I was able to get a cancellation fee waived on a basic economy ticket due to an emergency and then looked into how other airlines would handle the situation.
Life happens — things come up and trips get canceled. That’s the position I was in recently when a personal emergency forced me to cancel a trip to my alma mater in Madison, Wisconsin.
However, I had purchased a basic economy ticket which meant that in order to postpone my trip with Delta Air Lines, I’d have to pay a $99 cancellation fee and recoup the remainder of the ticket as an e-credit.
But instead of simply canceling online, I decided to pick up the phone and call. And after explaining my situation to a very understanding representative on the phone, Delta waived the cancellation fee and credited back the full amount to use to book a future flight.
Like most things, policies vary by airline and many things are decided on a case-by-case basis. But it turns out, some major carriers do spell out situations where they’ll waive basic economy cancellation fees for extenuating circumstances.
For Delta, a spokesperson told Travel + Leisure individual employees can make these decisions on a case-by-case basis, but didn’t provide a list of exceptions that would qualify.
In my instance, I needed to show proof of my emergency, which is often the case when requesting such an exception.
Having been able to resolve my own situation, I looked into how other airlines would address it as reasons to cancel a flight could occur at anytime for anyone.
American Airlines, which recently revamped its AAdvantage loyalty program to allow customers to cancel basic economy tickets for a fee, told T+L it does waive that fee in specific circumstances: if there is a death of the passenger, immediate family member, or traveling companion; if there are schedule changes implemented by American Airlines; and if a passenger comes down with certain illnesses and is traveling internationally, to the U.S. Virgin Islands, or to Puerto Rico.
Similarly, JetBlue charges a $100 change or cancellation fee for routes in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean, and a $200 change or cancellation fee for other international routes for its Blue Basic fares. However, a spokesperson told T+L the airline makes exceptions for illnesses or death of either the passenger or an immediate family member. To qualify, travelers must fill out a digital form and provide documentation like a death certificate.
JetBlue said these circumstances are then reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
On the other hand, a United Airlines spokesperson told T+L the airline offers travelers two options when they cancel a basic economy ticket: either receive a partial credit minus a fee, or pay to upgrade to a standard economy ticket, which doesn’t have change fees (an option the airline introduced in 2022).
However, there is one cancellation exception for all fares, regardless of the type of ticket purchased or the airline you’re flying: the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires all airlines flying in or out of the U.S. to allow travelers to cancel nearly all tickets for free within 24 hours of purchase.
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