Getting a refund on a first class plane ticket can be tricky, but it is sometimes possible depending on the airline, the reason for canceling, and the type of ticket purchased. Here’s what you need to know about getting refunds for first class fares.
Rules for First Class Ticket Refunds
Most airlines have strict policies regarding refunds for first class tickets. In most cases, first class fares are non-refundable unless you purchased a fully refundable fare. Here are some key things to keep in mind:
- Fully refundable fares are generally much more expensive than other first class fares. You’ll pay a premium for the right to get your money back.
- Most discounted first class fares are non-refundable. This includes many web specials and award tickets.
- Non-refundable tickets can sometimes be used as credit toward future flights on the same airline. However, you will likely need to pay a change fee.
- Refundability depends on the fare class – first class tickets can be booked in economy fare classes and may have different rules.
So in most scenarios, you will not be able to simply request a full refund on your first class ticket. The airline will likely provide a credit at most, minus any applicable fees and penalties. However, there are some cases where you may be eligible for a refund if you meet certain criteria.
Getting a Refund Due to Flight Cancellations
If the airline cancels your flight, you are entitled to a full refund under U.S. federal regulations. This applies to both non-refundable and refundable fares. However, the airline will typically offer a credit or rebooking before providing a refund.
To get a full refund due to a cancellation:
- Ask the airline first if they can rebook you on the next available flight to your destination.
- If that doesn’t work, request a full refund to the original form of payment.
- Get the refund request in writing via email to have a record of the interaction.
- If the refund is not provided promptly, file a complaint with the Department of Transportation.
This process applies for any flight cancellation – even if it’s for weather, mechanical issues or another operational disruption. As long as the airline cancels the flight, you are owed a refund.
Refunds for Rebooking on a Lower Fare
If your flight is not cancelled, but you are rebooked onto a flight in a lower ticket fare class, you may be eligible for a partial refund. For example, if you booked a first class ticket but are moved to an economy class seat on a later flight, you paid for amenities and space you are no longer getting. The airline owes you a refund for the difference in fares.
To get a refund in this scenario:
- Check the terms of your ticket – some airlines spell out rebooking policies for downgrades.
- When rebooked, ask the agent at that time if you are eligible for a partial refund due to the downgrade.
- If you do not receive it at that time, call customer service and explain the fare class downgrade and request a refund for the difference in fares.
- If needed, reach out to a consumer advocacy group for help getting the refund. Policies vary by airline.
The amount refunded depends on the fare difference between your first class ticket and the lower fare class you were rebooked into. Having the fare rules in writing helps when asking for a partial refund in this situation.
Getting a Refund Due to Illness or Injury
Most airlines will provide a refund or credit if you or someone you are traveling with falls ill or is injured before the flight. To request a refund or credit for this reason:
- Call the airline as soon as possible to cancel due to medical reasons.
- Have documentation from your doctor on their letterhead specifying the illness or injury.
- Provide this documentation by the deadline given by the airline, usually within a few weeks.
- If approved, you will either receive a refund to your original form of payment or an airline credit.
Timing is important for medical refund requests – contact the airline immediately once you know you won’t be able to fly. Policies vary, so check with the airline up front on documentation needed.
Voluntarily Canceling Your First Class Flight
If you simply change your mind and want to cancel your non-refundable first class ticket, your options are limited. Here is what to do in this scenario:
- Read the fare rules – a voluntary change or cancellation fee may apply, often $200 or more.
- Ask if your fare allows you to make a one-time same-day change to your flight.
- Request an airline credit if you plan to fly the same airline again within a year.
- Ask about applying the value towards a future first class upgrade fare.
- Resell, donate or gift your ticket if you absolutely cannot fly.
Non-refundable fares are just that – non-refundable. However, the airline may give you a credit or let you change flights for a hefty fee. Be prepared to pay penalties and get a credit vs. cash back if you cancel voluntarily.
Using a Travel Insurance Refund
One option to cover a voluntary cancellation is buying travel insurance that allows first class ticket refunds in certain situations. For example:
- Cancel for Any Reason policies – refund up to 75% of non-refundable fares.
- Financial insolvency coverage if an airline ceases operations.
- Trip cancellation coverage for covered medical reasons.
- Interruption insurance if you must cut a trip short.
Read the fine print carefully as policies vary. This can provide peace of mind if you want flexibility to cancel or interrupt a first class trip.
Getting an Airline Refund Due to Coronavirus
The coronavirus pandemic has led many airlines to update their refund and cancellation policies. In general:
- Airlines are waiving change fees for travel impacted by coronavirus.
- Travelers can rebook on the airline without fees if they want to cancel due to coronavirus concerns.
- In some cases, airlines are offering vouchers or credits instead of refunds.
- Policies are evolving quickly as the pandemic situation changes.
Check directly with the airline if you need to cancel a flight due to coronavirus, as policies are flexible. Push for a refund vs. just a credit if your flight was canceled directly due to Covid-19.
Waiting for Your Refund to Process
Once approved, first class ticket refunds can still take time to process depending on the airline, original form of payment and other factors. Here’s what to expect:
- Credit card purchases – Up to 7-10 business days after airline approval.
- Debit card purchases – May take up to 2 billing cycles.
- Cash or check payments – Up to 20 business days via check.
- Travel bank credits – Instantly applied as reusable credit.
If it has been over 3 weeks, follow up with the airline directly via phone about the status of the refund. Processing times may be longer currently due to coronavirus impacts on airline staffing.
How to Increase Chances of Getting a Refund
Since most first class tickets are non-refundable, getting your money back is difficult. Here are some tips to improve your chances:
- Book refundable fares whenever possible if your plans may change.
- Read all fare rules carefully at booking to understand restrictions.
- Get any reassurances about rebooking, refunds or vouchers in writing.
- Follow up verbal requests quickly via email to start a paper trail.
- Provide any required documentation as quickly as possible.
- Be polite but persistent with airline staff about refund requests.
- Accept airline credit if offered – better than losing the full value.
Understanding the airline’s policies and providing documentation on schedule can help. But often with first class non-refundable tickets, an airline credit is the best you can expect if you need to cancel.
Should I Buy First Class Ticket Insurance?
Since first class tickets are very expensive, you may want the extra protection of travel insurance in case you need to cancel. There are pros and cons to consider:
|– Covers nonrefundable ticket cost for covered medical, job loss or other emergencies
|– Adds an extra insurance cost on top of expensive fare
|– Gives flexibility to cancel “for any reason”
|– Preexisting medical conditions may not be covered
|– Peace of mind in case you have to cut trip short
|– Insurer may deny claims due to policy technicalities
For very expensive first class international trips, insurance may make sense for the protection. For domestic trips, the extra cost may outweigh the benefit.
Comparison of First Class Ticket Insurance Providers
|Cancel for Any Reason?
*Estimated cost for $2500 international first class fare booked by 45 year old.
As shown in the comparison, Cancel For Any Reason coverage costs more but provides the most flexibility if you need to cancel.
What Are the Best First Class Credit Cards for Refunds?
Paying for your first class ticket with certain credit cards can provide some extra cancellation coverage and benefits:
Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Trip cancellation insurance up to $10,000 per person
- Reimbursement for delays over 6 hours up to $500
- Priority Pass lounge access while awaiting new flight
Citi Prestige Card
- Trip cancellation and interruption insurance included
- $500 flight delay reimbursement at 4+ hours
- Airport lounge access with Priority Pass
Platinum Card from American Express
- Up to $10,000 per trip cancellation coverage
- Reimbursement for delays of 6+ hours up to $500
- Access to Amex Centurion Lounges and Priority Pass lounges
Cards with built-in cancellation coverage and lounge access can ease headaches if you end up needing a first class ticket refund.
- Most first class fares are non-refundable unless you purchased a fully refundable ticket.
- Refunds are more likely if the airline cancels your flight or makes a major schedule change.
- Travel insurance can cover cancellations for certain situations, but adds to the ticket cost.
- Refund processing can take 7-21 days after approved by the airline.
- Persistence, documentation and following policy rules can aid refund requests.
While airlines make it difficult, it is sometimes possible to get a refund on a first class ticket depending on your specific situation. Be ready with documentation and patience if you need to request a refund from an airline.