In a few months, these new federal rules could speed up airline refunds

We’ve all had to deal with delayed or canceled flights because of weather, equipment, or staffing problems — but new federal regulations will take effect this fall, requiring all airlines to automatically refund you when it happens.

Experts say you are entitled to a full refund for the unused portion of your ticket, even if you booked a “nonrefundable” fare. In such cases, airlines typically instead offer flight credits, air miles, or trip vouchers by default.

Kevin Brasler, executive editor of Washington Consumers Checkbook, says you don’t have to accept what the airlines offer.

“I mean, it’s our money,” Brasler said. “Why should we have to, by default, opt for a trip credit or a flight credit that will someday expire, when what we really want is to have our money sent back to us?”

For the airlines, it means paying sooner than later. If not, they could face hefty fines, under the regulations from the Department of Transportation.

“The DOT has now issued new guidelines for delays and changes made by the airlines and also sets deadlines for how quickly the airlines must issue refunds,” Brasler said.

The new rule requires refunds to be:

  • Automatic: Airlines must automatically issue refunds without passengers having to request them.
  • Prompt: Airlines and ticket agents must issue refunds within seven business days of refunds becoming due for credit card purchases, and 20 calendar days for other payment methods.
  • Cash or original form of payment: Airlines and ticket agents must provide refunds in cash or whatever original payment method the individual used to make the purchase, such as credit card or airline miles. Airlines may not substitute vouchers, travel credits, or other forms of compensation unless the passenger affirmatively chooses to accept alternative compensation.
  • Full amount: Airlines and ticket agents must provide full refunds of the ticket purchase price, minus the value of any portion of transportation already used. The refunds must include all government-imposed taxes and fees and airline-imposed fees, regardless of whether the taxes or fees are refundable to airlines.

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Sandra Jones

Sandra Jones is an Anchor/Reporter for WTOP. She’s been in the news industry for more than two decades.

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