Getting Refunds from Hotels and Airlines
When You Must Cancel a Trip Because of Cancer
Getting Airlines to Refund Nonrefundable Fares
New cancer patients must sometimes cancel a trip because of their cancer diagnosis. This article tells you how to get airlines and other travel providers to refund nonrefundable tickets and waive cancellation fees.
Most airlines have an unwritten policy in which they will allow for refunds of nonrefundable fares when a passenger or a member of his/her immediate family is diagnosed with a serious illness or other medical emergency. This is especially true of illnesses that prevent travel.
Ask your doctor to provide you with a "To Whom It May Concern" letter that states that you have been diagnosed with cancer and will be undergoing treatment under his/her care. The letter should indicate the date of diagnosis, the type and staging of the cancer, the duration of treatment, and any travel restrictions. This letter will be extremely helpful in dealing with travel providers, since it represents independent third party documentation of your illness. This will prove that you really have cancer and are not just making it up.
Call the airline's customer service number to let them know that you need to cancel your trip because you have just been diagnosed with cancer. Ask them for a refund. If you will be undergoing chemotherapy or any other treatment that is likely to suppress your immune system, tell them that your doctor has said that you cannot travel because you will be neutropenic (low white blood cell count).
Most airlines have an unwritten policy in which they will allow for refunds of nonrefundable fares when the passenger or a member of the passenger's immediate family is diagnosed with a serious illness or other medical emergencies. This is especially true of illnesses that prevent travel.
Some airlines are stingy, however. For example, they might offer to let you use the ticket as a credit toward another trip within a year, after deducting a change fee. Or they might state that they only allow refunds of nonrefundable tickets when the illness is terminal. You can do better.
You should not take 'no' for an answer. Tell them that you will not be able to travel during the entire year -- you've just been diagnosed with cancer. Say that your doctor won't allow you to travel and that you need the refund to help pay for treatment. Airlines deliberately make it difficult to get a refund of a nonrefundable ticket to prevent fraud. So you are going to have to jump through hoops and be stubborn.
If they still won't budge, ask to speak to a supervisor and repeat the request.
Keep them on the phone as long as you can. The longer you keep the airline on the phone, the more likely they are to give in. Just keep going around and around on the issue. If it feels awkward to you, it will feel awkward to them.
If talking to a supervisor doesn't work, write a letter to the airline asking for a refund. The letter should be short and to the point. It should state that you've just been diagnosed with cancer and will not be able to travel for the forseeable future per your doctor's orders. Ask them to refund your fare and waive any cancellation fees. Enclose a copy of the letter from your doctor.
If that doesn't work, write a letter to your local newspaper or TV news program. Airlines sometimes will back down when faced with the prospect of bad publicity.
Copyright © 2005-2009 by Mark Kantrowitz. All rights reserved.
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