How to get a refund on a non-refundable airline ticket

Updated April 12, 2017

Airlines often sell airfare tickets labelled as "non-refundable." The claim is made to the customer that once the ticket is purchased, the deal is sealed, and there is no way that customer can get any of his money back. Airlines started doing this as a way to protect themselves from no-show passengers that wasted seats aboard a plane and then requested a refund for their ticket, essentially costing the airline two seat's worth in revenue. The truth is that there are several conditions under which a customer with a non-refundable ticket may get some of his money back. The key is knowing the circumstances under which the fine print no longer applies to the phrase "non-refundable."

Call your airline representative as soon as you realise you will no longer be able to make a scheduled flight. Have on hand your flight confirmation numbers and the information from the credit card you used to purchase the tickets.

Explain your situation to the representative clearly. State why it is impossible for you to fly on your scheduled flight. Legitimate reasons recognised by most airlines for ticket refunds include illnesses, jury duty or family deaths. Offer to provide evidence of your situation, if needed.

Present the proof of your situation to the airline in the manner requested. This may include mailing in documentation or presenting it in person at a future date. Documentation may include doctor's notes, death certificates or legal summons. In the case of illness, ask your doctor for a note that explains how your illness rendered you unable to fly. While small illnesses such as a cold might not be recognised by an airline, a serious condition that presents health risks to other passengers is normally acknowledged.

Ask for a clear explanation of the conditions of the refund. Some airlines will refund the money directly to your credit card, but others might only allow you to book a new flight. In the case of airline credits, be aware of the penalty charges, blackout dates and other restrictions which might apply.

Ask for a refund of the government taxes. If your request for a full refund fails, ask for the taxes you paid when you purchased your airline ticket. Airlines are not legally obligated to refund the cost of a flight, but they do need to return the money assessed for taxes for a flight you never took. Refer to your original receipt for the exact amount of these taxes.

Negotiate with the airline to transfer the funds spend on the unused ticket to a new flight. Many airlines may be unwilling to refund you the full amount of your ticket when you miss a flight, but they might allow you to put that credit towards booking another.

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About the Author

Bailey Richert is a 2010 graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a dual bachelor's degree in environmental engineering and hydrogeology, as well as a master's degree in systems engineering. After several years in the environmental consulting industry, she is now attending MIT for graduate school. An accomplished traveler, she has visited 23 countries and published her first book about international travel in 2014.