Opinion: How to get your air travel refund in the time of COVID-19

Frontier Airlines, airplane

Frontier Airlines jet. Courtesy: Tomas Del Coro.

I was going to miss SXSW by a week anyway, but then SXSW was canceled, sports were canceled and concerts were canceled, and it was best to cancel my family’s April vacation to Austin. I had a reservation with Frontier Airlines, and that same day I received an email touting the airline’s generous COVID-19 cancelation policy. I could reschedule or cancel free of charge and rebook, paying only the difference in price. Still hopeful, I called and asked for the trip to be moved up by 45 days, into mid-May.

“It’s much easier if you cancel, really,” was the answer I got from the probably overworked Philippines-based customer service rep, after first waiting on hold for an hour to get someone.

OK. I went ahead and canceled, rebooked for May and started the arduous waiting process. Would the shelter-in-place get extended for a second time, past May 3? Would Texas re-open its museums and restaurants?

In the meantime, Frontier began barraging my inbox with bigger! Better! Deals! Cancel your reservation now and get an additional $50 credit for each passenger. Sounds great, right?

“This is in addition to a credit applicable to a future Frontier flight for the full amount of your unused ticket. Your $50 per person voucher will be available for booking through Dec. 31, 2020. The best part is your travel does not need to be completed by Dec. 31 just booked!” the emails said, shady grammar aside.

The following emails included step-by-step flight cancelation tips, and then, surprise! An extension of this awesome promotion.

I didn’t have to wait very long because several days later, Frontier canceled my direct flight and instead routed my family through Denver, with a 20-hour layover, both ways. That wouldn’t work, but I also didn’t know whether I’d need to push my trip out again. And it took hours to rebook hotels and a rental car the first time around. I didn’t want to have to go through that again. I preferred a refund. After another hour on hold with the Philippines, I found a supervisor who agreed. She promised me a partial refund and a confirmation email within 10 minutes.

Frontier Airlines

Frontier Airlines cancelation deal.

Six hours later I still hadn’t gotten that confirmation email so I called back and began a 24-hour odyssey with customer service reps who at first denied my call the previous day had occurred and said my reservation was still on the books. Their next claim was that because I canceled my original flight myself—rather than being rebooked over the phone—it was impossible for me to get a refund.

As I would later learn, an airline’s contract of carriage states that if an airline ever cancels or changes your reservation and you’re not satisfied with it, you’re entitled to a refund. This includes any add-on services you may have purchased, like bag fees. My second flight was changed, but because I used credit from the first flight to pay for it, and that first flight I canceled myself, I was not going to get anything.

So while someone at Frontier was putting on an empathetic tone when writing, “We recognize that this is a difficult time to travel and we are working hard … evaluating our operations in order to best serve our customers,” the goal was to have as many people cancel their own flights as possible rather than face the possibility of having the airline change or cancel for them and forking over the refund.

I tried to reach the Frontier’s communications department to ask them about the policy, but the airline wasn’t answering its media line. Nor was their a voicemail option. I emailed its media department twice but did not get a response. I also tried to visit the airline’s media relations website, but it no longer seemed to exist.

I’m not the only one who’s been thinking about this in recent days—as the San Francisco Chronicle reported, nine U.S. Senators—including Kamala Harris, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, and former presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.)—sent airline carriers a letter warning them to provide full cash refunds to customers when flights are canceled, instead of offering future travel vouchers.

“These travel vouchers do the public little good in this time of emergency, especially when airlines require their redemption in as little as 90 days,” the letter states. “Americans need money now to pay for basic necessities, not temporary credits towards future travel.”

As the Chronicle noted, airlines typically offer those vouchers or credits while hiding the refund option unless the passengers bring it up in conversation, acknowledging they’re aware of the rule. So now you’re aware.

Frontier Airlines

Frontier Airlines cancelation deal.

After more than a day of stalemated calls where my requests for a refund were flatly rejected, I called back and said I was aware of my rights under the airline’s contract of carriage. Within 10 minutes, I had my confirmation email of a full refund (rather than a partial one).

The airline industry just last week received a $25 billion bailout from Congress to keep it afloat during these times. The bailout, as far as I can tell, doesn’t specifically enforce the refunding of flights during these times. But that shouldn’t mean airlines shouldn’t enforce their existing rules, either. The senators asked the carriers if they will commit to a full refund policy for everyone, no matter who cancels the flight or reservation, including those people who have already received but not used their travel credits. The ball may be in their court now, but you should definitely be allowed to get your refund if the airline canceled or rescheduled your flight, and you should definitely put up a fight if you were pressured into canceling in the first place.

Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.

(9) Comments

  1. Chris

    THANK YOU for positing this!! I just got off the phone a few minutes ago...I used Frontier’s policy of carriage to get my refund, all thanks to this article. I had to adamantly say that I wanted a refund, not a travel voucher, and it worked. This piece is exceptional journalism, and I have $300 on the way to my bank account thanks to you! Thank you for reading the fine print and sharing this info. For the past three weeks, I had been Googling a solution for my upcoming Frontier flight, and you solved it! Cannot thank you enough!

  2. Gloria Figg

    We have 11 Frontier tickets on cancelled flights worth about $4000. We were offered vouchers but are unable to use them during the time period they're good for. After reading your article and the comment from a reader, we are encouraged to ask for a refund. We also read the contract of carriage and think we are entitled to a refund since the flight cancellations were due to an act of God (force majeure event such as an epidemic). I've been calling the 801-401-9000 and 602-333-5925 Frontier phone numbers to no avail. I actually got to a prompt that said to go to the Contact Us section of the Frontier website to complete a refund form but there was no form to fill out. What phone number did you call and what prompts did you use? Did you talk to a live person? Did you find a form to fill out?

    1. Beverly

      Gloria, were you able to a get refund? I’m in the same situation. We did cancel our flight in March due to this crisis. Now we are wanting a refund. We were told we can’t get a refund. I filled out a form. We have 9 passengers trying to get whole refund. What were you able to do?

  3. Neda Crawford

    I have actually been trying to get in touch with frontier for the past 2 months without any luck I have emailed them no reply I want avrefund


    I was adamant for a full refund for a flight from to Ohio to Florida. A few days after I booked the flight our Governor stated if travelling to or from Florida we would have to go on the two week quarantine. With multiple emails and phone calls the representative, for which I could barely understand finally said she was giving me a full refund. I checked my account and I have not received a refund so I reviewed my emails and of course I was given a voucher after a 90 minute phone conversation with her. Frontier is absolutely terrible to deal with. Back in March I had a round trip flight planned with Spirit they automatically gave me a full refund due to the pandemic. I am not sure what to do now

  5. Deena Scott

    HELP....I filed a complaint with DOT and received an email from frontier that they already issued a refund to me and it has expired. The date I was supposed to leave for Vegas was April 7-11. I canceled due to Covid-19. But I never received a Refund from Frontier. How can a full credit expire? Liars! We have received your correspondence as submitted to the Department of Transportation and appreciate the opportunity to respond. I am sorry to hear your frustration regarding our Covid-19 cancellation policy. I understand your hesitance to travel and we want to try and help our passengers out as best as possible. We have created a policy to waive fees and provide a full credit for those who purchased non-refundable fares. Respectfully, we cannot process a refund. I see this reservation was voluntarily cancelled (online) on March 5 and March 20 when the flights between St Louis and Las Vegas were still active. You received a full credit in the amount of $289.60. Normally, cancellation fees would be applied and any remaining value would be provided to you in the form of a credit. As a courtesy due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we waived cancellation fees and provided a full credit valid for 90 days for this non-refundable ticket at the time of voluntary cancellation. You simply need to book travel by the expiration date; you do not need to complete travel by then. For added flexibility, our schedule has been released through September 2021. I regret to inform you that your credit has expired on June 19 and because of this, we are unable to retrieve the forfeited funds. We apologize for any inconvenience. I appreciate you reaching out and Frontier will continue to monitor the Covid-19 situation to update our policy as needed. Please let me know if you have any additional questions or concerns. Kindly, Megan Customer Relations Advocate Frontier Airlines

  6. Meredith

    i know this article is from last year - but dude. i was FINALLY able to get a refund because of this from frontier!!!! you are a lifesaver. $350 back into my account within 7 business days. thank you so, so much.

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