Landing a Refund For An Airline Ticket

An Oceanside couple says they were having a hard time receiving a refund for their airline tickets after the husband suffered a heart attack.

For Walter and Colette Sani, a trip they scheduled to Rome was more than just a vacation; Walter was planning to visit his sister and elderly mother in Italy. 

“I’ve been half of my life here and half of my life in Rome,” he said. “We go a couple times a year.” 

But when Walter started feeling chest pains, his plans to visit family with his wife Colette were cut short. 

“On July 2nd he had a heart attack, they call it ‘the widowmaker,’” Colette said. 

Colette notified British Airways and canceled the trip. 

“They basically just said it was a non-refundable ticket and it would only be refunded if it was a life-threatening situation,” Colette said. 

After explaining to the airline that Walter had just suffered a heart attack, the airline asked for the Sani’s to provide a doctor’s note and emergency documents. The couple sent the information and British Airways finally offered them the choice of a refund or travel voucher. 

“So obviously we chose the refund because we don’t know when we can go back. So, the refund was only $600 taxes. They never told us that,” Walter said. 

Walter said British Airways never explained that by refund, the airline meant that only the taxes the Sani’s paid would be refunded. After learning this, the Sani’s asked for a voucher instead. The couple says British Airways refused. 

After calling and emailing British Airways for months, Walter and Colette say they were about to give up. 

One afternoon, Colette says she was watching TV when she saw an NBC 7 Responds report and decided to give us a call. 

Within a few days, Colette received a call from British Airways. Even though the pair had purchased non-refundable tickets, the airline offered the happy couple a full travel voucher for $2,600 that is good for up to one year. 

With Walter’s improving health, the Sani’s say they are looking forward to scheduling that trip to see family.

What to Know when Booking your Airfare

Travelers often buy non-refundable over refundable airline tickets because of the cheaper price but every non-refundable ticket an airline provides comes the airline’s own restrictions or rules. 

Once you book a flight, think of the clock ticking down the amount of time you have to get a full refund. Under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s guidelines, you can cancel your reservation and not pay a cancellation fee if you cancel within the first 24 hours after you book the flight. To read more about this, click here

For those like the Sani family, who don’t have the luxury of knowing within 24 hours if they can go forward with their reserved flights, every airline has different rules and regulations when it comes to cancelling or changing a booked flight. 

Airlines suggest if there is the slightest possibility that you might have to cancel or change your reservation, pay more for the refundable ticket. 

Below is a current list of fees and charges for canceling or changing your flight tickets compiled from airline websites: 

Alaska Airlines

  • Ticket change fee: $125 for changes made less than 60 days prior to scheduled departure. $0 for changes made 60 days in advance.
  • Same day change fee: Free if flying in certain markets, indicated here. Otherwise $25 fee

Allegiant Air

  • Ticket change fee: $75
    Credit issued if you purchase "TripFlex" on reservation

American Airlines

  • Ticket change fee: $200
  • Same day change fee: $75 domestic

Delta Airlines

  • Ticket change fee: $200 (fee can go up to $500 on some international fares)
  • Same day change fee: $50

Frontier Airlines

  • Ticket change fee: $99
  • Same day change fee: $99
    No refunds for cancelling flight, unless you add on THE WORKS to ticket


  • Ticket change fee: $70 for fares up to $99, $90 for fares up to $149, $135 for fares $150 and above
  • Same day change fee: $50

Hawaiian Airlines

  • Ticket change fee: $30-$200

Spirit Airlines

  • Ticket change fee: $90 if change or cancellation made online, $100 over phone
  • Same day change fee: $25 to standby for earlier flight.

Southwest Airlines

  • Ticket change fee: Free
  • Same day change fee: None but any fare difference will apply

United Airlines

  • Ticket change fee: $200 for domestic flights, $200-$400 for international flights
  • Same day change fee: $25-$50
  • No refunds for cancelling flight

Virgin America

  • Ticket change fee: $100-$150 depending on route
  • Cancellation fee: $75-$150 depending on route
  • Same day change fee: $25-$50
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