In short: There’s no such thing as a nonrefundable ticket. You can get a refund on a nonrefundable airline ticket under the right circumstances. If your airline or agent tells you otherwise, don’t accept that as the final answer. Just remember the exceptions and send a brief, polite email to one of our exclusive customer service contacts.
There are numerous special circumstances and exceptions that can override even the airline industry’s strict “no-refund” rule. They even apply to the most restrictive “basic” economy class tickets.
Number 1. If you cancel within 24 hours of bookingIf you’ve booked a ticket in the United States, the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires U.S. and foreign air carriers to hold a reservation at the quoted fare for 24 hours without payment or allow the traveler to cancel the reservation within 24 hours without penalty. This policy is known as the 24-hour reservation requirement.
Number 2. Request a refund on your ownIf you are on the hook for a costly change fee, try requesting a refund. Most airlines allow you to request a refund directly on their websites. Even if you don’t think the airline will grant you a refund, it’s worth a try.
Number 3. If an airline cancels your flightIf an airline cancels your flight, it will try to rebook you on the next available flight. You don’t have to accept that flight. If you’d prefer not to travel on the new itinerary, you are entitled to a refund for the unused transportation. This is true even for a nonrefundable ticket. You are also entitled to a refund for any bag fee that you paid, and any extras you may have purchased, such as a seat assignment, according to the DOT.
Number 4. Wait until the last minuteIf you have a flight booked and need to cancel your flight, wait until the last minute. If your flight ends up being delayed or canceled because of weather, you can receive a full refund on your flight. Typically, you don’t need to show up at the airport. You can check online, and if there is an issue with your flight, you could be looking at a fee-free refund.
Number 5. If there’s a significant schedule changeIf your airline changes its schedule, you may be entitled to a full refund even if you’re holding a nonrefundable ticket. How much of a schedule change depends on the airline. American Airlines has a 61-minute rule. United Airlines will offer a refund under certain conditions when there’s a schedule change
Number 6. If the contract of carriage allows itThe contract of carriage sometimes called the conditions of carriage — is the legal agreement between you and the airline. Often these terms detail other provisions for refunding a nonrefundable ticket.
Number 7. If your bank or credit card says soIf you feel the airline hasn’t offered you the product it promised, you might be able to dispute the charge on your credit card (commonly called a credit card chargeback).
Number 8. If you dieAirlines offer refunds to your next of kin if you die. This is a long-standing industry courtesy. There’s no rule or regulation that says an airline must refund a dead passenger’s fare. If, however, the promise is contained in the contract of carriage, then the airline must honor it.
Number 9. If your travel companion diesSome airlines will refund tickets — even nonrefundable ones — as a goodwill gesture when your travel companion dies. Most airlines have internal (nonpublished) policies governing these refunds.
Number 10. If your military orders change or you have jury dutyAirlines are known to refund nonrefundable tickets if your military orders change. They have also refunded tickets for passengers with jury duty or other civic obligations. If you think you qualify for one of these exceptions, ask.
Number 11. If you have extenuating personal circumstancesSometimes, life happens. Passengers fall ill before their flight or declare personal bankruptcy. Airlines review these refund requests on a case-by-case basis. They weigh your loyalty to the airline, take into consideration your manners and always ask: “What would happen if this ended up in the news?”