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Will Airlines Change or Refund Your Ticket if You’re Sick? What if you have a contagious virus?

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Reader “rick in boise” asked us an interesting question the other day:

I remember a transatlantic flight (AF prem economy) and the guy next to me was coughing the whole flight. I finally asked him why he flew when so sick… he said that he didn’t think he was contagious (?) and besides, the cost of changing flights was prohibitive. Can you get a waiver to delay your flight if ill? Or would people abuse that?

Thanks for the question, Rick!

If you have a refundable ticket, you’re fine. Contact the airline, ask for a refund, and start shopping for your new flight if you’re so inclined.

But those of us who almost always purchase discounted non-refundable tickets are most likely out of luck.

Sure, you can change your reservation to a flight with available seats. But you’re responsible for paying any fare differences. And, of course, those pesky change fees.

Delta, for example, considers these “voluntary” decisions:

Most tickets issued by Delta are nonrefundable. Delta will not refund any portion of a fare that is nonrefundable, and Delta will not refund any taxes, fees or charges collected upon nonrefundable tickets. Delta may permit a portion of the fare paid for an unused nonrefundable ticket to be applied toward the purchase of future travel on Delta, or to upgrade or downgrade those tickets after purchase, as set forth in the applicable fare rule. Delta may charge an administrative service charge for processing any permitted changes to nonrefundable tickets, which will be deducted from any credit toward the purchase of future travel on Delta, or collected at the time the change is processed, as applicable.

Check out this story about a family whose son developed mono — just before their non-refundable trip to Tahiti. They asked French Bee SAS to refund their baggage and seat selection fees. Then they got television station KGO involved. “French Bee and the company agreed to a partial refund of the fees and taxes totaling $1,000,” Renee Koury and Michael Finney report.

So What Are Your Options?

There’s always a chance (especially if you hold elite status) that an airline rep will take pity on you and waive your change fees should you move your travels to a different day or offer you a credit voucher toward future travel with the airline (note: these tend to expire in 1 year). So it is worth calling and pleading your case. What else can help?

Schedule changes! If the flights you booked have had schedule changes, especially big ones, you may be able to either get your money back or change your flights for free.

There are also a couple of preventative measures worth considering, too.

Look into travel insurance that includes trip cancellation coverage for covered medical reasons. (René and I both have plans through Allianz. Another company worth exploring is Travelex.)

Also, purchase your airfare with a credit card that includes trip cancellation coverage. Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred, and Chase Ink Preferred all have good coverage and require only a portion of your airfare be paid on their card. American Express also added trip coverage to several of their premium cards — but require you to charge your entire airfare to the eligible card. So the Amex cards aren’t necessarily great options for award ticket fees and taxes, Pay with Miles tickets, etc.

Best choice? Stay healthy!

Now as to the question of should you travel if you are sick or not and potentially risk giving what you have to others? That is maybe a question for another Sunday post.
–Chris

Featured image: ©iStock.com/RyanKing999

Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

5 Comments

  1. If you are a top tier frequent flyer, have not used the sick excuse in years, and you sound as if you are sick there’s a very good chance you’ll be allowed to use your flight credit for a future booking without a change fee. Loyalty has its benefits.

  2. rick in boise Reply

    Thanks for the shoutout – good info to know. As…. ironically, I am coughing & wheezing and need t play soon Did I jinx myself?

    p.s. especially useful is the reminder to monitor schedule changes.

  3. Steve Thornton Reply

    It would be helpful to give links that are in English, or at least gives you the option of changing countries. The link to Allianz is in French.

  4. larry clark Reply

    Curious on the NR tickets when once cancels and the airline keeps the entire fare including taxes,etc. Does the airline pay the taxes to the various agencies or do they keep that money themselves? If they keep I’m surprised some lawyer hasn’t filed a class action to get that money refunded?

  5. I did have this happen to me last June. I did come down with something that required me to not fly. Delta did waive my change fee. They did ask for my Dr. info. I gave it to them. Not sure if they ever checked up on that, but I did get the entire ticket as credit.

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