Travel

How to Change (Or Cancel) Your Flight Right Now

Even if you can't get a full refund, you have options.

DimaBerlin/Shutterstock
DimaBerlin/Shutterstock
DimaBerlin/Shutterstock

We were all so confident in the spring, weren’t we? All starry-eyed, dreaming about traveling again in the summer and fall. The places we’d go! The things we’d do! The food we’d eat!

But then the highly contagious Delta variant reared its ugly head, forcing us to rethink our plans. While traveling abroad isn’t impossible right now, the logistics of navigating ever-changing rules and regulations have made it especially daunting. But you still have that plane ticket you booked, and you really don’t want to eat the cost. So what are your options? Here’s everything you need to know about canceling that pandemic flight.

You may be able to get a refund

Getting a full refund for a flight is rare in the airline world; they really, really don’t want to give you one. So unless you bought a fully-refundable ticket-which you probably didn’t, because they’re usually extra expensive-or you purchased the flight with a credit card that offers trip cancellation insurance, it’s time to prepare for the inevitable. That said, you have some options.

Know the 24-hour rule

The 24-hour rule is a federal regulation that allows you to book a flight and then cancel for a full refund within 24 hours. There are two important caveats: the flight must be booked directly from the airline, and it must be scheduled at least seven days out. This rule applies to international carriers as well, if they’re flying within the US.

“If you wanna be really pedantic about it, the regulations say that airlines are obligated to either offer a 24-hour window for a refund, or offer a 24-hour space that people can hold a flight with price and purchase, without actually purchasing it,” says Scott Keyes of Scott’s Cheap Flights. “All the US airlines opt for the refund window, for simplicity’s sake.”

And though the window disappears online after 24 hours, Keyes says that if you’re at 25, or even 27 hours, it’s worth calling the airline directly to see if they’ll do you a solid. “They call it a ‘one-time exception’ for those just beyond [the time limit],” Keyes says. “It’s not a guarantee, but it’s worth asking. And that’s something where an actual human agent will have to make an exception for you.”

Some third-party booking sites-including Hotwire, Priceline, and Expedia-have their own 24-hour refund rule (this writer has canceled many a flight on Hotwire with no repercussions). It’s worth noting these refunds are not covered by federal law; as with all things travel, do your due diligence before you click buy.

And obviously the 24-hour rule is great for many reasons, like finding and holding onto the cheapest fares, and, perhaps most importantly, protecting you from yourself. “The most obvious way it can help is if you had one too many at the bar and decide it’s a good idea to book that flight to Hawaii,” says Keyes. “And things look different in the sober light of morning.”

OK, so you didn’t buy a fully-refundable ticket, and it’s been more than 24 hours. What now?

Delay, delay, delay. Move your trip to a later date. In this, the year(s) of our pandemic, airlines have made it a little easier on us (and themselves) to reschedule flights, with all major airlines implementing flexible change policies. You can change your flight date to as far into the future as you like, without a penalty-you just have to pay the difference if the new flight is more expensive.

Fair warning: Many airlines DON’T extend their flexible change policy to Basic Economy. But United and Delta have got your back for any economy ticket booked between July 28, 2021 through December 2021, for travel scheduled before December 2022. It’s not the same as getting your money back, but it’s something.

OK but you just really need to cancel your flight

If you no longer have a desire to travel to that particular destination like, ever, your best bet is to cross your fingers and pray for rain. There’s always a chance the airline cancels the original flight-in which case, under federal law, you’re entitled to a full cash refund. The same refund applies if there is a significant change made to your flight schedule (such as a delay of over two hours, or a route change).

“What is frustrating [with this rule] is that it does not apply to things that many people might assume they ought to be able to get a refund for,” says Keyes. “Let’s say you’ve booked a flight to Switzerland, and now the CDC says with their strongest advisory, do not travel to Switzerland. If the plane that you have a ticket on still flies, then you’re not entitled to a refund.”

What about travel credit?

If all else fails, negotiate travel credit for your cancellation. You might not be able to buy groceries with it, but you can put the money towards a future flight you actually want to take. Some airlines have also begun to be lenient with the use of credits and vouchers, essentially saying all travel credits issued through the pandemic will remain valid through the end of 2022.

In general, a good rule of thumb is to call the airline and get a human person with feelings on the phone. “It never hurts to ask,” says Keyes. “Airline agents have a lot of discretion to be able to grant exceptions to the rule. If your case is deserving they can oftentimes make an exception for you.”

OK, you’re ready to negotiate, but the wait on the phone is 2+ hours. What now?

Now, you get sneaky. Call the international lines, advises Keyes. “Delta, United, American, they all have their main US ticket line, but they also have offices in Canada, in the UK, and Mexico, and Singapore, and Australia, and any one of those places have call center agents where virtually nobody is calling because everybody’s calling the US ticket line,” he says. “Check your cell phone plan, international rates and all that, but even if you call Canada, for most places it’s like 2 cents a minute or so. Worst case you’re out 40 cents, in order to save yourself a couple of hours.”Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat!

Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist’s Senior Travel Writer. 

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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