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Warning: You're losing money when you (only) take those fee waivers!

AuthorAda Kozłowska

Key Points

  • Change fee waivers distract passengers from monetary compensation owed them 
  • Under extraordinary circumstances, most airlines must provide a full refund as stated under their contract of carriage
  • Extraordinary circumstances include events that cannot be controlled including but not limited to strikes, riots, and Acts of God(hurricanes, blizzards, earthquake etc.)

In light of the recent snowstorm, many airlines have opted to waive change fees for travelers who have had their itineraries affected by the extreme weather. Here we discuss why accepting these waived change fees may not be the best option for the passenger while illuminating other  avenues that customers may be able to take. 

As soon as Winter Storm Juno popped up on news channels’ radar as the impending “snowpocalypse”, airlines and their press teams were quick to react. If you were one of the passengers who got wind of this news I’m guessing your reaction was somewhere between two extremes. You either thought “finally, airlines are treating us like human beings and not trying their best to frustrate us” or you may have thought “really, a fee waiver, that’s all they’ve got, they waited until the last minute to cancel, they’ve given us the most restrictive fee waivers rules ever and they expect us to be happy?” Both sides have a point.

It may seem that based on historical responses to extraordinary circumstances that airlines are in fact starting to care about their customers a bit more. However when all the evidence is considered it turns out that if you (only) take the fee waivers as offered by the airlines you might be choosing the short end of the stick.

Let’s take an unnamed airline for example, that has offered fee waivers to customers who had originally booked their travel dates for either the 26 or the 27th of January. Said airline then stipulates that the changes to your ticket must be made by the 30th for a travel date before the 30th. That’s a pretty tight schedule for someone who may be stuck miles away from the airport due to mass transit suspensions. This unnamed but real airline may then charge you the difference in the ticket costs if your flight falls after the 30th (however some will waive this at their discretion). That means, if your fee is waived, you may still find yourself paying partially for another ticket! I don’t know about you but that sounds like a tough deal to me. Fee waivers may be tough to access because of tight time restraints, quirky restrictions/regulations, and the sometimes Sisyphean task of finding the right person to talk to.

Here’s what they don’t want you to know…

Some airlines do not want you to know that extreme and extraordinary weather conditions do allow the customer access to refunds of any unused parts of your flight. A full refund in fact. Unfortunately, airlines do not have to voluntarily disclose this information and will waive their fees to appease and distract passengers from this fact. Don’t worry here at AirHelp we’ve done the research for you and found the exact spot on the contracts where airlines state that you are within your rights to request a full refund of your ticket. Most carriers will give you that refund in cash form, but a tiny few will only offer them in the form of flight credits.

Wait, like a Shamwow commercial, there’s more! If you are flying from Europe on any carrier or to Europe on a European carrier, the airline must arrange for you to have a hotel to stay in, transport to/from this hotel, meals and drinks in addition to your refund!

You don’t have to thank us, our job is to be the bearers of good news!

Here’s the full list of the types of refunds offered and the section of each airlines contract where this information is hidden!

Carrier Extraordinary circumstances Place in Contract stating the full refund if extreme weather Link to contract of carriage
Alaska Airlines Full refund (involuntary refund) J. The provision of services in addition to those specifically set forth in this rule to all or some passengers shall not be construed as a waiver of AS’s rights. Neither shall any delay on the part of AS in exercising or enforcing its rights under this rule be construed as a waiver of such rights Alaska Airlines Contract of Carriage
jetBlue Airways Full refund (involuntary refund) If Carrier cancels a flight or fails to operate a flight as scheduled, the Passenger may be entitled to relief under the provisions of Section 37. If Carrier denies boarding to a Passenger with a valid reservation, the Passenger will be entitled, at his or her option, to either (i) transportation at no extra charge on another of Carrier’s flights to the same destination, subject to space availability, or (ii) a refund of the applicable fare paid by Passenger. When a portion of the trip has been made, the refund will be made in an amount equal to the applicable one- way fare (less any applicable discount) for the portion of the trip cancelled or not operated as scheduled by Carrier Jetblue Airways Contract of Carriage
Delta Air Lines Full refund (involuntary refund) The amount carrier will refund upon surrender of the unused portion of the passenger’s tickets pursuant to rules 35 (refusal to transport), 50 (acceptance of children), or 240 (flight delays/cancellations) will be Delta Airlines Contract of Carriage
Frontier Airlines Full refund (involuntary refund) B. Force Majeure – In the occurrence of a force majeure event, Frontier may cancel, divert, or delay any flight without liability except to provide a refund for the unused portion of the ticket Frontier Airlines Contract of Carriage
Hawaiian Full refund (involuntary refund, however will not refund if you’re flying to/from LAX. OAK, ONT, SFO ) HA will refund an amount equal to the fare and charges applicable to the ticket issued to the passenger Hawaiian Airlines Contract of Carriage
American Airlines Full refund (involuntary refund) American may, in the event of a force majeure event, without notice, cancel, terminate, divert, postpone or delay any flight or the right of carriage or reservation of traffic accommodations without liability except to issue an involuntary refund. The involuntary refund will be made in the original form of payment in accordance with involuntary refund rules for any unused portion of the ticket. American will also reserve the right to determine if any departure or landing should be made without any liability except the afore mentioned involuntary refund American Airlines Contract of Carriage
Southwest Airlines (Airtran Airways) Full refund (involuntary refund) General. Carrier may, in its sole discretion, refuse to transport, or may remove from an aircraft at any point, any Passenger in any of the circumstances listed below. The fare of any Passenger denied transportation or removed from Carrier’s aircraft en route under the provisions of this Article will be refunded in accordance with Article 9 of this Contract of Carriage. The sole recourse of any Passenger refused transportation or removed en route will be the recovery of the refund value of the unused portion of his Ticket. Under no circumstances shall Carrier be liable to any Passenger for any type of special, incidental, or consequential damages Southwest Airlines Contract of Carriage
Virgin America Full refund (involuntary refund) In the event of any Force Majeure event, Virgin America may, without notice, cancel, terminate, divert, postpone or delay any flight or the right of carriage or reservation of traffic accommodations without liability except to issue an involuntary refund. The involuntary refund will be made in the original form of payment in accordance with involuntary refund rules for any unused portion of the ticket. Virgin America will also reserve the right to determine if any departure or landing should be made without any liability except the aforementioned involuntary refund Virgin Airways Contract of Carriage
Spirit Airlines Full refund (involuntary refund, only In the event that Spirit is unable to provide a previously confirmed seat and is unable to reroute the customer via Spirit”) 9.2.2. If a portion of the reservation has been used, the refund will be equal to the amount of the unused portion Spirit Airways Contract of Carriage
United Airlines Only obligated to refund in United credits and at discretion of United D) Force Majeure Event – In the event of a Force Majeure Event, UA without notice, may cancel, terminate, divert, postpone, or delay any flight, right of carriage or reservations (whether or not confirmed) and determine if any departure or landing should be made, without any liability on the part of UA. UA may re-accommodate Passengers on another available UA flight or on another carrier or combination of carriers, or via ground transportation, or may refund any unused portions of the Ticket in the form of a travel certificate United Airways Contract of Carriage
US Airways Only obligated to refund in US airways credits In the event of a Force Majeure Event, US Airways, without notice, may cancel, terminate, divert, postpone, or delay any flight, right of carriage, or reservations (whether or not confirmed) without liability on the part of US Airways . US Airways also reserves the right to determine if any departure or landing should be made without liability on the part of US Airways . US Airways may reschedule the customer on another available US Airways flight or refund any unused portions of the ticket in the form of a travel certificate

US Airways Contract of Carriage

 

Do you have any additional thoughts about airlines waiving change fees? Or just thoughts about traveling in extreme weather in general? Share with us in the comments section below!

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