Did Covid-19 ruin your travel plans? Here’s how to get your money back
Since I am based in Mexico, I only experienced one flight and accommodation cancellation. Mexico only closed its borders to International travel from May 6, 2020 – July 1, 2020, and in between these dates, I was on my way to Spain with my two dogs whose airfares have been paid for. My dogs are big so they can’t be with me in the cabin. I needed to buy a big cage for them (around $300 USD each), do a blood test, send the blood test to Spain, pay a pet flying agency, and all that shebang. I was very anxious because I wasn’t only trying to refund the airfare for myself. It was a lot of money for me and my two dogs to fly to Europe.
I called the airline I booked my tickets with and they did not know how to respond. They did not assure me that I will have a flight refund because, let’s admit it, even the airlines themselves were perplexed about the very confusing COVID rules. I did not hear from my airline for weeks. They did not answer my calls. I felt like they did that intentionally so I will just surrender, which eventually happened. I gave up and accepted that I will never get my flight refund back.
It took me a while to find out how to approach circumstances like this. There weren’t any articles available on the Internet tackling the subject, not until late 2020 when airlines have somehow figured out how to deal with flight cancellations.
From my extensive research on the Internet, interviews, and calls from experts, here’s what I found:
Am I entitled for compensation if my flight gets cancelled?
According to the US department of transportation, if the airline cancelled, modified, or made significant changes in your trip (flight delays included), then you are entitled to compensation. However, there is this question about the dates when the flight was booked or when the trip will take place. The refund is applicable to all trips booked during the pandemic (which is by the way, is still ongoing).
Obviously, if you decide to cancel the trip on your own and you purchased a non-refundable ticket, then you won’t be refunded. Some airlines even charge for cancellation fees!
In August 2020, I booked a flight from Mexico City to Vancouver. It got cancelled. The good thing is Canada is a very organized country so Canadian Airlines gave me a travel voucher that is valid for 2 years. I am really a fan of Canada’s system and how they are tackling the pandemic. I also noticed that Canadian travellers are very compliant and that they listen to their government warnings so they always get the perks in return.
Gabor Lukacs is an advocate of consumer rights. His advice is to be tenacious about getting your money back. But this is so frustrating! Even me gave up on that Spain flight refund. I took Gabor’s advice to be tenacious but then I found myself almost spending the whole day on the phone with no results. I even cried one time because I felt I wasn’t being taken care of. Not to mention it was also not a small sum. And this is the thing – I was the one owed a refund and that is my money, and yet, I am the one suffering?! Why can’t this be easy? Why can’t they just simply give my money back!?
Airlines struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic so in my investigation, I also found out that as soon as we pay for our flight tickets, that money is automatically spent. Airlines have a lot of expenses (i.e. flight maintenance, staff salary, etc) so our money is not actually kept in a safe where they can just pull it out whenever we want a refund.
I don’t really have advice about how to negotiate your flight refund but before doing so, make sure that you qualify for the refund (see above) because you’ll be wasting your time if you are not eligible. I tried to contact them in all social media channels such as Facebook and Instagram but what worked well for me was contacting the airline via Twitter – they seem to be more active in that platform. Well, maybe they responded because I also bombarded them with public tweets and asked my fellow bloggers to do the same. Collectively, all of us have over 10 million followers on Twitter so maybe that was the reason why they responded.
Do you know your rights as a passenger?
I did not! I didn’t even think it exists. As a frequent traveler, I thought that airlines are by default, allowed to do whatever they want – that’s what they’re doing anyway. Yet, we continue to fly because what can we do if we want to travel? It’s not like we have some private jets hanging around our backyards. We need them. But please, educate yourself about your rights as a passenger.
Back to investigating my flight to Madrid refund: I dug further and learned about the EU regulation for a delayed or a canceled flight. I learned that I can even get a refund from a budget airline (i.e. EasyJet, Wizz Air, Air Baltic, etc) and it’s something I did not think I could do because I was never refunded by a budget airline in my life. I know the hacks to find cheap flights. However, I always thought that’s a default ‘money down the drain’ since the ticket is cheap. From this European union regulation, I also found out that I can get a refund even if I used my miles/points in booking the ticket which is insane! Of course, this is only applicable if your airline’s headquarters are based in Europe. I have no idea how our neighbors (the US and Canada) deal with this. I am only speaking for the EU because I was flying with a Spanish airline.
Flying can be intense, fast-paced, and really stressful. With this, I realized how many of us do not take the time to know our passenger rights because we just want to get it over with. Let me give you a more concrete example that is not COVID-related.
In 2016, I was flying from Dubai to Israel (with two layovers in Europe). The United Emirates and Israel do not have any diplomatic relations so even if they are close to each other, there are no direct flights from Dubai to Tel Aviv. If it’s a direct flight, the travel time should be less than an hour but because these two countries are not friends, I needed to cross to Europe and avoid their air borders. I was so tired, hungry, and stressed that I passed out on the floor at the departure gate after check-in. I was literally in front of my gate and guess what? I missed the flight because I did not wake up! I mean, sure, this could be my fault but I did not hear anyone calling my name when it was time for boarding. I fly a lot and I really wake up easily in airports, especially if I hear my name. The ground stewardess claimed she was 100% sure that she called my name. So when I did not come, they unloaded my bag and just left me there high and dry.
Assuming that she called my name for boarding, I was also just right in front of the gate and my flight details clearly state that I am Filipina. If you are the stewardess and you see an Asian looking girl passed out on the floor of the departures gate, will you not wake her up? I know I am overreacting and that this is not their job but I swear up until today, whenever I tell this story, I DID NOT HEAR THEM CALL MY NAME.
Because I did not want to fight anymore, I accepted defeat and bought a new ticket. And this is my point: airports are meant to wear you down. There is also a lot of time pressure from checking in, security gates, boarding, etc so if you want to make it to that flight, you need a lot of extra hours. How in the world will I be able to find out if that missed flight was my fault or the airlines? Will I ever have time to go to the airlines office and inquire about my passenger rights, and at the same time, make it to the new flight I just booked?
Nope, none of us do this. None of us will. Ground staff are also not very kind to offer this information to us. I feel very betrayed now that I know my rights as a passenger! Though laws are very hard to understand, I hope you’ll find time to look into it!
Is it better to book with the airlines themselves or a third party booking platform?
I’ve always used third-party platforms because they are cheaper. It does not guarantee my flight refund anyway. To tell you the truth, I have fewer issues booking with external websites versus booking it on the airline website itself.
Here are some of the things I use when booking my flights.
Momondo has a new COVID feature where you can get information when booking your flight. Just enter your departure country and the map will reflect the country’s opening status and entry requirements! It’s really amazing!
I use this platform when booking flights to and from Europe. All the flights here are guaranteed cheap. I once booked a Mexico-Madrid flight for only $300 USD! I always find cheap long-haul flights here. You can also use this for rental cars and hotels.
If you’re a backpacker, then this platform is for you. Kiwi.com is my go-to tool for booking flights without check-in luggage. There are many great features about Kiwi.com such as travel time, layover options, etc – you’re going to love it!
My favorite Orbitz feature: you can book anything according to the type of traveler that you are! They filter LGBTQ and female-friendly accommodations, destinations, travel inspirations, and more! Click here to get a 15% discount on your first trip with Orbitz.
Most of these third-party booking websites already implemented their COVID flight refund rules so I assure you that you will get your money back from them. I even find it easier to get a refund from the platforms above than the airlines themselves.