 - 3:06 pm

I still don’t understand the timing. Are the airlines allowed to set their own deadlines for accepting the alternative (“this proposal will self-destruct in 5 seconds”) or do they wait until that alternative flight comes and goes?
(Comment edited by YMMV to remove sections that were against Rule #4 regarding comment approval)

Bill G May 14, 2024 - 11:03 pm

You are assuming the airline WILL make another offer. I notice nothing in the document requiring them to do so.

SharonKurheg May 15, 2024 - 1:15 am

Good point. Although I think they’d be shooting themselves in the foot if they didn’t.


Leave a Comment