10 tips to Deal with high flight ticket cancellation charges!

Airline cancellation fees have shot up to Rs 3000 or full ticket fare, which ever is lower. What this means is in most cases you've to lose 100% of ticket value if you're to cancel. Airlines are desparate to make more money and trapping already paid customers with complicated and expensive rules is one easy way of getting free money. In this post, I am detailing 10 different ways how you can deal with high cancellation charges. I don't have a magic formula to get you 100% refund, but I am giving 10 different tips that if properly used, can help you save some money during cancellation. Read this, share this post with your friends if you find these tips practical.
1. Cancel closer to travel date, look for any schedule changes/cancellations
Unlike hotel and various other services' cancellation policy, airline cancellation charges do not vary w.r.t time. For example, a hotel may give 100% refund if cancelled more than 30 days before check in date, 50% if cancelled within 1 week, 1 night charge if cancelled within 24 hours etc. But airline cancellation charge is fixed irrespective of how soon or how late you cancel. So, my suggestion is NOT to cancel immediately once you've determined that you can't fly. Wait till travel date to get closer. Check if any of the following happens
- Flight is rescheduled: Due to various operational reasons, airlines often reschedule flights- timings change. If by chance timing of your flight changes, you will have an option to confirm change or ask for different flight or get a refund. If flight timing changes (say by an hour or two) you can always claim that new time is not convenient for you and ask for refund. Some airlines like air asia give credit points which you need to use within 90 days to make fresh bookings, while some airlines may give full cash back. Point is if you get lucky you can escape paying huge cancellation fee and get your money back.
-Flight gets cancelled: Though lesser probability, if by chance your flight gets cancelled you can get full refund.

So, don't rush to cancel, wait till say 2-3 days before travel date- if any rescheduling/cancellation happens from airline side use it for your advantage, else cancel.

The drawback of this process is that someone who needs a seat may not get an opportunity to fly- but this is very low probability- anyway airline is neither giving discount to new passenger saying this seat is already paid for by cancelled passenger, nor cancelling passenger gets any benefit since his/her seat is anyway being given to someone else and airline is not really suffering any loss. So don't worry about it.

Also be sure to set some reminders/alerts to cancel within time. If you forget to cancel or if you don't cancel within permissible time (usually before 24-48 hours) you get nothing back.

2. Book add-on services very close to travel date
When you book a flight, you might want to buy some additional services- extra bags, meals, priority boarding etc. When you cancel your ticket, all these additional payments are also gone for good. Though airline can give full refund since they've not yet delivered these services, they have terms to say that payment made to buy these services are non refundable. Plus, unlike ticket price, price of a baggage or meal doesn't increase closer to travel date. You pay same irrespective of how soon or how late you buy these services. So my suggestion is to buy them very close to travel date once your travel is fully confirmed.

Another advantage: If there're 3 people in a PNR and only 1 check-in baggage is purchased- if that person can't travel that check-in bag money is gone- can't be transferred to other 2 passengers traveling. You'll have to buy fresh check in baggage. If you buy it closer to travel date, it can be bought in the name of person most certain to travel.

Only exception could be seat selection, if you're very particular where you'd like to sit, as your preferred seats might get taken by others if you wait till last minute.

3. Buy Zero cancellation service
Some airlines sell Zero cancellation service for a fee (like Rs 249). If you pay this extra premium you will be waived off from paying Rs 3000 cancellation fee. Please read the terms carefuly- convenience fee paid will not be refunded. If you fly as per plan without cancelling this money is gone- this one is like an insurance premium, but might be worth buying if there's a reasonable chance that you might cave to cancel.
In above example, if you pay Rs 460 extra you will save 1400 if you cancel, compared to what it will cost if you don't buy this. If you don't cancel, this Rs 460 is gone. It is like a gamble

This service is offered by few OTAs like Makemytrip. Convenience fee is not refundable and there're many terms and conditions- like valid only on entire ticket cancellation (not partial or date change) within 24 hours of departure etc. Read full T&C here

4. Buy Flexi fares if you feel it is worth
We usually buy cheapest fares. But most airlines offer a flexi fare- pay a little premium and you may get some extra benefit like free date change, reduced cancellation fee etc. Different airlines have different policies- you've to check carefully and decide if paying extra for these is really worth. If you see a real value in these then book, else ignore
Above: Jet Airway's Flexi options
Below: Indigo's fare types
5. Buy separate onward and return ticket
Return tickets are cheaper than buying onward and return ticket separately. But one of the drawback is, if you miss the onward flight, airline will assume NO Show and forfeit return ticket as well. You can't selectively cancel onward ticket or return ticket. If you want real flexibility, buy onward and return ticket separately. It will cost a bit more but will give you some leverage such as
  • you can selectively cancel onward or return journey
  • If you miss onward flight, you can take some other flight and still return on the original return flight
Note: This strategy is not recommended if you're returning same day or next day. For example, if you've booked a DELHI-BLR morning flight and BLR-DEL return flight same day on single PNR, if your onward flight is cancelled say due to fog, you can get full refund. But if you've booked two separate tickets, airline will refund only on onward ticket, if evening return flight is operating as per schedule, since return ticket is a standalone one.

Similarly if you book separate ticket for each passenger it will be more flexible to modify/cancel. Anyway there is no discount for group booking, so even if it is little inconvenient, book separate tickets for each passenger, if you feel one of the passenger might want to cancel/reschedule

6. Book closer to travel date
If you have high chance of cancellation, it might be worth delaying your flight booking and book closer to travel date once you have better certainty. Ixigo study suggests that about 48% Indians book their ticket less than 30 days prior to travel. This trend will only increase if cancellation policies get expensive. If lots of people keep delaying their booking because of high cancellation fee, then airlines will be forced to rethink- because if planes don't fill up till last moment, even airlines will have lots of uncertainty- they won't know if this flight will be full or not etc.

Consider below table:

Lowest one way fares for some sample destinations over time, excluding convenience fee & add on services. Amount in INR, as taken from Makemytrip
7 days from now
30 days from now
6 months from now

If you notice carefully, booking 1 month in advance makes more sense than booking 6 months in advance, particularly when your travel is not 100% certain and cancellation can cost entire ticket amount or Rs 3000 whichever is less. You're paying a few hundred rupees more, but you saved 5 month interest, and probability of having to cancel is now much lower compared to what it was 5 months ago.

7. Book directly on airline websites
OTAs like Makemytrip, Yatra, GoIbibo charge a cancellation/date change fee over and above what airlines charge. This is an unnecessary expenditure. If you book direct on airline website you will save this amount. In majority of the cases it is cheaper to book on airline websites that OTAs, though OTAs try desperately to lure customers by showing lower fares upfront or offering cashbacks (into wallets, you'll have to spend even more to use it-like GoIbibo gocash trap) and various other traps
8. Reschedule if it makes sense
It is all about knowing various rules, terms and using the situation to your advantage. Below is a joke:
A guest wants to cancel his hotel reservation:
  • Guest: Can you cancel my booking at your hotel pls? Check in is tomorrow
  • Hotel staff: Sorry sir, we won't be able to refund you if you cancel within 24 hours
  • Guest: How much for rescheduling?
  • Hotel staff: Rescheduling is free sir
  • Guest: Can you please move my booking to next week?
  • Hotel staff: Certainly sir, done
  • Guest: Now can you please cancel it for me?
  • Hotel staff: !!!

Air ticket cancellation will cost a lot, but rescheduling is usually cheaper. You will have to pay a date change fee and fare difference. If you select a much future date, the fare difference won't be much- could be even cheaper than what you'd paid. So if you feel that you can't travel now, but may be after 3 months you might have to travel, then get it rescheduled instead of cancel. Either you can use it, or hope for a reschedule/cancellation as explained in #1. (Select an early morning departure from Delhi on a winter day, very high chance of cancellation and getting full refund)

Consider example given in #6 above. Assume you've booked Chennai Delhi for a price of Rs 5300
If you cancel
If you reschedule to 6 months from now
 Amount Paid: Rs 5300+ 250 convenience fee (Rs 5550)
Cancellation fee: Rs 3000

Refund: Rs 2300 (convenience fee not refunded)
 Amount Paid: Rs 5300+ 250 convenience fee (Rs 5550)
Reschedule fee: Rs 2250
Fare difference: -2800
Net Payable: 2250-2800=-500
You will get Rs 500 in cash, will have a ticket for a future date. You may travel as per plan in future or hope for #1
Risk is if you can't travel on rescheduled date it will be extra money lost. (cancellation cost + rescheduling cost)- In above example, if you can't travel as per rescheduled ticket you get nothing back, effectively lose Rs 1800 overall. This is just one example, do the math for your scenario to decide if rescheduling is a worthy option.

9. Use 24 hours no questions asked cancellation/Hold-PNR provision where available.
Jet Airways allows one to cancel the tickets within first 24 hours with 100% refund. Most airlines can give you what is known as hold-PNR (you get a fare lock for 24 hours within which you've to make payment and confirm). If you're not 100% sure of your ticket purchase decision, you can use these options (call airline helpline and ask) and make payment once finalized or cancel if decided not to travel (but within 24 hours)

10. Give your feedback to airline
Go to airline website, select any destination, enter your details, go till payment page and then let the page time out. In most cases someone from airline will call you to check why you couldn't complete booking or if you need any help. Tell them that you decided not to book because of high cancellation fee. Similarly do tweet to airlines and indicate your displeasure. Hopefully if lots of customers complain about high cancellation charges the message reaches right people and they will reconsider high cancellation fees. Govt of India has already expressed its displeasure [Details], let us see if that works.

Happy journey.
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  1. Spot on list! and yes, buying zero cancellation is the only resort, if booking much in advance..Sometimes, the airlines also offer discounts if you book a return ticket with them..

    1. Thanks. Yes, I've mentioned that buying return ticket might save a bit

  2. Thanks a lot Shrinidhi for the detailed post. I will put it to good use.. Zero refund and waiting for the last minute to cancel the ticket to start with..

  3. Even I was contemplating buying zero cancellation for my upcoming trip. But I realised that it is possible only to MMT where the fare was higher than the actual airline website which had a promotional offer. so I left it out. In a way it helped as I had to postpone my trip without having to cancel and rebook. But after reading this post and recollecting my 2017 trauma of missing my flight from Delhi, I regret my decision of not booking through MMT.

    1. well, booking through MMT has its own disadvantages as well...

  4. In case the fight is cancelled by the airline whether the convenience fee is also refunded? What if it is booked through OTA

    1. Yes, full refund including convenience fee should happen if airline cancels a flight.(Entire transaction should be reversed at total amount)

  5. Originally booked through OTA cleartrip. Cancelled and got credit shell from Indigo. How to redeem that credit shell. If booking on Indigo portal, it says "Agent/ member shall be the same for using credit shell". And cleartrip portal doesnt allow option of credit shell while on payment screen.

    1. hmm, you should be able to book through portal but passenger should be same. I haven't come across this scenario. Take help from Indigo customer care.

  6. will i get full refund if i cancel my flight

    1. depends on the rules specific to airline and type of fare you have booked

  7. What are the refund and compensation rules if Airline canceled their flight (international) and Yatra charging for the cancellation of flight by airline to Passenger? Is it not unfair. I had to incure close to double the cost to book on other airline. (GoAir -G8-43 BLR-MLE 27th April 2023 and G8-44 MLE-BLR 1st May 2023) both the flights were cancelled by Airline. Please advise


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