Unless you’re a pilgrim, today’s traveling woman will likely be taking a lot of flights as they jetset across the world. In a moment of boredom and reflection, I counted up how many flights I’ve taken in the past 12 months, and realized I’ve boarded 15 planes- 9 international, and 6 domestic. While I know there are many more accomplished travelers than myself out there, I’d say that for a 22 year-old girl, 15 flights a year is nothing to be ashamed of. I love traveling, and as I don’t yet have a job that pays for me to travel, every cent I make goes towards expanding my horizons overseas. In the end, it’s all a matter of how you prioritize, and what you feel most comfortable investing in. I don’t have a car, I don’t buy a lot of clothes, and I live pretty frugally, but it’s the first week in March and I’ve already been to three continents this year. I don’t think people realize how affordable traveling can be.
Yet, for even the most diehard traveler, external factors may influence your travel plans, sometimes at the last minute. After emptying your bank account to pay for your dream trip, it’s pretty devastating to realize that you can’t actually board your flight, due to illness, rescheduled meetings, or any variety of reasons. Most travelers would roll into the fetal position and sob through the pain, but do not despair! I’m about to introduce you to the glory that is The Refund.
First things first, you should pull up your reservation and call the airline, or the online agency that booked your ticket (Orbitz, Kayak, etc.). Some companies make it possible to submit a request for a refund using a simple online form, but I wouldn’t recommend that unless you had bought flight insurance and know that you can get your money back. I generally find it best to call companies in person, even if you already know that their policies don’t align with what you’re hoping to receive from them. I recently tried to cancel and receive a refund for an international flight with Aeroflot, a Russian airline, and they just weren’t budging from their “no refund” policy. However, because I was on the phone, speaking with an agent, and repeating the same sob story over and over, I was able to at least get my taxes back, which is usually hundreds of dollars and the bulk of any plane ticket.
It’s also important to remember that airlines won’t necessarily advertise their refund policies, because they are trying to keep as much of your money as possible, so it’s always worth calling to check. Last summer, about 12 hours after buying a roundtrip ticket from Boston to Lima, Peru, I was in a bike accident with broken bones, a concussion, and my jaw wired shut. Needless to say, I was in no state to fly, and not happy that I would be losing hundreds of dollars on the flight that I couldn’t take. What I didn’t know was that Delta, the airline I had booked with, has a 24-hour grace period where you can cancel your ticket and receive a full refund, no questions asked. A quick and heavily medicated phone call from the hospital meant that I didn’t have to spend a cent on the flight that I could no longer take, though it does take up to two weeks to process the refund.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that airlines are there to serve you. While, of course, this doesn’t give the customer the right to speak down to representatives, or make impossible demands, travelers are shelling out hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to travel, and with such a competitive travel market, each airline wants to serve their customers as best they can. Don’t feel shy about calling the company to request a refund, even if you don’t think you have much of a case going for you. Of course, the easiest way to prevent the heartbreak and financial blow of having to cancel a flight would be to purchase the flight insurance that most companies offer as you book online. For a two figure number, you can buy yourself some peace of mind, and know that you can be refunded for your flights in full without the hassle and shame of having to beg. As for my fellow budget travelers who will never even consider insurance, remember to keep your cool, be polite, and make the call. You, too, can be rolling in the big bucks.