Cash instead of vouchers: Federal airline rules change, can get passengers refunds

Airport flight status board

If you have an issue on an upcoming flight that the airline has to compensate you for, you’ll now get cash instead of vouchers.

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New federal rules have been rolled out that require airlines to pay you money for cancellations, delays and even if Wi-Fi is on the fritz, CNN reported.

“From now on when your flight is canceled for any reason, you are entitled to an automatic cash refund and it has to be prompt,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNN.

The previous rules said airlines would have to compensate for a “significant” flight change but didn’t say what that meant. Now, it is spelled out, The Wall Street Journal reported. The Associated Press said previously, the airlines themselves determined when refunds were granted.

The rules apply if you are faced with a delay of at least three hours for a domestic flight or six hours for an international one, or if there’s a major change to your plans — for instance, if you’re rerouted to a nearby airport, Buttigieg said, “You’re going to get your money back.”

Airlines can still offer credits or another flight to passengers, but they can turn those options down in favor of a refund, the AP reported.

If your bags are delayed more than 12 hours, then you get a refund for any baggage fees. If the Wi-Fi you paid for doesn’t work or if the upgraded seats you paid extra for aren’t provided, again, you get your money back.

Airlines will also be required to be more transparent with baggage and flight change fees.

Buttigieg said the rules will prevent “headaches or haggling.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that before the change, many companies paid refunds as travel credits, even when cash was appropriate.

Fees must be automatically paid within seven days if refunding a credit card or 20 days for other forms of payment.

Airlines for America said companies “offer transparency and vast choice to consumers from first search to touchdown,” CNN reported. “U.S. airlines are committed to providing the highest quality of service, which includes clarity regarding prices, fees and ticket terms.”

In 2022, there were almost 47,600 complaints about refunds made to the Department of Transportation, with passengers saying that airlines forced vouchers on them and made them endure long wait times on customer service calls. They also said many credits expired before they could be used due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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