Christa Geraghty | 

Flight Delayed or Canceled? Airlines Are Required to Give Cash Refunds

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Getting a flight canceled is a pain, but it’s even worse when you’re curled up in a corner of some airport, trying to sleep before your rescheduled flight. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recently announced new rules that would take the sting out of such situations by providing prompt refunds to passengers who experience "significantly" delayed or canceled flights.

The new rules follow the $140 million fine the DOT slapped on Southwest Airlines after their widespread cancellations during the 2022 holiday season.

Other positive changes for passengers, include new rules that require airlines to offer cash refunds for lost luggage that's not delivered within 12 hours. Plus, you can receive compensation for extra services you pay for but don't get, like Wi-Fi.

So what will these new rules surrounding canceled or rescheduled flights mean for you? Before you book your next trip, here’s what you need to know about flight delays and cancellations, your consumer rights, and the policies of the most popular airlines.

You’ll get paid if your flight is delayed or canceled for something the airline could control.


If your flight is canceled or "significantly changed" and you don't accept alternative transportation or travel credits from the affected airline you are entitled to a refund. According to the new rules, significant changes that can get you a full refund include:

  • Departures or arrivals are delayed more than 3 hours (domestic) or 6 hours (international)

  • Departures or arrivals from a different airport

  • Increases in the number of connections

  • Instance where passengers are downgraded to a lower class of service

  • Connections at different airports or flights on different planes that are less accessible or accommodating to a person with a disability

Whether you will receive a refund for weather-related inconveniences remains unknown.

Since the weather isn’t something the airlines can control it's safe to assume that the new DOT rules wouldn't cover weather-related delays or cancellations. However, we have yet to see the fine print for the new rules to verify.

Related: Here’s how to find a military discount on airline tickets.

Airlines must compensate you within 7 days.

Here are the deets on how airlines must compensate you for canceled or delayed flights. Refunds must be:

  • Automatic: An airline must automatically issue you a refund without you having to request them or jump through hoops.  

  • Prompt: Airlines and ticket agents must issue your refund within seven business days for credit card purchases. For other payment methods, they have 20 calendar days to refund your money.

  • Cash or original form of payment: Airlines and ticket agents must provide your refund in cash or original payment method (credit card, airline miles). Airlines can no longer subsitute compensation alternatives such as vouchers, travel credits, or other forms unless you choose to accept alternative compensation.   

  • Full amount: Airlines and ticket agents must give you a full refund of the ticket purchase price (minus the value of any portion of transportation you've already used). Any refund must include all government and airline imposed taxes and fees, regardless of whether they are refundable to airlines.

Airlines have six months to comply with the Department of Transportation rules.

New rules that address other airline practices and policies.

The new refund rules also compensate airline passengers for other issues.

  • Significantly delayed baggage return: If you file a mishandled baggage report you will be entitled to a refund of your check bag fee if the airline fails to deliver your bag(s) within 12 hours (domestic flights) or 15-30 hours (international flights) of gate arrival, depending on the length of the flight.

  • Extra services not provided: If you paid for an extra service such as seat selection, Wi-Fi, or inflight entertainment and the airline fails to provide the service(s) you will be entitled to a refund of those fees.

JetBlue had the most flight delays and cancellations in 2023.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, you’re most likely to have a flight delayed at least three hours or canceled by JetBlue (total of 10,175 flights).

Here’s the data from the calendar year 2023:

Percentage of Flights with Delays 3 Hours or More

  1. JetBlue: 3.39%

  2. Frontier: 2.37%

  3. Spirit: 2.01%

  4. Allegiant: 1.83%

  5. American: 1.46%

  6. United: 1.46%

  7. Delta: 1.09%

  8. Hawaiian: 0.62%

  9. Alaska: 0.58%

  10. Southwest: 0.54%

Percentage of Canceled Flights

  1. JetBlue: 2.28%

  2. Frontier: 2.21%

  3. United: 1.61%

  4. Spirit: 1.42%

  5. Hawaiian: 1.42%

  6. American: 0.79%

  7. Delta: 0.74%

  8. Southwest: 0.66%

  9. Allegiant: 0.49%

  10. Alaska: 0.42%

When should you think about rebooking — and how?

If the delay lingers on, you might decide to start looking for transportation alternatives, especially if you need to make it to your destination in time for an event. The airline ticketing agent may offer you a transportation alternative. However, if that doesn't work for you check the airline’s app or their self-service kiosk. If you don't have any luck, take solace in knowing your refund is on its way.

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