How To Avoid Flight Cancellation Fees (Tips and Tricks)

Flying is expensive. Paying for your ticket, food, transport to and from the airport, as well as your luggage, can really add up. If your plans change and you are no longer able to make your flight, you’ll usually end up having to pay hefty cancellation fees in addition to losing the money that you spent on your ticket.

Here’s how to avoid flight cancellation fees:

  1. Buy a flexible ticket.
  2. Look for flight schedule changes.
  3. An unplanned event might qualify for a refund.
  4. Try changing your travel dates.
  5. Fly with Southwest Airlines.
  6. Utilize a 24-hour cancellation policy.
  7. Use loyalty programs.
  8. Fly on standby.
  9. Look for travel waivers.
  10. Buy Travel Insurance.

In the rest of this article, I’ll go over the best tips and tricks to ensure that you lose as little money as possible when canceling your flight. Each of them will apply to and work for different situations, so some tips may or may not work for you depending on why you need to cancel.

1. Buy a Flexible Ticket

When you purchase an airplane ticket, you are typically given the option of purchasing either a standard ticket or a flexible ticket.

The flexible ticket costs significantly more than the standard ticket and doesn’t provide many benefits if you’re not planning on possibly canceling the ticket. They’ll try to sell you on them no matter what, but I generally do not recommend them unless your travel plans are not solid and you need the added security.

If you know when you are making your flight reservation that your travel plans are shaky or there’s the potential for things to change at the last minute, then you should probably invest in a flexible ticket.

A flexible ticket will give you the freedom to cancel your ticket as well as change your flight without any additional fees. They can provide this because you are, in effect, paying your cancellation or change fees at the time of purchase.

However, these fees end up being less because you paid ahead of time.

2. Look for Flight Schedule Changes

If you know that you need to cancel your ticket but are doing your best to avoid the cancellation fees, you can look for changes to the flight’s schedule.

Every airline has a different policy on this, so you’ll need to check the contract of carriage.

This contract tells you all of your rights as an airline passenger and what happens in certain situations. Typically it’s very vague and just says something along the lines of a “significant” time change.

They rarely specify, but usually, this means more than 90 minutes. The benefit to waiting to cancel your ticket in this situation is that you may be able to avoid change fees and get your money back for your ticket or, at the very least, get a travel waiver.

The downside is that your airline’s cancellation fees may increase the closer you get to your travel date, and there is no guarantee that there will be a schedule change.

However, if the airline fees aren’t going to increase and you still have a while until your travel date, there’s no harm in waiting and seeing if you could get a refund due to a schedule change.

3. An Unplanned Event Might Qualify For a Refund

If you originally planned to go on your trip, then at the last minute, an unplanned event comes up, you may be able to cancel your flight and get a refund or flight waiver without a fee.

What qualifies as an unplanned event will vary based on which airline you’re flying with, and, like I previously said, the only way to know is to read the contract of carriage. The contract of carriage will tell you what is covered as an unplanned event and what evidence you may need to present to get it approved.

Things that are typically covered as an unplanned event include:

  • Getting called in for jury duty.
  • Being deployed unexpectedly.
  • A death in the family.

Illness generally is not a qualifying event, although, in the time of COVID-19, that will vary.

During the beginning of the pandemic, many airlines were counting a positive COVID-19 test as an unplanned event, but that policy has slowly begun to be retired.

For these circumstances, you will usually have to provide proof. So if you are called for jury duty or being deployed, you should send the airline the summonings, which should be enough for them to cancel and refund your ticket.

If it’s due to the death of a family member, it’ll be a little more complicated.

Sometimes the airlines will only accept the death of immediate family members, like your mother or sibling, while others will accept anyone in the family, including aunts and cousins. In these cases, the best thing you can do is let the airline know as soon as possible so that they have the most time to resell your ticket and show them the funeral announcement.

They may request additional information, but that will vary with every airline.

4. Try Changing Your Travel Dates

If you still want to go on your trip, but something has come up where you cannot leave on the same date that you planned to, you can try changing your travel dates instead of canceling your ticket.

Canceling your ticket will usually result in the loss of your ticket as well as being charged a cancellation fee. If you simply change the dates, you should be able to avoid a lot of those fees.

If you didn’t purchase a flexible ticket from the beginning, you’re still going to have to pay some sort of fee to change the dates of your flight, and you may have to pay the difference in ticket prices. However, this is still the better option for many because you won’t lose the hundreds of dollars that you put into the plane ticket.

If you decide that you’re going to change your ticket instead of canceling it, you should do so as soon as possible.

This gives you the best opportunity of finding a ticket of equal or lesser value so that all you have to pay is the change fee. If you wait until the last minute, it’s more likely that you’ll end up having to pay extra for your new ticket in addition to the change fee.

5. Fly With Southwest Airlines

In the United States, Southwest Airlines is a great option if you’re unsure whether or not something will come up and change your travel plans.

This is because they do not charge cancellation or change fees.

They are also one of the cheapest airlines available, so you’ll also be saving money on your ticket if you end up going on the trip after all. The one downside to this is that, because they are a cheaper airline, they are a bit more prone to independent flight cancellations and schedule changes.

If you end up wanting to go on your trip, there is the potential that you’re going to have issues getting to your destination.

Throughout the end of October and the beginning of November of 2021, Southwest Airlines and a couple of other airlines have been mass canceling flights. Their explanation behind the cancellations is that it is due to staffing shortages.

If you decide to fly with them, this is something to keep in mind, and I would recommend waiting to book with Southwest Airlines until the cancellation crisis slows down.

6. Utilize a 24-Hour Cancellation Policy

In the United States, airlines are required to offer a 24-hour free cancelation to all customers if the ticket is purchased more than a week before your travel date. This means that if within 24 hours of buying your ticket you find out that you can’t go or change your mind, the airline is obligated to give you a full refund.

Unfortunately, this tip only applies if you just bought your ticket and found out that you can’t go immediately after. In situations other than this, this policy won’t benefit you much.

7. Use Loyalty Programs

If you are a frequent flyer, one of the best things that you can do is join a loyalty program or two and do your best to stick with those airlines.

These loyalty programs can offer many benefits, including:

  • Priority seating and seat selection.
  • Exclusive waiting areas in the airport.
  • Free or reduced cancellation fees.

Many of these programs have different levels, for example, gold, silver, and bronze, and each of these levels will come with different benefits.

Before signing up for a loyalty program, make sure to read the benefits of the level that you think you will qualify for and see if it fits your needs. Some airlines will fully remove cancelation fees for loyalty program members, which is ideal if your schedule can sometimes be unreliable.

8. Fly on Standby

If you know ahead of time that you need to cancel your flight for the day that you bought it, but you still want to fly at some point, then you may be able to fly on standby.

As soon as you know that you’ll need to cancel, call the airline. This gives them the best chance of reselling your ticket, thereby mitigating their loss and making them more willing to work with you.

When you call them, ask if they would be willing to let you fly on standby for the same price on a different day.

There is a risk in doing this as it’s possible that you’ll end up sitting in the airport for hours on end and not get a seat, but if you know that the flight isn’t crowded, then it could work out well. By doing this, you won’t have to pay the cancellation fee, and the money that you put toward your ticket in the first place won’t be lost.

Flying standby is also a great way to save money for any flight, although it carries the same risks that I previously mentioned. However, if you manage to do it, you can end up saving hundreds of dollars on your plane ticket.

9. Look for Travel Waivers

Travel waivers have been around for as long as there have been airlines, but they have become even more common now during the time of COVID-19.

They are typically given out when severe inclement weather prevents the plane from taking off or when there is a natural disaster such as an earthquake or hurricane. Today, they are also given out when there are virus outbreaks. These travel waivers will usually allow you to cancel your flight and receive a full refund or reschedule your flight for free.

The specifics of each travel waiver will vary based on the situation that it was issued under, including:

  • If the reason that you are unable to travel is due to a hurricane or wildfire that hit your hometown, then you should be covered with a travel waiver.
  • If it’s a mass event near the airport, they will usually send them out to everyone who purchased a ticket set to fly during the affected time period.
  • If the situation is local, you may still be able to reach out to the airline and receive one.

As with every situation, the best thing to do if you want to request one is to call early.

10. Buy Travel Insurance

Not only can travel insurance help you get your money back if you need to cancel a flight, but it can also help if your flight is canceled, delayed, or some other event prevents you from traveling. In addition, it is vital in this time of COVID in case you get sick, there’s another shut-down and you need to be repatriated, or have to quarantine abroad.

That’s not even mentioning the reimbursement if your luggage or wallet is lost or stolen if you get sick or injured, and so much more. Travel insurance is vital for every trip abroad and for some domestic depending on the situation.

To learn more about travel insurance options and whether or not you need it, take a look at this article.

Key Takeaways

Flying is already stressful enough. The last thing you want to be worrying about is what to do if your flight plans change.

Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do to mitigate your loss in these situations. By using the tips and tricks listed in this article, you’ll be able to minimize the amount of money you lose and maybe if you’re lucky, get it all back.

Some of these tips and tricks are:

  • Buying flexible tickets.
  • Changing your travel dates.
  • Watching flight schedule changes.
  • Utilizing the 24-hour cancellation policy.


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