CancelButton to close modal window

Flight Refund vs Compensation: What You Need to Know

When you take an EU flight and it’s disrupted, you’re often entitled to money back from the airline. But if you’re confused about whether to ask for a flight refund under EC 261, or whether to demand compensation, we have good news for you. In some cases, you might be entitled to both.

Here’s the difference: If you can no longer take the flight, EU law says you have the right to a full flight refund. But, depending on the reason for the disruption, you might also be entitled to compensation, to make up for the inconvenience.

Check Compensation

You are entitled to a flight refund if:

  • If your flight was delayed by more than 5 hours, and you no longer want to take the flight.
  • OR If your flight was cancelled less than 14 days before departure, and the alternative flight offered doesn't serve your original travel plans.
  • OR If you have been denied boarding but you don't want to take the alternative flight offered.

According to EC 261, you have the right to a flight cancellation refund if your flight has been canceled. You will be offered an alternative flight, and you can request a different alternative if you prefer. But if none of the available flights suit your travel plans, you can request a full refund.

The same goes for a flight delay refund – if your flight was delayed by more than 5 hours, you have the right to decide not to take your flight, and ask for a refund. This is because a five-hour delay is just as inconvenient as a total cancellation.

Regardless of the refund, you are entitled to flight compensation if:

  • Your flight was delayed for 3 hours or more.
  • OR Your flight was cancelled less than 14 days before it was due to depart.
  • OR You were denied boarding due to overbooking.
  • AND Your flight was set to depart from the EU or was on an EU airline arriving in the EU.
  • AND You had a confirmed flight reservation.
  • AND Your flight disruption occurred in the last 3 years.
  • AND The reason for the flight disruption was within the airline's control.
Find out if your flight qualifies today!Check Compensation

Flight Cancellation Refund - Your Rights

 

Getting a cancelled flight refund

A flight cancellation refund is just one of the options available to you in the event that your flight was cancelled less than 14 days before your departure. According to EC 261, all cancelled flights are entitled to either a:

  • Full or partial refund of your ticket, with a return flight to your original departure point if needed.
  • Earliest possible alternative transport to your final destination.
  • A new ticket to your final destination at a later date of your choosing.

If you choose to get your flight refunded, the airline must send reimbursement within 7 days. It must be paid in cash, by means of electronic bank transfer, bank orders, or bank checks.

Alternatively, airlines can also offer compensation by means of travel vouchers or other services, but only by signed agreement of the passenger. If you want to receive your refund in cash, always check what documents you are signing before accepting any vouchers!

If you have not yet departed, you will be refunded the full cost of your ticket. However, if you have already departed, it gets a bit more complex.

Generally, you can get a partial refund for the unused portion of your ticket.

However, there are cases where you’ve already departed, but due to a flight cancellation, the alternative flight offered to you no longer serves your original travel plan.

This might happen if you have a connecting flight. You catch the first leg of the flight, but when you land you learn the second leg is cancelled. Now imagine the airline can’t offer you an alternative that gets you to your original destination within a reasonable timeframe.

If that is the case, you are within your rights to demand a full refund of the flight ticket. So you get refunded for the used portion of your ticket, as well as the part of the ticket you didn’t use.

If needed, the airline must also provide you with a return flight to the first point of departure at the earliest possible opportunity.

Additional compensation for cancelled flights

Passengers can receive both a refund of an airline ticket and compensation for the cancellation, provided that their flight qualifies for compensation.

To qualify, the airline must have let you know about the flight cancellation less than 14 days before it was due to depart. There are some other factors to take into account – whether they are able to offer you a very similar replacement for example. You can read up on all the eligibility requirements on our flight cancellation compensation page.

Compensation for delayed flights

The amount of compensation depends on the length of your flight, and when the alternative flight would have arrived compared to your original flight:

Flight Refund vs Compensation: Everything You Need to Know
Distance Less than 2 hours 2 - 3 hours 3 - 4 hours More than 4 hours Never arrived
All flights 1,500 km or less €125 €250 €250 €250 €250
Internal EU flights over 1,500 km €200 €200 €400 €400 €400
Non-internal EU flights between 1,500 km - 3,500 km €200 €200 €400 €400 €400
Non-internal EU flights over 3,500 km €300 €300 €300 €600 €600

 

Situations not entitled to compensation

Not all flights qualify for compensation. If you were informed about the cancellation or delay at least 14 days or more before your departure, your flight does not qualify for compensation.

According to EC 261, if the disruption is caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’, the airlines are not obligated to pay. Extraordinary circumstances are events that are beyond the airline’s control. This includes:

Flight Refund vs Compensation: Everything You Need to Know
Extraordinary Circumstances
close icon Strikes initiated by airport employees or air traffic control
close icon Political unrest
close icon Weather issues
close icon Security risks

Remember: even if the airline is not responsible for the disruption, you still have the right to a flight refund and to receive care.

Cancelled flight? Find out what you're owedCheck Compensation

Flight Delay Refunds - Your Rights

 

Getting a refund for a delayed flight

An extensively delayed flight inconveniences a customer just as much as a canceled flight. You have the right to get a refund if your flight was delayed by more than 5 hours.

After you have been waiting that long, you can choose to abandon your flight rather than continue to wait. At that point you are entitled to a full refund if you have yet to travel, or a partial refund if you have already flown part of the route.

If you can show that because of the delay, the flight no longer works for the purpose that you booked it for – for example you will be too late to attend a business meeting – you can ask for a full refund, including parts of the ticket you have flown. You can also ask for a ticket back to your original departure point if needed.

As with a canceled flight, your refund must be paid in cash within 7 days by means of electronic bank transfer, bank orders, or bank checks. The airline may also offer you compensation the form of vouchers or services, but only with your signed agreement. Always read through the fine print carefully before signing anything!

 

Additional compensation for delayed flights

As with cancellations, passengers can receive both a refund and compensation for a flight delay, provided that their flight qualifies.

The threshold for compensation for delayed flights is 3 hours, so lower than the 5 hour-delay threshold for flight refunds. Consequently, unless there are some extraordinary circumstances involved, refunded flights are also entitled to compensation. However you can also check the criteria for eligibility on our flight delay compensation page.

 

Compensation amounts for delayed flights

The amount of compensation depends on the length of your delay:

Flight Refund vs Compensation: Everything You Need to Know
Length of delay Under 3 hours 3 - 4 hours Over 4 hours Never arrived
All flights 1,500 km or less close icon €- check icon €250 check icon €250 check icon €250
Internal EU flights over 1,500 km close icon €- check icon €400 check icon €400 check icon €400
Non-internal EU flights between 1,500 km - 3,500 km close icon €- check icon €400 check icon €400 check icon €400
Non-internal EU flights over 3,500 km close icon €- check icon €300 check icon €600 check icon €600

 

Situations not entitled to flight delay compensation

You are not entitled to compensation if the reason for the delay is an extraordinary circumstance. These are situations that are beyond the airline’s control, such as:

Flight Refund vs Compensation: Everything You Need to Know
Extraordinary Circumstances
close icon Strikes initiated by airport employees or air traffic control
close icon Political unrest
close icon Weather issues
close icon Security risks

However, regardless of whether the delay falls under the airline’s responsibility, you still have the right to care, which includes meals, drinks, and where applicable, accommodation and transport. You can read more about the right to care here.

Find out if your flight delay qualifies for compensationCheck Your Flight

Flight Changes and Refunds

There are times when you need to make a change your flight, or perhaps you can’t travel at all and need a refund. Airlines will usually charge a fee if you try to change your flight, but there are some exceptions and some ways around the fees.

Free changes and refunds within 24 hours of booking

For flights that are within the United States, you can change your flight or receive a refund if you cancel your flight within 24 hours of booking, but only if your flight is at least 7 days away.

However, be sure to check with your airline carrier, as some airlines have more generous cancellation and rebooking policies. Frequent flyers who have enough flyer miles or points also often have lower fees for cancellations and changes.

Flexible tickets

Air passengers have also the option of purchasing flexible flight tickets, also known as re-bookable flights.

These tickets often allow at least one free date change to your booking, which is ideal for business travellers or travellers who would like some additional flexibility on when they fly. Some refundable flights give you credit on a future purchase instead, so be sure to check with your airline about the options available to you.

Why AirHelp?

AirHelp is the world’s most successful flight compensation company, with lawyers in more than 30 countries. We pursue each claim using state-of-the-art technology, allowing us to process each claim efficiently.

We take the stress out of the claim process and handle all the heavy lifting for you. Plus we operate on a no win, no fee basis, which means that submitting a claim with us is always risk-free.

Wondering if your flight qualifies for compensation?Check Compensation Now