Has your flight been cancelled, or do you need to cancel your travel? Many airlines, in precarious financial positions, are steering as many customers as they can towards vouchers for future travel. Aviation journalist John Walton has some suggestions for when — and how — you can get a refund.

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How to get a refund, not a voucher ©sankai/Getty Images

Have you tried to get a refund from an airline for coronavirus travel reasons recently, only to find that their website will only give you a voucher good for future travel? You’re not alone — even in those cases when laws state that airlines must offer a refund.

Read more: Will my airline give me a refund due to the coronavirus?

The key thing is to understand which of two situations you fall into: first, if the airline itself has cancelled your flight, or second, if your flight is still (somewhat miraculously) supposed to operate.

The airline has cancelled my flight

The airline is obligated to give you a refund. The regulations — whether in the United States, United Kingdom, European Union — state clearly that you’re owed your money back if the airline cancels your flight. Airlines are, however, making it very hard to obtain anything but a voucher, which is in essence passengers giving a company in poor financial health an involuntary interest-free loan. They’re also starting to lean on governments to allow them to give vouchers instead of refunds, so if you’re owed a refund I’d get your claim in ASAP.

Read more: Airfares drop amid the Coronavirus crisis – why now is not the right time to book a flight

If you’re in a jam, my best advice is to make the most of the fact that there are a lot of expert airline bloggers with technical knowledge stuck at home right now, many of whom are in similar situations to you, and who are trying to figure out work-arounds like this one for getting a refund for flights that British Airways has cancelled. The situation is changing pretty quickly, though: airlines don’t want you to get refunds right now, so they tend to be closing this kind of loophole as soon as they can. 

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Check travel insurance and credit cards too ©Thaspol Sangsee/Shutterstock

If you truly get no joy, then it’s time to go upstream, to your credit or debit card provider and travel insurance, to see if they can refund you. 

My flight has not been cancelled, but I can’t/won’t travel

The airline is, as a rule, not obligated to give you a refund, even if your own government is advising against travel or you won’t be allowed to enter your destination country.

If your flight is within the next few weeks, take the voucher if one is offered. If it’s further out, you may wish to wait for a few weeks and see whether the flight is cancelled in the meantime.

If you are minded to take a voucher, and most airlines will let you do this online by logging into your booking or following the instructions on their webpages. Some are offering a sweetener: Aer Lingus, for example, is offering 10% bonus on the voucher. Of course, there’s no guarantee that the flight you eventually take won’t be more expensive (in which case you’ll need to fork out the cash) or cheaper (in which case you probably lose the difference).

Talk to your travel insurance provider to see if you can get a refund from them.

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Use other ways to communicate if possible ©Thomas Jackson/Getty Images

Try to avoid calling wherever possible

Some airlines are good about using new ways of communicating, like Facebook Messenger, Twitter, WhatsApp, WeChat, and so on. If your airline has this, use it, but many still need (or want to dissuade you from calling by requiring) you to ring them on the actual phone.

No matter who you call, it’s likely that you’ll end up with delays, be stuck on the phone for quite some time, and potentially see calls dropping. If it’s an airline, the best advice is to call them the very moment their contact centres open, or as early as possible in the morning if it’s a 24/7 operation. 

I subscribe to a global landline monthly calling plan, so when I’m in Europe I’ll often use airlines’ contact centres in Singapore or the United States — which often have different queues — to speed up the process. But sometimes, even usually, it’s time to put the phone to charge, call on speaker (or via headphones if there’s anyone else in isolation near you, seriously), and try to not go crazy with the hold music. Good luck.

The novel coronavirus (Covid-19) is now a global pandemic. Find out what this means for travelers.

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