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Canceled travel plans during the pandemic and can't get a refund? Here's what to know

Surge in demand for airline refunds
Surge in demand for airline refunds 06:56

Many people are putting vacation plans on hold during the coronavirus pandemic, and they may not be able to get refunds. In March 2020, of the more than 5,000 consumer complaints about air travel, over 2,700 were related to refunds, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Transportation. In March 2019, there were only 165 refund complaints and 1,132 total aviation consumer complaints.

If an airline cancels a flight, it has to give you a refund, CBS News consumer investigative correspondent Anna Werner explained Wednesday on CBSN.

"We've heard complaints from consumers saying that airlines are trying to push them toward a voucher. You should know, if they cancel the flight, they owe you a refund, and you can insist on that," she said. 

However, if you decide to cancel your ticket, you aren't eligible for a refund. 

"Basically they've said, look, we're not going to charge you a change fee, but you're not going to get a refund for a nonrefundable ticket. What you're going to get is a voucher, and you can use it for a certain period of time ...," Werner said. 

That has been problematic for some people who worry about using the voucher in the permitted time period, such as a year from when your ticket was booked or when the flight date was. 

"It's not really clear at what point it will be a good idea for many people to get on planes," Werner said. 

So, if you have a flight coming up that you are considering canceling, Werner recommends waiting.

"There's no pressure to change that flight really, so wait as long as you can because it's possible the airline might cancel the flight anyway, and if they do, you'll get a refund," she said.

JFK Airport coronavirus
Passengers, some wearing masks and protective gear, queue for their flight at Terminal 1 of John F. Kennedy Airport amid the coronavirus pandemic on May 13, 2020, in Queens, New York. Getty

If you have booked cruises, you may be able to get a voucher worth more than what you paid, Werner said. 

"A lot of the cruise companies right now are offering your money, plus. So if you reschedule the trip or put it on hold for sometime later in the future, they will give you, say, 120% of your value or 125%. I've even heard of cruise lines that are doubling your value," she said.

Werner recommended finding out from the cruise line how long you can hold onto the voucher and try to negotiate with them.

"You can say, look, if I do go ahead and put this into a voucher now, how much can you give me?" she said.

When trying to negotiate, Werner said to not give up after one call.

"Sometimes you get that operator who answers the phone who's not terrifically receptive," she said. "You call them back later, the next day, you get somebody else who's more helpful or more knowledgeable."

She also said you can always resort to social media.

"Hit up Twitter, hit up Facebook, put it out there that you're not happy," she said. "And see if you get a quicker response. Sometimes people do get that by going to social media and complaining loudly."

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