spending

How to Get Your Money Back

Some refund policies have been relaxed during the pandemic, but reimbursement isn’t always automatic.

If the coronavirus upended your plans to travel, attend a concert or get married, you may be able to get some of your money back. But it’s easier to get reimbursed for some expenses than for others. Here’s a guide to getting a refund or credit.

Flights. As of April, airlines still owed passengers $35 billion for canceled or postponed flights, according to the International Air Transport Association, an industry group. Airlines are going the extra mile to accommodate travelers who still want to travel but also want the flexibility to change their mind. For example, tickets purchased for flights on Delta Airlines for travel between March 1 and September 30 can be rebooked until September 30, 2022, with no change fee. If you cancel a flight booked before May 31, you’ll receive a credit that’s good for one year. Tickets purchased for travel on JetBlue through June 30, 2020, can be rebooked until January 4, 2021, with no change fee. But while most airlines are making it easier to rebook flights, securing a cash refund for a trip you no longer want to take is trickier.

To get a cash refund rather than a credit, wait to see whether the airline cancels your flight—even if you’ve already decided you want to cancel your trip, says Scott Keyes, founder of ScottsCheapFlights.com. If the airline cancels the flight, the Department of Transportation requires it to give you a cash refund. (Airlines tried to have this regulation changed recently, but the DOT rejected that effort.)

The DOT’s requirement applies to all airlines, domestic and foreign, as long as the flight is taking off or landing in a U.S. airport. You may also be eligible for a cash refund if the airline makes a “significant schedule change,” according to the DOT. The DOT does not define what constitutes a significant change, but you should get a refund if the schedule is altered by two or more hours or if you’re switched from a nonstop flight to connecting flights, Keyes says.

Sometimes airlines sweeten the deal by offering a credit that’s worth more than your original ticket, Keyes says. But credits typically must be used within a year, so if you don’t think you’ll travel before the credit expires, you’re better off taking the refund.

Concert tickets. After widely publicized complaints from ticketholders, Live Nation, parent company of Ticketmaster, said it will provide cash refunds for upcoming concerts and other events, even if the performers haven’t officially canceled. If the show has been canceled, the refund is automatic. For rescheduled shows, you’re eligible for a refund if you apply for it within 30 days after the new date is announced.

If you don’t want (or need) a cash refund, you’ll have the option of receiving a credit worth 150% of your original purchase. If you opt for a credit, Live Nation will donate your ticket or tickets to health care workers. (This option doesn’t apply to events held by third-party promoters other than Live Nation, Ticketmaster says.) Ticketholders should receive e-mails from Live Nation explaining the timeline and outlining the options.

Weddings. The pandemic has wreaked havoc with couples’ wedding plans, and many vendors are responding by offering everything from fee waivers to refunds for nuptials that were rescheduled or called off.

Contracts for weddings and other events often have what’s known as a force majeure clause, which protects the business from liability or obligations due to circumstances beyond its control, such as natural disasters or war, says Evan Musselwite, an attorney with Ward and Smith in Raleigh, N.C. A pandemic might fall within your contract’s force majeure clause, but that doesn’t mean you’re automatically on the hook for the entire cost of a wedding and reception that had to be canceled or postponed.

If you’ve been forced to postpone or cancel your wedding, reach out to your vendors as soon as possible to come up with a plan, says Jeannette Tavares, a wedding planner with Evoke Design and Creative, in Bethesda, Md. You may need to be flexible. About one-third of weddings occur on Saturdays, according to the Knot.com, a wedding planning website, so if you planned a Saturday wedding, consider suggesting a different day of the week. That will give you a better chance of rescheduling all of your vendors.

Many small businesses are anxious to get up and running when the pandemic is over, so developing a good relationship with your vendors will help your case. If you haven’t already made a deposit, consider giving the vendors an advance payment, Tavares says. But use your judgment before doing that: If the business files for bankruptcy, you could lose your vendor’s services and your advance payment.

If you must cancel, be sure to reach out to your vendors as quickly as possible to request refunds. (Give your guests as much notice as possible, too; they may also need to request refunds for travel and accommodations they’ve booked to attend your wedding.) Likewise, if you’ve decided to downsize your event, explain your change of plans to vendors as soon as possible.

Be prepared for varied results, because some vendors may be unwilling (or unable) to reimburse you for money they’ve already spent on your event. Caterers, photographers, entertainers and venues may be more likely to offer a refund, for example, than a florist who has already paid to have your wedding flowers planted and cared for throughout the growing season.

College. Since colleges across the U.S. sent students home, about 70% have issued cash refunds for room and board, says Mark Kantrowitz, financial aid expert with Savingforcollege.com. Some the refunds were automatic; in other cases, students and their families had to apply for reimbursement. Graduating students were more likely to get a refund for their room and board, while other students typically received a credit, he says.

If you want a cash refund instead of a credit, send a letter or e-mail to your college’s financial aid office. Explain your reasons for seeking a cash refund (such as economic hardship). If the college notifies you that housing won’t be offered in the fall because of concerns about the pandemic, ask for an immediate refund on your housing deposit, Kantrowitz says.

Getting a tuition refund will be an uphill battle, because it’s difficult to quantify the difference between online and classroom learning. Some students, underwhelmed by online classes, have filed class action lawsuits seeking tuition refunds.

You may have better luck seeking more financial aid to help cover tuition bills. If you’ve been affected by the economic downturn, contact your school’s financial aid office and request more financial aid for the upcoming academic year.

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