How long should I really expect to wait for an airline ticket refund?

Two to three billing cycles. That’s the formula answer you’ll get from a travel company when you ask how long your refund will take. But the formula doesn’t always work.

Two to three credit card billing cycles can mean up to four months, depending on how your credit card cycles. Sometimes it can take a year to process an airline ticket refund. Here’s a case where it took two years.

The Transportation Department says you should get your money back within seven days, but there’s a huge loophole.

Payment by credit card provides certain protections under federal credit laws. When a refund is due, the airline must forward a credit to your card company within seven business days after receiving a complete refund application. If you paid by credit card for a refundable fare and you have trouble getting a refund that you are due, report this in writing to your credit card company.

In other words, the ticket must be refundable. Almost none of the tickets bought by leisure travelers today are refundable, so this rule is meaningless.

Let’s have a look at an actual example. Bert Wortel bought tickets to fly from Orlando to Rome on three different carriers last October through Orbitz.

Then Orbitz informed me of a change which would result in missing a flight in Frankfurt. Since no other connections were available that day, they suggested a refund to be issued within two credit card billing cycles. Now 90 days later, still no refund.

I’ve contacted Orbitz many times with no results as to a refund, although they admit it should have been issued.

That’s way more than 90 days. That’s more than eight months.

Related story:   Should I have been charged extra for my checked luggage?

In a situation like this, Orbitz — or any other travel agency, for that matter — is stuck between a rock and a hard place. It can’t refund the money until it’s paid by the airlines. But on a ticket that involves multiple carriers, securing a speedy refund is close to impossible.

Does the company ask you to wait, and risk upsetting the customer? Or does it refund the money and then pursue the airlines for the refund?

From a customer’s point of view, the answer is simple: Since I paid Orbitz, it should refund the money.

But I can see both sides of this issue.

When it comes to an extended delay like the one Wortel experienced, it’s often useful to bring the matter to someone’s attention at a higher level within the company. I recommended he send a brief, polite e-mail to Steve Sedlak, the director of customer relations at Orbitz. Sedlak has an outstanding track record of fixing customer-service problems.

Mr. Sedlak answered me within two hours and promised a resolution within three days. I was contacted in two days with a refund and an additional $60 coupon on a new reservation.

Now I would call this customer service. Mr. Sedlak was very cooperative taking the time to answer my e-mails.

No one should have to wait eight months for a refund. Orbitz did the right thing by expediting Wortel’s case.

But the real problem is the issue of sluggish refunds for airline tickets. I believe if the Transportation Department removed the “refundable” loophole from its rule, we the American taxpayer would be better served. Don’t you?

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

%d bloggers like this:
Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.