There are lots of ways to miss a flight, and in this post I am going to attempt to explain what happens for each scenario. It’s a very complicated topic though, since the consequences of missing a flight vary between different airlines. Not only that, it also depends on whether or not you’re flying on a full fare ticket or on a discounted ticket. So…what really happens when you don’t show up for a flight?
Table of Contents
First of all: Missing your flight isn’t the end of the world
I figure the best way to start this out is to state that you don’t automatically lose the full value of your ticket on if you don’t show up for a flight. Most airlines, no matter whether you’re flying standard economy or first class, will give you credit for the value of the ticket.
Unless of course, you have a basic economy ticket. That’s the only situation where you’re likely to be SOL, so do take that into consideration when booking airline tickets from now on.
Anyway, to explain the consequences of missing a flight in the simplest terms possible, let’s see you book a flight in standard economy from Atlanta to San Diego on Delta for $323. You wake up in Atlanta that morning with a bad case of the runs, and you just know that flying probably isn’t a good idea today.
If you choose not to take that flight, Delta (and many others) will let you apply that $323 to the cost of a future ticket (assuming it costs more than $323). Woo hoo! But…hold on buckaroo.
The catch is that there are usually stiff penalties for not showing up for a flight. These these penalties can cost up to $200 (it varies by airline), but in the case of this Atlanta to San Diego flight on Delta, you’re essentially only getting to keep $123 of the ticket value. This is because Delta’s cancellation policy states that you can apply the remaining value of the ticket after paying a $200 fee.
Because of the penalties involved, you’d likely lose all of your money if you paid $89 for a flight from Los Angeles to San Diego (for example).
Think you might prefer a refund instead? Well, you’re gonna be dissappointed. Most airlines will NOT issue refunds. They will only give you credit towards another purchase (usually within 12 months).
But remember – none of this applies if you’re holding a basic economy ticket! You essentially forfeit these cancellation “perks” by purchasing the lowest fare possible.
Not showing up vs canceling the ticket beforehand
Another really important thing to mention when talking about not showing up for your flight is that there are two different ways of going about it:
- The pre-cancellation method
- The I don’t give a s*** method
Let’s have a look at both, because as you’ll see, one is clearly better than the other.
The pre-cancellation method
If you know you’re not going to be able to make a flight, it behooves you to contact the airline as early as you can to cancel the booking. Yes, you’ll still have to pay a cancellation fee if you’re on a standard ticket, but as I discussed above, you’ll still be able to keep the remaining value of the ticket to apply to a future purchase.
If you’re feeling generous, you can call and cancel – even if you’re on a basic economy ticket. No, you won’t get any credit for doing so, but you’ll feel like a good person for giving the airline extra time to re-sell your seat before the flight.
The “I don’t give a s***” method
What happens if you don’t show up for a flight without letting the airline know beforehand? Well, depending on the airline, they might forfeit your entire itinerary and you’ll lose your entire the entire value of the ticket. It depends on the airline of course, so do you be sure to check the cancellation policies the airline you’re flying before proceeding with this method. But then again, if you’re taking the time to dig for specific cancellation policies that deeply, you might as well just go ahead and cancel the flight.
If you’re on a basic economy ticket, there’s nothing wrong with going with the “I don’t give a s***” method. The airline will think less of you for doing so, but they likely already did anyway since you purchased the cheapest possible fare.
Note that most airlines will allow you to cancel via their website or mobile app, while others are still require you to call.
Full fare vs standard vs basic economy ticket cancellation policies
Not sure what kind of ticket you have? The best way to find out is to check your email receipt, as it will likely say in the cost breakdown of the fare.
If that seems like too much work, there’s some general guidelines you can follow (which will be mostly accurate): If you purchase a first class seat on a flight departing within 24 hours, you’re likely paying full fare. In contrast, purchasing the cheapest economy ticket you can find to Europe nine months before the trip is most likely a basic economy fare. However, if you purchased an economy ticket with a seat reservation, you’ve likely paid a standard economy fare.
Again – it behooves you to pay very close attention to the kind of fare you are purchasing!
1. Full fare
Most airlines are extremely lenient when it comes to cancellation policies of full fare tickets. Cancellations with no penalties are often allowed, and not showing up the day of your flight without (even without canceling beforehand) may allow you to get the full value of your ticket back.
2. Standard economy
You’ll have no such luck on any airline with a standard economy ticket. You’ll most certainly have to pay a cancellation fee, and on some airlines, they may not even let you apply the remaining value to a future ticket. Again, be sure to check with your airline for specific details.
3. Basic economy
What happens if you don’t show up for a basic economy flight? Well, to put it mildly…you just gave the airline a wad of cash for free. You’ll never see it again, and they won’t even thank you for it.
For the sake of simplicity, the rest of this article will be talking about the consequences of not showing up for a flight assuming that you’re on a standard ticket. After all, if you’re flying full fare, none of it will really apply to you anyway since you’re likely to get all your money back. The same goes for nearly all basic economy situations (only opposite): you won’t get ANY credit at all if you don’t show up for your flight.
What happens if you don’t show up for your first flight of of a multi-stop itinerary?
Do NOT do this! Not showing up for the very first flight on a itinerary with multiple stops will result in automatic cancellation of the entire itinerary. I know it can be tempting because of the way that airlines price their flights, but trust me on this. If you’re going to miss any flight, don’t let it be the first one of the trip. If you know you’re going to miss that flight, do be sure to call ahead to cancel so they don’t forfeit the value of your ticket.
For those that aren’t aware, the reason why it may be so tempting is as follows: Let’s say that you’re flying from San Diego to Reno via Las Vegas on Southwest Airlines. But then, just two days before your trip, your brother announces his engagement to the woman of his dreams (who he met just 16 hours prior) and the wedding is in Vegas the night before your flight. You drive to Vegas for the ceremony, forfeiting your original San Diego to Las Vegas segment. You can still catch the Las Vegas to Reno segment as scheduled, right?
Wrong! If you don’t show up for that first flight, Southwest will show no mercy on you and cancel your entire itinerary as soon as they close the boarding door (and they’ll probably laugh in your face as they’re doing it).
What happens if you don’t show up for the very last flight of your itinerary?
This isn’t such a bad thing actually. I’ve actually done this a handful of times over the years, and never once have I been penalized. Of course it’s not a good idea to make a habit of it, because the airline will surely catch on and might even ban you if it starts becoming a habit.
Why would someone intentionally not show up for the last flight of their itinerary? There are a lot of reasons, but the two most common are:
- To save money
- To save time
Not showing up for your last flight fo the trip to save money is more common than you think. For example, let’s say you’re flying from San Diego to Atlanta on Delta and that flight prices out at $618. Ouch! However, after some digging around, you notice that flying from San Diego to West Palm Beach via Atlanta only costs $223. Sure would be tempting to book that flight to West Palm Beach and just get off in Atlanta, right?
Lots of people do this – and I’m not saying that it’s right. As a matter fact, I would say that you’re playing with fire if you do this more than once in a ten-year period. Airlines aren’t stupid and they can very easily track this kind of activity – so tread lightly!
Saving time is the other way that many people skip the last flight of their full itinerary. I’ve done this before. It’s been a while though, and to the best of my recollection, the last time was before a Northwest Airlink flight from Detroit to South Bend Indiana way back in 2002. I had just got off a flight from Tokyo to Detroit, and I had an eight hour layover before my flight to South Bend.
Rather than sit in the airport all day, I decided to skip that last flight and just drive instead. It’s a 4-hour drive between Detroit and South Bend, and I think I paid $75 for a one-way car rental. Totally worth it.
What happens if you don’t show up for your connecting flight because your arriving flight was late?
In this case, no matter what the fare class of the ticket is, you’re going to be fairly well protected. In nearly all cases, the airline will simply rebook you on the next available flight. You paid them to get you from point a to point B, and it’s their legal obligation to get you there.
On larger airlines, it’s a fairly seamless process. For example, if you’re flying Delta Airlines from San Diego to West Palm Beach via Atlanta, and you miss your San Diego to Atlanta flight, delta will put you on the next of their many daily flights between Atlanta and West Palm Beach.
However, if you’re flying from San Diego to Bellingham via Carson City on Allegiant (a routing I just totally made up by the way), you’re going to have a bit more of a difficult time getting to Bellingham if they get you to Carson City too late to make the connection. This is because smaller airlines like Allegiant usually only have one frequency a day to outlying cities. Don’t worry – they’ll get you there, but it may be a day or two late.
Sometimes, the airline You’re flying will have no choice but to put you on another airline (at no cost) to get you to your final destination. It all depends on how full flights are. The bottom line is that you as a passenger won’t have to do anything in this situation.
If your first flight arrives too late to catch the connecting flight, you’ll be fine. You may not be totally satisfied with the outcome, but your airline will get you where you need to go one way or another.
What happens if you don’t show up for a flight that you paid for using frequent flyer miles?
Skipping out on a flight that you’ve paid for with miles / points isn’t very much different. The very same things apply to an award ticket versus one that you paid cash for. It’s in your best interest to let the airline know ahead of time if you know you’re going to miss your flight, because in most cases that will lessen the damage.
Again, not every airline is the same, so do check with your specific carrier before doing it. However, the general rule is this:
- If you cancel ahead of time, your miles / points will be re-deposited back into your account. You’ll have to pay a fee in order for that to happen though. On most airlines, this fee ranges anywhere from $50-$150. It could be more than that, so do be sure to check with your specific airline.
If you simply skip the flight without letting the airline know, you run the risk of forfeiting the entire mileage / points balance.
What happens if you don’t show up for your flight because you’re sick?
Sorry. Having a bad case of the runs (or equivalent) isn’t going to give you any sympathy from the airlines. There’s nothing unique about missing a flight because you’re not feeling well. As far as the airlines are concerned, missing a flight is missing a flight and they don’t care about specific circumstances.
For those of you who are curious, I’ve done this twice so far in my life. Both times I was already at the airport checked in for the flight, and it was at the very last minute that I decided not to go.
The last time I canceled a flight at the last minute was on a Virgin America flight from San Diego to San Francisco, and I knew that I would be paying a fat penalty for not going. I did call and cancel though. Otherwise (as I described above), I would’ve lost the entire value of the ticket and I wouldn’t be able to credit the remaining value to a future flight.
What happens if you don’t show up for your flight because of COVID-19?
You know all that stuff I just wrote above about the airlines not being lenient if you decide to skip a flight? Well, a lot has changed over the past several weeks, and at the time of this writing, we are up to our eyeballs in COVID-19 related cancellations in the travel industry.
The demand for travel has fallen through the floor, resulting in many airlines suspending operations entirely for the time being.
Thankfully, with so much chaos and confusion out there at the moment, airline cancellation policies have loosened up quite a bit over the past several weeks. Most airlines have been allowing penalty-free cancellations of booked itineraries through March 31, 2020. That means, for any airline ticket purchased before this date, passengers have the right to cancel without penalty.
Most airlines around the world are adopting this policy, which is a good thing to see. However, it’s not all as perfect as it seems.
Because the airlines are in such a bad position right now and are in danger of losing lots of money, they aren’t offering cash refunds on these cancellations. Instead, they’re offering credits that can be applied towards future travel. Change fees have been waived as well.
Keep in mind that all airlines are different, and it would be a wasted effort to list out the ticket cancellation policies of every airline here in this post.
You don’t have to do anything!
One final thing but I will say about this: since many airlines have been overwhelmed by people flooding their phone lines trying to cancel their itineraries, they’ve been automatically applying full credit value of the ticket to a future flight for anyone who doesn’t show up at the gate.
That’s exactly the situation I’ve found myself in today. I’ve been trying to contact American Airlines for several days trying to cancel this morning‘s flight, but I was never able to get through. However, since American Airlines is one of the carriers that is automatically applying credit for future flights, I should be well-protected.
And yes, I even tried canceling via the website and mobile app. However, they’ve changed my itinerary so many times over the past month that the system is broken and the button to cancel or change the itinerary isn’t even showing up anymore. I tried to be the nice guy to cancel ahead of time, but they wouldn’t let me do it.
Therefore, I’m just gonna go full-steam ahead with the I don’t give a s*** method (and hope for the best).