Do you like to Gamble? Booking ‘non-refundable’ airline tickets

If you’ve traveled much lately, you’ve heard the expression ‘non-refundable tickets.’ It’s an expression that we’ve heard more and more often, especially if you’re lucky enough to find any round trip fares to Paris under $800.

But before you click okay, ask your agent, what exactly are the definitions of a ‘non-refundable ticket.’ Here’s what I thought it meant:
You wake up one morning and decide you’d rather stay in New Jersey than go to Paris so you call up and ask for a refund. Or, you’ve got cold feet about flying on that day because your horoscope said it wouldn’t be a good idea to travel.

– That kind of non-refundable I can understand, but consider this recent true-life scenario: In the last few days because of bad weather and flooding in the New York area, many flights to and from JFK were canceled (including Jet Blue flights from Rochester, NY which would have been our connecting flight to our overseas flight on Air France (which we had bought over the net as a ‘non-refundable ticket’) Because Jet Blue has no affiliation with Air France, if our flight had been canceled and we missed the connection to the Air France flight for the same day, we would basically be out of luck. According to Air France, because we had bought our overseas flight through a booking agent not affiliated with Air France, and because our connecting flight was through a separate airline, they would not guarantee us a booking on the next flight to France. In other words, we’d be stuck with two round trip tickets to nowhere for a whopping $700 per ticket.

At the time when I booked the tickets, I figured I had saved about $100 by buying them over the net, but you must really look at all the angles, and that includes having great faith in the good weather gods. You can keep the odds in your favor by being sure to have a VERY large margin between connecting flights. Or, you can be sure to book your entire flight through one airline company. Or, make sure that you don’t have to use ANY connecting flights to get to your overseas flight departure airport i.e. only book this kind of flight if you are within driving distance to your international departure.




If you’re looking for more advice about shopping wisely for international airfares, be sure to check out The Travel Insider suggestions about buying intl tickets (in reverse). We started doing this for a few years when we kept noticing that our European friends always seemed to get to the US with much more reasonably priced fares).

Another site (with a similar name) gives some advice on using air courrier service.

Another solution is to book your tickets with a credit card that would cover flight cancellations/or travel insurance. But when all is said and done, the worry-free solution might be to book directly through the airline company.

I’m happy to say that we made our connection with ample time and because the flooding and bad weather had ended the day before our departure, we were just plain lucky this time, but I think I learned a lesson about booking cheap flights – get a very clear definition of ‘non-refundable’ and decide if you can deal with the odds.