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Has anyone had success getting airlines to issue refunds, or at least extend the value of unused tickets, for upcoming travel that had been booked long before the COVID-19 outbreak?

My question specifically concerns United Airlines and non-refundable tickets to destinations that are not otherwise covered by any explicit guidance. I'd be interested in hearing about others though.

It seems like airlines are offering flexibility for new travel bookings but not ones made a while back. And travel insurance will only cover you if your travel is individually impacted due to illness or quarantine.

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  • Why do you want to cancel? Because of personal/business preferences, or because an event you had planned to attend has been cancelled, or...? – jcaron Mar 9 '20 at 13:17
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    @jcaron no specific reason other than general concerns. (although that could change) – wrschneider Mar 9 '20 at 13:28
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    Even if the OP has no specific reason to cancel, the risk varies by age and health. A flight might be a reasonable risk for fit 20-something, and not be cancelled, but not be a reasonable risk for a 70-year-old with chronic medical problems. – Patricia Shanahan Mar 9 '20 at 16:21
  • @wrschneider Keep an eye on updates to the waivers United have published united.com/ual/en/us/fly/travel/notices.html – Traveller Mar 10 '20 at 8:18
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Your question is very generic, so I answer in general:

In general if a government (or an airline) doesn't stop travellers or planes, you will have no direct refund. It means that both think that there is no danger.

So usually it is recommended to have a travel insurance (for important/expensive travel, like far away for holidays). On the other hand, also a travel insurance may not allow you to cancel: it depends on the kind of insurance you get: some (the more expensive) doesn't ask reasons, other are more restrictive (and again, if you are not in a risk category, and there is no recommendation from government) they will not refund you.

On the other hand, this is a special (and global) thing, so to get good news coverage, they may end to refund you. Cruise lines are starting this (also for old bookings), let's hope also the airlines will follow.

The reason about having such rules for new booking: they are trying to convince new people to book. Without such incentives, many passengers will not book (and after booking many will travel anyway), this will keep cashflow. Old booking: they have already paid, so if they do something, it is just to get good publicity.

Because the airlines will reduce flights, you may hope that they will effect your flight, so that you can cancel/rebook (or having credit for next flight).

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  • Thanks, and what I'd specifically like to know is - has anyone had success getting refunds for the good publicity? – wrschneider Mar 10 '20 at 2:01
  • Scoot, which is a budget airline, allowed me to reschedule flights at no cost. They don't usually budge and charges even for water. – Anish Sheela Mar 10 '20 at 3:04
  • @wrschneider: I think you should wait. Cruise industry has just changed policies few days ago, and they were the more affected one (from beginning). Now that Coronavirus hit also US, I would expect some change next week (or later this week). This process take time (until one airline decide, then others must follow) – Giacomo Catenazzi Mar 10 '20 at 6:18
  • Indeed, United just waived change fees for all departures during March/April – wrschneider Mar 11 '20 at 13:44
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Has anyone had success getting airlines to issue refunds

Yes. I had US <-> Australia ticket issued by Air China. I got the option to cancel, which I did and I have already received a full refund.

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I booked the following ticket using the TravelUP agency for an Air China flight:

Departure on 8 April

LHR (London Heathrow, UK) -> transit in PEK (Beijing, China) -> FUK (Fukuoka, Japan)

With a return flight going the same way back on 29 April.

I was reading the following information on Air China's website:

Dear passengers,

In order to implement the requirements of Civil Aviation Administration of China and continue with the joint prevention and control of the novel coronavirus-infected pneumonia, Air China has made the following adjustments to the free refund rules to help passengers better plan their trips:

I. Applicable Tickets

All tickets with a ticket number beginning with "999" (including mileage award tickets) purchased before 0:00 AM on January 28, 2020 for Air China operated flights or CA-coded codeshare flights that have a travel date later than January 1, 2020 (inclusive).

II. Ticket Handling Rules

  1. The tickets are valid for one year from the date of issuance. Any applicable tickets as defined above can be refunded free of charge within the validity period of one year as long as the refund is requested before the departure of the flight. We kindly ask the passengers to apply for refunds outside of peak periods.

  2. Passengers can apply for refunds through the original channels where they purchased the tickets. Tickets purchased through the Air China website, app or WeChat applet can be directly refunded in the original order.

  3. Air China will keep a close watch on the epidemic updates and make timely adjustments to the flights. To make better use of the transport capacity during the Spring Festival, we kindly ask the passengers to apply for refunds before the departure of the flight. If you have decided to cancel your trip, please cancel your check-in seat as soon as possible through the original check-in channels to avoid wasting the resources and to ensure the seat availability to other passengers who still need to travel.

  4. The rules are effective immediately and supersede the previous Notes on Free Refund for Air China Flight Tickets.

The passengers' safety has always been Air China's top priority and we will respond quickly to the requirements of the authorities and provide services and support to the passengers on the shortest notice. Thank you for your understanding and support!

Air China Passenger Service Hotline: 00800-86-100-999

@ source

And so wrote to TravelUP via their contact form on the website on 7 February:

Hi, I've been reading the recent news from Air China website and it seems I might be able to cancel my flight for a free full refund? Is that correct that I can get the full price refunded? Thanks, xxxxxx

Booking no. xxxxxxxx

Reservation no.. xxxxx

Got the following reply the following day on 8 February:

Dear xxxxxx

Please be informed i have checked with airline and they advised passenger can apply for full refund for that need to cancel the whole booking and it will take at least 08 weeks to receive the refund from the airline.

Kindly reply to this email as confirmation if you wish to cancel the whole booking.

Yours Sincerely,

xxxx xxxxxx

Admin Officer

I then spoke with a friend before we decided to cancel and send this on 19 February:

Hi xxxx,

Thank you for the response. Yes, I confirm I would like to cancel the whole booking in order to get a full refund as per coronavirus crisis.

Thank you,

xxxxxx

With the following response on the 19 February:

Dear

Please be informed that your ticket has been cancelled now and refund has been applied which you will receive after 08 weeks.

Yours Sincerely,

xxxx xxxxx

Admin Officer

8 weeks haven't passed and I haven't received the refund yet, but I assume it's coming as promised.

My friend had a similar flight on the same day but from Stockholm instead of London and he booked via GoToGate. It took a bit of more convincing for him to get GoToGate to cancel and refund his Air China ticket but they agreed eventually.

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