All the literal travel rage in recent months centered around airlines refusing to refund passengers who’d paid considerable amounts of money in cash, and were legally due one. In a world where points and miles are everywhere, from things as simple as sipping lattes in the sun, not all bookings are paid for with cash, and many are paid with miles.
One question I’ve gotten a lot of recently is about what happens if the airline cancels your points booking, and what happens to any vouchers used during that booking. Here’s a breakdown of what rights you have for re-booking.
Airlines like to play hardball with points bookings, telling people they’ll need to work with other dates that offer availability using points. If the airline cancels your flight however, that’s not how it works – they must put you on the flight of your choosing, provided seats are available using cash or points.
Example: you book a flight on an airline with amazing first class suites, and the flight gets cancelled. You call, and they tell you to find another date with points availability. You should push back, because you’re entitled to any date the cabin is for sale.
Worst case hang up and call back, or ask for a supervisor who better understands law.
A friend of GSTP once had a points booking with a major airline in Asia cancelled. The airline told them award space only for re-booking, but the customer engaged the local regulator (CAA) which promptly told the airline their stance was inaccurate and the customer must be accommodated on any flight.
There are nuances, but that’s the gist.
If an airline cancels your flight booked with points, they must also offer the alternative of a refund for the points and any flight vouchers used, such as 2-for-1 companion tickets. Basically, you have the choice of a new flight, or a full refund of whatever you used to pay with, be it cash, vouchers, miles or all.
The key here is the airline, not you, must be the one cancelling the flight. If you need to cancel a flight booked with points for your own reasons, cancellations at least 7 days in advance typically receive a full refund of the points, and only a minimal cancellation or change fee under $100.
This is one of the many reasons that points are a great way to speculatively plan future travel right now, with the hope it goes ahead, but little to lose if it does not.
Getting a positive result when your points booking is cancelled is a lot easier when the airline whose miles you used is also the airline flying – aka operating – the flight. With many of the greatest points redemptions, that’s not always the case, so it’s even more important to correctly frame the booking conversation properly.
On both sides of the pond, a flight cancellation is a flight cancellation and even though front line phone or Twitter agents may try to tell you it’s not the case, you’re absolutely able to move to another date regardless of if points availability exists, as long as cash availability does.
If there’s a ticket for sale in your cabin using cash on a flight you want, you should be able to grab it, even though there may not be any option using points. Supervisor? Yeah, you may need one.
If your reservation involves flights on an airline partner of the airlines whose miles you used, you’d need to escalate the issue to a supervisor, who can hopefully speak to the “partner liaison” desk and assist in ticketing onto another flight of your choosing.
This is where the airlines work together to bend the rules to keep their end of the bargain, and it’s (imagine all caps) much-much easier to push for when the cancellation is in the near term of a flight, like the day of travel. But even if it’s not, it’s something you should always keep in your back pocket in the realms of possibility.
Come Prepared With Knowledge
People stress about cancellations and re-bookings, but it’s important to remember that the phone isn’t the only means of contact airlines have. Some offer text, chat or WhatsApp support, in addition to Twitter and Facebook. Find the contact for your preferred method and get it done.
It’s always good to proactively find what you’d like to change to, and make sure tickets are still for sale using cash on that flight. You can then feed this information to the agent, who can hopefully get the switch done. It also never hurts to have a tab open with relevant information on rules for when a flight is cancelled. Here’s a good resource on that front.
As noted, the governing bodies in aviation don’t care if you paid cash or points, and the rules are purely centered around getting you where you need to be, when you want to be there. Don’t let airlines tell you differently.