Getting Refunds on Flights

Vouchers ≠ Refunds: Get Your Money Back!

Welcome to Saving Money with Andrew!

Continuing with the theme of certain companies acting a bit sketchy during the pandemic, this week I’ll discuss my tangle with Delta and provide some tips on getting refunds from the airlines.

The airlines are in a tough spot. In the early days of the pandemic, US air travel declined about 95%, and the number of passengers going through US airports is still running about 75% below last year. Flying, never a fun experience (boy do I have some stories about flying with a disability), has become even more daunting. I found this harrowing travelogue of flying from LAX to Beijing particularly riveting.

As a result of this rapid decline in demand, the airlines need money! They got some in April, but it’s still quite challenging with demand down so much. It’s not surprising that, as with StubHub, they are making it very hard to get refunds for unwanted flights.

In our case, we had booked two expensive flights (to visit family and attend a wedding) with our airline of choice, Delta. When COVID hit, it became clear we wouldn’t be flying for a while, and weren’t sure what Delta would do.

Initially, Delta agreed to allow flight changes without penalty (as did most airlines), and provide credits toward future flights. But, with no end to the pandemic in sight, it’s hard to know when to re-book. And with the airlines in financial trouble, we didn’t want to sit on what might become a worthless gift card.[1]

So, it was time to read the fine print (one of my favorite hobbies!). As it turned out, we had two things on our side:

So, with this in hand, I expected a refund to come fairly easily. Unfortunately:

  • Delta’s website doesn’t provide a way to request a refund (as opposed to cancelling or changing your flight)

  • Delta’s phone support resulted in either multi-hour hold times, or instructions to try to make flight changes online.

I’ve learned that when you can’t get in touch with a company, you should try alternative communications methods. For Amazon, some people email Jeff Bezos directly (with success!).[2] For many companies, people will tweet at the company and try to attract the attention of their social media team.[3]

In the case of Delta, it turns out that there is a separate customer support line run via text message through the Fly Delta app. Rather than having to wait on hold, you can simply text them through the app, request a representative, and they will text you when available. By doing this, I was able to quickly request a refund (citing Delta’s policy and the DOT guidance) for both flights, and the rep assured us that it would go through.

So, if you have a flight with a US airline (or an international airline traveling in the US) and don’t want to accept a voucher or flight change, try these steps. The policies vary by airline, but the DOT guidance is intended to apply to everyone. And if your flight schedule hasn’t yet been changed at all, you might want to wait until close to your flight to see if it is cancelled or the schedule changed, which would give you grounds to request a refund. If that doesn’t happen, go ahead and change your flight or accept a credit.

Finally, Andrew’s pick of the week:[4]

Netgear Wi-Fi Range Extenders

A rare but fun experience is when a product does something I didn’t realize was possible - the first time I paused live TV using a TiVo, the first time I browsed the internet on a smartphone, the first time a robot vacuum efficiently cleaned the floor of my apartment. This happened recently with our new Netgear Wi-Fi Range Extender.

Like everyone, we’ve been using the internet far more than before. Despite having what is advertised as a gigabit of bandwidth, we’ve noticed a lot of connection drops, particularly in parts of the house farther from the router. In the old days, this would be a minor annoyance, but it can be very annoying with video conference calls for work, and kids who are melting down because Paw Patrol is buffering.

The range extender is pretty awesome - basically, you set it up in another part of your home, in between where your router is located and the part of your home where you have poor reception, and it effectively boosts the signal of your existing network so that you get great reception in most of the rest of your house.

After a fairly easy 10 minute setup we get terrific bandwidth inside and outside our house. Also, the extended network uses the same network ID as our existing Wi-Fi, so when your device access the extended network, the transition is completely seamless. Check it out if you are having connection problems in part of your home.

I hope this has been helpful. If you liked it, please share it with a friend! Also, please send me your feedback, requests, and success stories.

[1] Long ago my younger sister received a $50 gift card to dELiA’s (the correct spelling, I promise) for her birthday. But after dELiA’s filed for bankruptcy, the gift card was cancelled and she became one of tens of thousands of creditors to a bankrupt clothing store. Years later, she received a check for $3.

[2] Contacting senior executives when a company massively messes up is an underrated tactic. I’ve only done it once, and it should really be saved for a real snafu, but it resulted in a call from the COO of the company and an immediate resolution of our issue.

[3] In the early days of Twitter, this usually worked. These days this tactic is a bit overused and the success rate is lower.

[4] As always, this is not an advertisement! I receive no compensation for any products discussed here.