The Cost of Cancelling and When to Buy Refundable Airline Tickets

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If you need to cancel airline ticket, do you get your money back? And when is it better to buy a refundable airline ticket?

A friend needed to book multiple flights for possible work plans and was trying to figure out the best strategy to minimize cost.

For most tickets, you’re probably going to pay a hefty fee to cancel your ticket and whether you get the remaining amount back or just credit towards a future flight depends on the airline. If you bought a refundable ticket, then you should be able to get all your money back with little or no fees but for non-refundable tickets the following fees apply:

  • American Airlines does not refund your ticket price except when the passenger dies or when cancellation is due to military orders. To change your ticket is typically $200 for domestic tickets.
  • Delta Airlines does not offer refunds and charges a $200 change fee for domestic flights
  • Frontier Airlines charges $99 to refund or modify Economy reservations.
  • JetBlue change fee varies based on timing and ticket price. 60 days or more before the flight changes and cancellations are $70. Within 60 days, the fee will range from $70-$135 based on ticket price.
  • Southwest Airlines has no change fees, you can apply 100% of the price on all fares to future flights; only Business Select and Anytime fares qualify for refunds.
  • Spirit Airlines change or cancellation fees start at $110 per customer, per booking.
  • Sun Country charges $100 to change a domestic ticket, if you cancel your ticket you can keep the flight credit for up to a year sans the $100 change fee.
  • United Airlines does not offer refunds (except in the event of death or jury duty) and charges $200 to change domestic flights.
  • Virgin America charges $100-$150 to change or cancel reservations based on the region.

Note: Most airlines allow free cancellation of any ticket within 24 hours of purchasing, though it varies if the ticket is purchased within 7 days of the flight.

When To Buy a Refundable Airline Ticket?

It will vary by each trip and airline, but refundable airline tickets typically run at least $200-$250 more than the lowest fare each way. More than the $99-$200 cancellation fees charged. Refundable airline tickets will also tend to come with more benefits — free checked bags, more miles earned, etc.

So when is it worth booking a refundable airline ticket?

Only if there is a real chance that your dates or plans will need to change.  For non-business travel, this almost never happens. Issues can always come up last minute, but they tend to be rare. So I use this approach for deciding when it might be worth it.

  • For trips with a moderate but real chance your ticket will need to be changed, book refundable only when the price is close to the cost of a cheap ticket +  cancellation fees.
  • For trips with a high likelihood of change or cancellation, refundable is likely the best choice since you’re probably going to forfeit $200+ for changes and it would be better to recoup the entire cost of the ticket.

What formula do you use when deciding whether to book refundable tickets or not?

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