My experience cancelling 10 different air tickets during COVID-19

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COVID-19 means plenty of air ticket cancellations. How difficult are they, and how long do refunds take? Here's my experience.

So here’s a little map I made of all the flights I’ve cancelled (or will almost certainly cancel) in 2020, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Click to enlarge

That’s 29 flights and just under 85,000 miles of flying, across 12 separate tickets. It’s far from ideal, of course, but in a time when people are falling sick, losing their jobs or getting pay cuts, you won’t hear a word of complaint from me. 

In any case, since I’ve accumulated so many data points on cancellation experiences across airlines, frequent flyer programs and ticket types, I thought it might be helpful to compile them here for those of you who have yet to cancel. 

Cancelled: Singapore Airlines from Singapore to Frankfurt

Singapore Airlines B77W Business Class
Singapore Airlines B77W Business Class
TypeAward (Spontaneous Escapes)
CabinBusiness
Travel DateFebruary 2020
Booked Through KrisFlyer
Operated BySingapore Airlines
Ease of CancellationModerate (had to visit ION Orchard)

This award was for a positioning flight to Frankfurt so I could review EVA Air’s new Business Class (see below). What’s different is that it was booked under Spontaneous Escapes, and if you remember the rules, these awards are strictly non-changeable and non-refundable. 

Back in early February I tried cancelling the award over the phone, without success. But I headed down to ION Orchard, where the CSOs were willing to bend those rules. In the end, they treated it like a regular Saver award, and levied a US$75 refund fee. 

Taxes were refunded the same day as the cancellation. 

Cancelled: EVA Air from Vienna to Taipei

EVA Air B787 Business Class
EVA Air B787 Business Class
TypeAward
CabinBusiness
Travel DatesFebruary 2020
Booked Through KrisFlyer
Operated ByEVA Air
Ease of CancellationSimple (filled out online form, waited ~1 month)

One of my resolutions for 2020 was to review a wider range of cabin products, and EVA Air’s B787 Business Class was on that list. 

The plan was to book a Spontaneous Escapes award to Frankfurt (see above), then fly FRA-VIE-TPE on a mixture of Lufthansa and EVA Air, which would let me review the B787 on the VIE-TPE leg (technically VIE-BKK-TPE; there’s a stop in Bangkok). 

But as COVID-19 got worse towards the second half of February, I didn’t feel like venturing too far from home. I managed to open date the ticket at first, then when Singapore Airlines announced its waiver policy, I cancelled for a full refund (no cancellation charge). 

The cancellation request was sent via Singapore Airlines’ online assistance form on 11 April, and the refund was received on 19 May. 

Cancelled: Vueling from Barcelona to Catania

Vueling Economy cabin
Vueling Economy cabin (it’s all Economy, you know)
TypeRevenue
CabinEconomy
Travel DateMarch 2020
Booked Through Vueling
Operated ByVueling
Ease of CancellationSimple (refund issued on same day)

In March this year, I was supposed to visit Sicily with my parents. My plan was to first fly to Barcelona with The Milelioness and spend a couple days there, before joining up with them in Catania. 

To get from BCN-CTA, I’d bought two cheap Vueling tickets (hey, travel isn’t all First Class and champagne) for ~€140. As the COVID-19 situation deteriorated in Italy, I contacted Vueling to request a refund. They outright refused:

AARON WING THAT’S ME

But two weeks later, the flight was cancelled, and I got a refund anyway. The cancellation date was 13 March, and the refund was credited to my card on the same day. That’s remarkable efficiency for a low cost carrier, given how they haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory when it comes to COVID-19 refunds. 

Cancelled: Cathay Pacific from Singapore to Bangkok

Cathay Pacific A330 Business Class
Cathay Pacific A330 Business Class
TypeAward
CabinBusiness
Travel DateApril 2020
Booked Through British Airways Executive Club
Operated ByCathay Pacific
Ease of CancellationSimple (although refund took 50+ days)

Earlier this year, I had a fun idea for a trip report: review every oneworld lounge in Changi, all in one trip. 

Oh, it was a grand plan. Arrive at Changi a day early, check-in at Jewel, do the Qantas lounge for lunch, the British Airways lounge for tea (on account that their F&B selection is dire), then cocktails and an excellent made-to-order dinner at the Qatar Premium lounge. Spend the night at the Aerotel Transit Hotel, then head to Terminal 4 in the morning for dim sum and champagne at the Cathay Pacific lounge before jetting off to Bangkok.  

Cathay Pacific operates a fifth freedom flight between Singapore and Bangkok, and a one-way redemption cost just 16,000 Avios + S$77.10. By the time I was due to fly, however, the MOH travel advisory had gone out, and Cathay Pacific was cancelling flights left right centre. 

It wasn’t difficult applying for a refund on the British Airways website (at least not back then; now you apparently need to call in), but they took their sweet time processing it. I applied on 13 March, and only got the refund on 6 May.

Cancelled: Singapore Airlines from Singapore to Bangkok

Singapore Airlines A330 Economy Class
TypeRevenue (with AMEX Platinum Charge flight credits)
CabinEconomy
Travel DateJuly 2020
Booked Through AMEX Platinum Travel Services
Operated BySingapore Airlines
Ease of CancellationSimple (refund hasn’t appeared yet)

I mentioned before that I find the AMEX Platinum Charge’s S$400 flight credit particularly difficult to use. Not because I have no time to fly, but because I have such a bias for redeeming miles.

After all, S$400 isn’t going to put a dent in any premium cabin fare, and since I prefer to redeem miles for medium/long haul travel, short haul Economy is pretty much the only option left. So in September 2019, I booked a getaway to Bangkok in July 2020 for the Milelioness and I, which cost S$517 in total (I probably overpaid), or S$117 nett of the travel credit. 

Even after the circuit breaker and what not, I was keeping my fingers crossed that travel to Bangkok would be possible by July (hah), but when it became clear that wasn’t happening, I called up AMEX to cancel the booking. 

Since I booked before 16 March 2020, I was entitled to a 100% refund under Singapore Airlines’ COVID-19 waiver policy. The AMEX Platinum Concierge was already aware of this, and proceeded to issue the refund (which I still haven’t received). 

Now, my air travel credit technically expired in September 2019, but with the ongoing situation, AMEX offered an extension till September 2020. Initially, customer service told me that only the current year’s travel credits could be used online, and I’d need to call in to use the extended travel credits. 

But about a week ago, I noticed that the extended travel credits were now reflecting online. In the screenshot below, you can see both my 2019 and 2020 air travel credit entitlement. 

You cannot combine two travel credits in a single booking, but a workaround for those flying with a partner is to make two separate bookings, one for each party. 

Cancelled: Singapore Airlines from Shanghai to London

Singapore Airlines A380 Suites
TypeAward
CabinFirst & Business
Travel DateSeptember 2020
Booked Through Alaska Mileage Plan
Operated BySingapore Airlines
Ease of CancellationSimple (online chat, less than 5 minutes)

When Singapore Airlines awards first became available through Alaska Mileage Plan last year, the quirks of the award engine and some misclassified cities combined to create some fantastic award opportunities. 

tl;dr: Shanghai and Beijing were classified in the same zone as Singapore, which meant you could book the following PVG-SIN-LHR-SIN itinerary for just 35,000 miles + US$60 in fees. 

18.5 hours in First Class plus 13.5 hours in Business Class for just 35,000 miles was insane value. Unfortunately, Alaska quickly caught on to this and plugged the loophole (killing the JAL trick in the process– what a day!), but existing awards were honored as ticketed. 

When I booked this in September 2019, I was hoping my particular flights would be upgraded or upgauged to the new A380 cabin products, and hence set my dates as far out as possible. The world will be a better place 12 months from now,” I told myself. 

Anyway….cancelling this booking was extremely straightforward. You can’t do it via the Manage My Booking option on the site, because the system will automatically attempt to charge you a US$125 cancellation fee, current waiver policy notwithstanding. 

However, there’s a live chat feature in the Help Centre (scroll to the bottom under Contact us, select “Start reservations chat”).

I was connected within seconds, and after a little back and forth, got my miles and taxes refunded. The date of request was 10 August, and the refund showed up on 11 August. 

Do note that the partner booking fee of US$12.50 is non-refundable. 

Pending Cancellation: Emirates from Singapore to Dubai

Emirates A380 First Class
Emirates A380 First Class
TypeAward
CabinFirst
Travel DateNovember 2020
Booked Through Emirates Skywards
Operated ByEmirates

November 2020 was supposed to be when I finally checked “shower on a plane” off my bucket list, but it looks like getting naked at 30,000 feet will have to wait. 

Although the UAE has reopened its borders for tourism, so long as the Singapore government’s travel advisory remains in place (and it looks like it will for the rest of 2020), it’s a moot point. 

I suppose it’s a mixed blessing, then, that I booked a one-way First Class FlexPlus award (98,750 miles) instead of a round-trip First Class Flex award (157,500 miles). The former costs more (because Emirates prices one-way awards at more than 50% of a round-trip), but also comes with free cancellation. Had I booked the latter, I’d have to pay US$50 per person. 

I haven’t cancelled this yet, but barring some kind of miraculous development, it’s as good as dead. 

Pending Cancellation: Qatar Airways from Ho Chi Minh City to Sydney

Qatar Airways Qsuites
Qatar Airways Qsuites
TypeRevenue
CabinBusiness
Travel DateDecember 2020
Booked Through Qatar Airways
Operated ByQatar Airways

Back in May, Qatar Airways unveiled a too-good-to-be-true “Travel with Confidence” policy. If you booked a ticket by 30 September 2020 with travel till 31 December 2020, you could:

  1. Hold on to your ticket for up to two years from the date of issuance (versus the usual one year)
  2. Make unlimited changes to your travel dates, free of charge, or change your origin to another city within the same country, or another destination within a 5,000 mile radius of the original destination
  3. Swap your ticket value for Qmiles at a rate of 100 Qmiles= US$1
  4. Exchange your ticket for a travel voucher with 10% additional value. Voucher is valid for two years
  5. Get a full refund to your original mode of payment if your flight is cancelled

These were all good options, but (2) was incredible. Qatar Airways indeed allowed you to switch your destination to anywhere within 5,000 miles for free. You didn’t even need to top up the airport taxes or fuel surcharges. 

You can read the full story here, but I basically booked Qatar’s fifth freedom flight between Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh, then swapped Phnom Penh to Sydney, via Doha. This gave me a SGN-DOH-SYD-DOH-SGN ticket, in Business Class, for just US$655. 

Even though I scheduled this trip for later in the year (December) than the Emirates one above, the sheer complexity of the routing probably rules it out. Think about it- I’d need Vietnam to accept me as a transit passenger (Qatar isn’t a problem), and for Australia to open its borders, and for Singapore to lift its travel advisory. Given the current state of affairs, that’s highly unlikely. 

However, if Australia does keep its borders closed, then the DOH-SYD leg will be cancelled by Qatar Airways, and I’ll be able to get a 100% cash refund. If Australia somehow opens its borders but the Singapore government keeps the moratorium on travel, I’ll exchange the ticket for 110% in Qatar flight credits. 

Looks like my Qsuites wait will have to continue…

Other cancellations

In addition to the flights above, I’ve also cancelled the following tickets. The cancellation experiences are largely similar, however, so I won’t go over them again.

RouteOperating AirlineBooked ThroughRemarks
SIN-BCNSQKrisFlyermid-Feb cancel
6 Mar refund
SIN-MXPSQKrisFlyermid-Feb cancel
12 Mar refund
SIN-USM-SINMIKrisFlyer15 Mar cancel
22 May refund
SIN-KUL-SINMHBritish AirwaysNo refund (this was date night at the airport)

Conclusion

At this point, I’m not expecting any leisure travel to happen in 2020, although I’m cautiously optimistic about regional leisure travel bubbles materializing by mid-2021. The good news is that most major frequent flyer programs (including KrisFlyer) have extended or paused the expiry on miles, so there’s no particular rush to spend them. 

I’ve read horror stories about airlines steadfastly refusing to offer cash refunds (even when required by law), but fortunately I’ve not encountered this so far. 

What have your cancellation experiences been like?

Aaron Wong
Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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wkwloo

You are lucky. I have a revenue flight with KLM on SIN-DPS which is on a refundable ticket (Business Class flexi one-way fare) and they have yet to even process my refund. Flight was booked for end May 2020 and I submitted the request in April 2020. The common answer is given: We are processing the request but due to influx of requests will take time…

And that’s just one of the many flights I have canceled… Thai Airways also do not make things any easier and that’s another long story

Last edited 2 years ago by wkwloo
cheesecake

Obviously you’ve been spared the hair-pulling and teeth-gnashing torture of getting a refund from flights that MH cancelled, which the airline claimed as force majeure due to government regulations, hence refused to provide refund. Many people (including those from outside Asia) have been stuck with useless credits that can’t be used. And the credits are only valid for phone bookings, which are almost always priced higher than online / promo fares on the MH website. Some have attempted chargebacks with their credit cards – only to be reversed subsequently when MH responded that “equivalent” credit note has been provided, and… Read more »

tanyamib

Has anyone tried to cancel partially used SQ redemption ticket? My booking disappear from my trip but no refund on miles or cash received so far 🙁

HSJ

My stopover ticket flown first leg second leg got cancelled. SQ doesn’t refund me but ask me to rebook. Since Aug 2020 is one year from my first leg I have to rebook now for a later date.

No fee no miles top up as I chose the same destination, so I suppose can choose any destination and top up difference.

I filled the refund form in May waited almost 3 months no news so I called them. You may want to call SQ to follow up.

Sam G

Small correction – currently BA have altered their site, are only offering a future travel voucher online – any refund request you need to call in. Good news is they are usually faster now. This also applies for any Avios booking that usually could be cancelled online for a fee

Sandy

Got the option to cancel and refund from Philippines Airlines and Cebu Pacific. Cancellation was pretty quick and straightfoward. However I can’t say the same fir the refund process. At this rate I’m not sure if I’m even getting my money back. They cancelled in Feb, got an update in March that refund will take 2-3 bulling cycles. I mean, it’s been 5 months since. Any advise?

freedom

I got my partner fee US$12.5 per person per ticket refunded from multiple Alaska award reservations. Have to say that AS is the best in terms of refund in this crisis.

guesswho2000

Wouldn’t bank on Australia’s border closure meaning QR will canx the DOH-SYD flight. Flights are still operating, we just can’t go anywhere. And if the 50x pax per flight inbound limit continues, there’ll be demand from returning Aussies for a fair while yet.

Wayne

From FlyerTalk it seems that ‘travel restrictions or travel bans imposed by authorities’ count as an involuntary change, which qualifies for a cash refund.

Akoyama Wong

You are v lucky to get back yr moneys. I have been waiting for my $3,000 refund from EU Holidays P L which they promised since Mar/April n they have been giving excuses that EU Holidays have to wait till Sept 2020 n wait for Emirates Air to refund them then they can refund me. Its really trying to fool an unsuspecting customer. I am still waiting for my $3,000 refund which is my retirement savings money. Hope God will do a miracle to have them return my retirement money.
Praise God for a miracle

Alan

Got my refund for a TK flight in J class for SIN-LHR-SIN. Was supposed to travel in May. Booked through Expedia and thankfully they did most of the work. I just emailed them every week to chase. Finally got the refund to my credit card in July. Expedia didn’t even bother to inform me but I saw the credit into my card.

Ash

ANA: They offer cancellation function through their website. Cancelled in April but they took their sweet time processing until I called them in July and then it was done in a week.

Nick

The Japanese were supposed to be more efficient than SQ. We got a pair of Explorer tickets under JAL. But instead of going to their website, I went into their FB page. They FB messaged me and I told them what happened and provided my mobile. JAL actually called me and the CSO even ‘taught’ me how to cancel and request the refund. The call was on a weekday morning, by 6pm the refund was processed, same day. SQ ….. waiting …. waiting …. waiting …

Alian

SQ SIN HND return in J and booked in Dec 19 for Jun 20 travel. Refund took 16 weeks and 5 calls no luck until I emailed a manager I knew in SQ. Refund processed the next day.

Have another J return booking to IST in Dec 20 also booked in Dec 19, waiting for SQ to announce refunds for that period. Hope it’ll be smoother.

KH Ho

Oh my, you fly so much that it reminds me of the movie “Up in the Air”. When the main actor in the show got his much treasured Frequent Flyer card, the pilot asked him whatever is he doing with his life, flying so much in life.

Is it so worth it? Unless you believe you belong up in the air.

Bankrupt

Lucky you didn’t have a VA or QF ticket on a cancelled flight – good luck trying to get a refund from either of those Australian airlines. They only give flight credits. And you can’t use those as they have no flights. My SQ flights were refunded pretty much immediately.

Yukino

I think you have been quite lucky with SQ. I am still waiting for the 188,000 miles and taxes refund from SQ. The trip was supposed to take place on 8 May and I requested the refund on 10 Apr. Have been sending chasers since mid Jun after waiting patiently for 2 months… And SQ is still asking me to be patient… 🙁

Nick

Yours seemed straightforward. Our award tickets under KF was supposed to happen in mid May, IST to SIN to FUK, with 1 stopover in FUK in Oct 2020. I filled up a form in May. Almost 2 months plus later, still no news and the CSO said they are escalating the matter … somewhat to God knows where. Now its in the clouds. Then we have another, under Lifemiles award, from CTS to HND to SIN. Lifemiles said their refund waiver policy is up till end Sep 2020. So we are still waiting. Lesson learnt, don’t use Lifemiles. We bought… Read more »

Anthony

I’ve booked Qatar from BKK-DOH-AMS for late October, they are not allowing me change my flights as they say and I quote “no countries are barring flights into their country in October as of now”…I wonder

bluepanda

I refunded a Nov award flight a few days ago, a few days after SQ announced Nov flights could be refunded without fees. Miles and cash are in already. I guess they have perfected the process. I also surmise that those tickets that were for say Mar to Jun are still not yet refunded because it’s easier to tell customers to wait than to say they lost some documentation. They didn’t have a process back then, so it could be manual and thus still in “the pile”.

SCBX

Wondering if anyone used the SCB X card previously to book a flight + obtain bonus miles early this year? If I’m not wrong, bonus miles earned will be forfeited upon refund of the cost of flight tickets?

invisible

Aaron is lucky, others – might no so. I had 8 different flights for 3 people in May/June on SQ, TK and EasyJet. SQ/TK were were award tickets and EasyJet – revenue. Surprisingly I got all the money and miles back and it cost me about $50 due to the fact that turkish lira dropped a lot and and thus the difference in rewards. Also it took >60 days for TK and >45 days for SQ to refund money back – miles were credited instantly. In terms of ‘leisure’ travel – I would not book any flight unless I know… Read more »

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