Coronavirus: At Which Point Must Airlines Offer a Full Refund?


The Coronavirus leads to suspended air travel all over the world. More and more airlines announce deep cuts into their network or suspend operations entirely. Anyone who has a flight coming up in the following days has already received a cancellation notice or will most likely get one.

Does the airline have to give your a full refund or will a voucher suffice?

There are basically just two cases on which you’ll get a refund – either the fare you’ve booked explicitly allows it or the airline cancels your flight. Since fares that allow for a full refund are extremely expensive, we concentrate on the latter. So what are your rights if the airline has canceled at least one flight on your ticket?

If you are not affected by either of these cases – some airlines currently offer free rebookings:

Hint: If your flight has not been cancelled yet, we recommend to wait. A rebooking is possible until just a few dates before the flight. Some airlines like Lufthansa even allow a rebooking after your scheduled outbound flight.


Please note that this is not legal advice! We’re just summarizing our experiences as a general guideline in these tough times.

Refunds According EU Passenger Rights

Actually, the law is unambiguous in this case. If…

  • …the airline is headquartered in the European Union
  • …or the flight in question departs from the European Union

…it has to offer you one of the four options according to (EG) No. 261/2004 Article 8 Right to reimbursement or re-routing:

  1. Reimbursement of the full ticket price
  2. A return flight to the first point of departure, at the earliest opportunity
  3. Re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to their final destination at the earliest opportunity;
  4. Re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to their final destination at a later date at the passenger’s convenience, subject to availability of seats

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the European Commission issued a case based interpretation of these laws. While it is not legally binding, it indicates how courts may rule in upcoming cases:

According to it, the full price has to be refunded even if just the in- or outbound leg has been cancelled by the airline.

What About Non-EU-Airlines?

If your operating airline is not headquartered within the EU (like Emirates, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, United, Singapore Airlines…), EU passenger rights are only applied to flights departing from Europe. Flights to Europe are not covered by these laws.

While other countries may have specific laws as well, these usually don’t obligate airlines to reimburse passengers when flights are cancelled.

In these cases, fare rules and transport conditions regulate compensations. This is an example from Singapore Airlines.

a) If Carrier cancels, terminates, diverts or fails to operate a flight reasonably according to schedule, is unable to provide previously confirmed space, fails to stop at a Passenger’s stopover or destination point, or causes the Passenger to miss a connecting flight on which he holds a reservation, Carrier may, subject to the requirements of applicable laws and regulations,  elect one of the following options, with the agreement of the Passenger, either:

(1)    carry the Passenger as soon as it can on its scheduled service; or

(2)    re-route the Passenger to the destination indicated on the Ticket or applicable portion thereof by its own scheduled services or the scheduled services of another carrier, or by means of surface transportation. If the sum of the Fare, excess baggage charge and any applicable service charge for the revised routing is higher than the refund value of the Ticket or applicable portion thereof, Carrier shall require no additional Fare or charge from the Passenger, and shall refund the difference if the Fare and charges for the revised routing are lower; or

(3)    make a refund in accordance with the provisions of Article 11 Paragraph 3.

Article 10, Par. 2

(3)    If Carrier refuses carriage in accordance with Article 3 Paragraph 3, Article 8 Paragraph 1 (subject to Article 8 Paragraph 2) or in accordance with Article 9 Paragraph 3, or in any of the events set out in Article 10 Paragraph 2, then subject to Article 11 Paragraph 1, the amount of the refund shall be calculated in respect of the unused portion of the Ticket. Carrier’s Regulations provide information as to how the refund payable will be calculated.

Article 11, Par. 3

Do I Have To Accept a Voucher Instead of a Refund?

Most airlines are currently not earning money, because there is almost no demand for air travel during the crisis. As a consequence, they are not terribly keen on reimbursing large amounts of passengers, as well. During the last couple of days, more and more Travel-Dealz users shared their experience that airlines tried to reimburse them with a voucher (valid up to one year) instead of money. Airlines state extraordinary circumstances to justify their position.

The European Commission stated in their guideline that compensating passengers with a voucher is fine. But it does not revoke a passenger’s right for a monetary compensation.

It appears that various carriers are offering vouchers to passengers, who do not want to (or are not authorized to) travel any more as a result of the outbreak of Covid-19. Passengers can use these vouchers for another trip with the same carrier within a timeframe established by the carrier.

This situation has to be distinguished from the situation where the carrier cancels the journey and offers only a voucher instead of the choice between reimbursement and rerouting. If the carrier proposes a voucher, this offer cannot affect the passenger’s right to opt for reimbursement instead.

Commission Notice Interpretative Guidelines on EU passenger rights regulations in the context of the developing situation with Covid-19 2.2

Only if a passenger cancels a flight by himself, compensation in form of a voucher is lawful. If the airline cancels the flight, passengers have the right to get their money back.

HINT: Some airlines offer a nice bonus on top of a voucher if passengers elect to go this way. We’ve heard reports about vouchers for up to 200% of the cancelled flights value. It can’t hurt to ask the airline specifically about this!

What if the Airline Doesn’t Want to Refund?

Some airlines try to get rid of passengers asking to be reimbursed by stating the extraordinary circumstances of the cancellation. The EU-Regulations don’t say anything about extraordinary circumstances for cancellations. Only the general reimbursement fee (up to €600) can be waived by extraordinary circumstances.

If the airline still refuses to refund you, try the following steps:

  1. Inform the airline about your rights according to (EG) Regulation No. 261/2004, Article 8 Right to reimbursement or re-routing
  2. Threaten with legal consequences and hiring a lawyer.
  3. Send a written complaint to the airline, quoting EU Passenger rights (Point 1), demanding a full refund.
  4. Contact a lawyer.
  5. If that doesn’t work: Try getting a chargeback in case of a credit card payment (Mastercard Chargeback Guide, page 49)

If you haven’t booked your flight with the airline, but an online travel agency and the OTA does not refund you, you can still try to contact the airline. While the airline itself won’t be able to refund you, it can agree to a refund. Tell the airline employee you’re in contact with to add a note to your booking reference that the airline has agreed to a refund. This can ease things when dealing with OTAs.

Your Experience?

Have you gotten a full refund after your flight has been cancelled? Which airlines abide to law and which complicated things further? Tell us in the comments!

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Comments (4)

  1. BinterCanarias ist nobel. Das Billigst-Ticket PMI-TFN-PMI bleibt zum selben Preis bis Ende Mai gueltig. Mit Aufpreis bei Tarif-Erhoehung aber ohne Umbuchungsgebuehr bis zum 31.12.2020.


    • Hello Reiner,
      nice to hear something positive once in a while. Thanks for sharing!


  2. Hi everyone,

    how does it look like when:
    Qatar Airways just sent us a flight cancellation for 1 of our 4 flights on our BEG-HKG (class R) booking for May-June.
    They cancelled the DOH-HKG flight but put us on another DOH-HKG flight 5,5 hours sooner. (We had a stopover in a stopover hotel but I guess we’d have to cancel anyway since they’re forbidding entry to Qatar).
    BEG ist Serbia. Serbia is still not EU.
    So EU261 doesn’t apply.

    With the cancellation and rebooking notice Qatar sent us travel vouchers in a separate email (availabe 1 year for booking 1 year in advance).
    I contacted the service center to ask them for a cash refund instead of the travel vouchers.
    Still waiting for an answer.

    Is there another way?


  3. Hallo,
    my flight is booked true
    It supposed to start today and because of current situation it is cancelled like others. Unfortunately i didn’t get any email or information about cancelled flights not even how it will be refunded. There is no contact number or email where i can reach them in this moment. On their website is written that we should contact or flight agency for possible changing which is wrong and i did so just to check. Flight agency said that i should contact as i booked my flight with them…
    Any idea how to proceed?




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