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Avoiding Cancellation Fees with a Doctor’s Note

I consider myself a nonrefundable ticket sort of person. There are very few circumstances in which I’m willing to shell out significantly more to book a more flexible ticket. The cost is simply too high. I’d rather cross my fingers and hope no complicating factors arise. And usually, that works.

But recently, it didn’t. I got very ill a few days before a trip, and as the illness progressed, it became clear that there was no way I was going to make the trip. I could barely stand, let alone traipse halfway across the globe. I needed to cancel, but I wanted to avoid a stiff penalty if at all possible.

Enter the doctor’s note. The cost to cancel my ticket would be $100, but the airline (Virgin America, though some other airlines—but not all—have a similar policy) would waive the fee if I could provide a doctor’s note.

I had the fortune/misfortune of a trip to the emergency room and multiple consultations with two different doctors, so I had a paper trail to back up my claim that I was unfit to fly. The airline asked for a doctor’s note, on the doctor’s letterhead, which included some kind of statement regarding my inability to fly for medical reasons plus my name and confirmation number.

Because of some tight timing (and the fact that I wasn’t up to making all those phone calls in one day), I first had to cancel the flight and incur the $100 fee, then ask the doctor to fax a note to the airline, at which point the $100 was credited back to my account. In my case, the money now sits as credits to be used on a future flight, but since I plan on traveling with the airline in the next year, that’s just fine with me.

If you need to cancel a flight for a medical reason and are hoping to avoid cancellation fees:

  • Read the fine print or contact your airline to assess whether or not a documented medical emergency is enough reason to waive a cancellation fee.
  • Be in touch with your doctor so they can vouch for you.
  • Cancel more than 24 hours in advance.
  • Ask your doctor (or more likely, a nurse or someone at the front desk) politely and make it as easy for them as possible.
  • Provide the airline with as much information as possible and follow up to check on the process.

Have you ever had to cancel a trip because of illness? Were you able to avoid cancellation fees? Share your best tips with other readers below!

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