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Which airlines will let you book now with flexibility for late 2020 and early 2021?

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A reader recently got in touch to suggest we write an article on how you are protected if you book cash flights now for later this year or early 2021.

It was a good idea.  After all, you may wish to book with the airline which will give you the most flexibility.

As each airline has its own policies we have divided them out.  We have included the guidance that applies when a flight is NOT cancelled – eg. your flight is still going and you are in good health (so your travel insurance won’t pay) but you simply no longer wish to travel. 

There are various reasons why this may happen:

additional restrictions may be imposed at your destination which would make your holiday less enjoyable

additional quarantine restrictions may be imposed on your arrival or on your return to the UK

you may become concerned at a peak in coronavirus cases at your destination

….. or for a myriad of other reasons which are not covered by travel insurance.

If your flight is cancelled or rescheduled you will have additional options, of course, including a cash refund.

If you want to book a flight for travel in 2021, be careful

Whilst airline policies vary, on the whole there is a lot of flexibility for new bookings made for travel later this year. Most airlines are offering rebooking policies and waiving change fees, although you may still be on the hook for a fare difference. You may also be offered the opportunity to take a voucher or even credit in the airline’s loyalty scheme.

For early 2021, however, it is a different story.

Unfortunately a lot of these policies end at the end of 2020, and bookings for 2021 do not come with additional flexibility. Whilst this might change in the future, bookings made for 2021 are not as flexible and will depend on the ticket policy you book.

The following airlines are not allowing voluntary cancellations, for cash or voucher refunds, for tickets booked now for travel in 2021:

  • British Airways
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Emirates
  • Qatar Airways
  • Etihad
  • Aer Lingus
  • Iberia

…… so be very careful before booking.  We would recommend these airlines:

Lufthansa guarantees to let you move a flight booked for January to April 2021

KLM guarantees to let you move a flight booked for any future date

Which airlines will let you a cancel a flight for free?

British Airways

Bookings made until 31st July for travel completed by 31st December 2020 are eligible for free date and destination changes. However, whilst the usual change fee has been waived, you will have to pay any difference in fare.

You can also request a ‘Book With Confidence’ voucher. The same date restrictions apply as above. The voucher is valid for two years and you must travel before 30th April 2022. The voucher can be used as payment or part-payment, so you can top it up with cash if required.

You can read the guidance here.

There is NO flexibility for bookings made now for travel in 2021.

Which airlines will let you a cancel a flight for free?

Virgin Atlantic

Bookings made on or before 30th June 2020 for travel before 31st December 2020 are eligible for rebooking until 30th September 2022. The change fee will be waived once only, so you can’t change your mind several times. You will have to pay any difference in fare.

If you do not know where you want to go,  you can complete the ‘open ticket’ form which will let Virgin Atlantic keep your booking open and let you rebook at your convenience. The same date restrictions apply as above.

You can read the guidance here.

There is NO flexibility for bookings made now for travel in 2021.

Which airlines will let you a cancel a flight for free?

Emirates

Bookings made on or before 30th June 2020 for travel prior to 30th November 2020 are eligible for an ‘open ticket’.  Opening a ticket extends its validity for 24 months and can be rebooked on any flight to the same destination or region at any time with no fees.

The regions are:

    • Africa
    • Australasia
    • Europe
    • Far East
    • Gulf, Middle East and Iran
    • Indian Ocean Islands
    • North America
    • South America
    • West Asia

For example, a booking from London to Sydney could be rebooked to Auckland, New Zealand, for no extra charge. There is NO change fee and NO difference in fare, as long as you stick within the original region.

Alternatively, you can request a travel voucher for the value of your ticket. This is valid for one year from date of issue and can be used for any Emirates flight or Emirates product or services. You do not need to spend the voucher in one go and can use it over multiple purchases. Emirates also suggests the voucher can be extended by an additional year, although it is not clear how.

There is one catch here.  From my reading of the guidance, you cannot cancel just because you feel like it.  If there are no travel advisories or quarantines in place, either for leaving your home country or for entering into your destination, then you may not be able to cancel.

You can read the guidance here.

There is NO flexibility for bookings made now for travel from 1st December 2020.

Qatar Airways

The following options are available for bookings made before 30th September 2020 for travel starting on or before 31st December:

You can hold on to your ticket and extend its validity for use by 24 months from original booking. You can change your travel date or destination as often as you like as long as you travel before 31st December 2020. You may change your origin city to another city in the same country and your destination to another destination within a 5,000 miles radius of the original destination free of charge.

You can request a travel voucher for the original value of your booking, plus 10%. The voucher is valid for 24 months from issue and can be used on any flight in the Qatar Airways network. It is not clear if the voucher can be used across multiple bookings.

You can swap the value of your booking to Qmiles at a rate of US$1 to 100 Qmiles.  This HFP article looks at whether it is worth taking Qmiles instead of cash when cancelling a Qatar Airways flight. 

You can read the guidance here.

There is NO flexibility for bookings made now for travel in 2021.

Which airlines will let you a cancel a flight for free?

Etihad

If you are due to travel by 31st July 2020, Etihad is giving you various options for refunds or rebooking.   Unlimited date changes are permitted on all new bookings made for travel before 30th November 2020 (fare difference applies). If you are unable to travel, you are eligible for Etihad credit.

There is NO flexibility for bookings made now for travel from 1st December 2020.

You can read the guidance here.

Which airlines will let you a cancel a flight for free?

Lufthansa

Bookings made before 30th June 2020 for travel starting on or before 30th April 2021 are eligible for rebooking.  Your rebooked trip must be started prior to 31st December 2021. Whilst the change fee is waived for your first change, you must pay any fare difference.

You can read the guidance here.

There is NO flexibility for bookings made now for travel from 1st May 2021.

Which airlines will let you a cancel a flight for free?

KLM

For new bookings made after 22nd April 2020 you can change your flight dates without paying a change fee.  You will have to pay any difference in fare.

You can also use the full value of your booking to change your destination. You will not have to pay a change fee when rebooking on KLM, Air France, Delta Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic, and Kenya Airways flights.

You can read the guidance here.

There does not appear to be a cut-off date, so you should be protected for flights booked now for travel in 2021.

Aer Lingus

You can change the date of your trip if you are due to travel prior to 30th September 2020. Change fees are waived but any fare difference will apply.

If you are due to travel prior to 30th June 2020, you are eligible for a travel voucher for the full amount of our booking plus 10%. The voucher is valid for five years from issue date and can be used across multiple bookings.

You can read the guidance here.

There is NO flexibility for bookings made now for travel from 1st October 2020.

Which airlines will let you a cancel a flight for free?

Iberia

Bookings made prior to 30th June for travel starting on or before 31st December 2020 are eligible for a date, time, origin or destination change free of charge. You will have to pay any fare difference.

You can read the guidance here.

There is NO flexibility for bookings made now for travel from 1st January 2021.

Comments (70)

  • David S says:

    Rhys,
    With Lufthansa if you booked your ticket before 15March 2020, I thought it was free to move if you are travelling to the same destination and same class of travel without any additional fare difference cost till Dec 2021. If you are changing destination or class of travel, then an additional payment might be needed.Is that right or have I read it incorrectly.?

    • Don says:

      Yes that’s right, the article is wrong.

      • Don says:

        In fact the requirement is just a cancelled flight, you then have a fully flex ticket.

        It’s clearly written on LH.com

      • Rob says:

        The article is about bookings made TODAY, not bookings made before 15 March.

        The whole point is ‘I want to make a booking now for next Easter, who am I safe to book with?’.

    • E says:

      I think you have to pay the difference if the Lufthansa fare for the new dates is higher. It’s just the rebooking fee which is not charged. Their website says ” The rebooking must be done before the original start of travel. If the original fare is not available anymore, the fare difference must be paid.”

      • tony says:

        I’m not so sure. For Swiss the terms state, if your flight hasn’t been cancelled:

        1) You can rebook your flight once free of charge, regardless of the terms and conditions of the originally purchased ticket. Start of travel must be latest by 31 December 2021 and the rebooking has to be done before the original start of travel.
        2) Your ticket will remain valid and you can use it towards a future flight. Latest start of travel is 31 December 2021. If you would like to choose this option, please get in touch with us, latest by 31 January 2021. You can also change your destination and your travel class. Please note, that in these cases, an additional payment might be necessary, e.g. if you change to a higher travel class or if you rebook from a short-haul to a long-haul flight.

        So I read that as if you keep the same route the change is entirely free, or you can apply the fare credit to another route. Otherwise, why have two separate clauses here?

    • Rhys says:

      This article is guidance for future bookings. Some airlines have different rules for previously booked tickets depending on when you booked them, but for simplicity and clarity this article is only concerned with future bookings.

  • Miguel says:

    This is a good idea for an article, cheers. I’m currently wrestling with the idea of booking Ryanair flights to Spain in July to stay at a family apartment. It’s obviously high risk but it’s not clear on their website if I’d get credit towards a future flight if I can’t go due to govt policy. I imagine a refund is unlikely.

    • Rhys says:

      Given how bad Ryanair has been at issuing (legally required) refunds, I wouldn’t be too confident!

      • Miguel says:

        They’re so cheap that I will probably just take the punt and hope for the best!

  • Darren says:

    Booked ba business class companion flights for Jan 2021 to Dubai, booked these in Feb this year.

  • memesweeper says:

    I wish BA would publish some details about the voucher T&Cs. “If you decide you no longer want to travel, you can cancel your booking and we’ll give you a voucher to the same value for a future booking” is pretty much all they say. So that can be for/by a different person or people? Can be split across two bookings, or merged into one longer one-way booking? They say it can be topped up with cash, but if bought with points, how would that be calculated?

    • Rob says:

      Yes, it’s a joke. We still only have anecdotal Flyertalk comments from alleged BA employess that 241 vouchers wrapped up in vouchers actually stay alive beyond their expiry date.

      • Anna says:

        My confirmation email states clearly that my travel must be completed by April 30th – I think people are justified in assuming that means the 2 4 1 will be valid until then as well. You would hope any complaints process would support this view!

      • Chris says:

        I had a 2-4-1 wrapped up in my voucher. Original booking was for April 2020, 2-4-1 was supposed to expire in June 2020. I rebooked for April 2021 with my compensation voucher and nobody even questioned or mentioned the 2-4-1 expiry

  • avidsaver says:

    Good morning. Yesterday I made a long haul avios redemption booking for next May (fingers crossed). On the e-ticket there is an endorsement which I don’t recall ever seeing before:
    “Endorsements *m*redemption/restrictions may apply/no cash refund/non endorsable“
    Is this normal or does this mean they are not returning the taxes/charges part of the booking should I cancel. Very many thanks in advance for any advice.

  • John W says:

    I am looking at booking Qatar flights to BKK for over new year – I was wondering where I stood if I made the booking for outbound travel on 26th December which would be within the timescale of their rebooking policy – What about the inbound flight on 10th January ? . How is a return flight considered when the return flight part in 2020 and the other part 2021 ???

    • Rhys says:

      I’m not sure off the top of my head – you’d have to read the T&Cs. Some carriers are very clear that you only have to start travel before that date whilst others specify that travel must be completed at that point.

  • Freddy says:

    What about easyjet or Ryanair etc?

    • JohnT says:

      Easyjet just say no change fees “for now” with no date so they can remove anytime.

  • Paul says:

    Once you’ve booked with flexibility, the next thing I’m slightly concerned about is getting insurance for pandemic / covid 19.

    I’m not seeing many policies offering coverage on this at the moment – anyone else?