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A Guide to the Cancellation Policies of the Biggest Airlines and Cruise Lines

When it comes to calling off your big trip, some companies make it easy. Others, not as much.

July 6, 2020
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Nobody wants to cancel their trip. But sometimes it’s out of your control. Shutterstock

You booked your flights months ago. And that cruise to the sunny Caribbean? It was reserved even before that. What you never imagined is that you’d have to cancel—but you do. 

What will that entail? Depending on the type of fare you booked and the number of days before your sail date, individual airline and cruise line cancellation policies will dictate whether you’ll be able to recoup all, some or none of the money you’ve laid out.

It’s worth noting that during natural disasters, international emergencies or global pandemics, airlines and cruise lines may temporarily suspend fees for cancellations and changes—and note this in special travel alerts on their homepage. Both are likely to offer a future credit in the full amount already paid, with select refunds available. 

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Airlines are also required to offer a 24-hour cancellation window for tickets booked at least 48 hours before departure—meaning that if you see a low fare you can purchase the ticket and cancel without penalty over the next 24 hours. 

As for cancellation of mileage award tickets, policies vary by airline, but most will reimburse some or all miles—although they’ll charge a fee to do it.

Here are the standard cancellation policies of the biggest airlines and cruise lines at the time of writing. Check individual company websites for the most up-to-date information.

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Airline Cancellation Policies

Airline cancellation policies all spell out which fares are refundable, changeable and non-refundable.

American Airlines: American’s cancellation policy states that all tickets are valid for one year from the date of purchase, so if you cancel a non-refundable ticket and receive credit you must begin travel by that date and pay a change fee (starting at $200) and fare surcharges (if the replacement flight costs more). The airline will only refund a non-refundable ticket if it cancels your flight or makes a schedule change of more than four hours to your departure time, and if the passenger or his/her companion dies or military orders require a trip cancellation. Passengers who booked refundable fares will receive full reimbursement within seven days if they paid by credit card. 

Delta Air Lines: Delta’s flight change and cancellation policy has different rules for its three types of fares. If you need to cancel or even change a Basic Economy ticket—the lowest fare offered—you’ll be out of luck. No changes or refunds are permitted. If you booked a Non-refundable ticket in any other fare class, you can cancel but you’ll incur a change fee that starts at $200 (fare rules are listed on tickets) and then receive a credit for the remaining amount to be used one year from the date the ticket was issued. If you booked a Refundable ticket in any fare class, you’ll be fully reimbursed. If you booked any fare class and Delta cancels your fight, you can apply for a refund.

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JetBlue: JetBlue’s change/cancellation policy covers its four classes of service. Blue Basic Fares (the cheapest) are not eligible for voluntary changes or cancellation. Blue and Blue Plus Fares are subject to change fees of $75-$200, depending on the price of the ticket, which can be 75-100 percent of what you paid for some lower-priced tickets. Only Blue Extra Fares are exempt from a change fee. For all changeable tickets, passengers must also pay the difference in fare (if there is one) when rebooking and commence travel no later than one year from the original ticket date. JetBlue’s 24-hour free cancellation policy applies to tickets booked seven or more days prior to departure.

Southwest Airlines: Southwest is one of the rare carriers that doesn’t impose cancellation/change fees. Rather, all tickets—called Wanna Get Away, Anytime and Business Select—are characterized as Reusable or Refundable, with all three being reusable (passengers will receive credit for a future trip up to one year from the original purchase date) and the latter two also refundable (as long as you cancel your flight at least 10 minutes before its scheduled departure time). 

United Airlines: The only fare category that can’t be changed, according to United’s change/cancellation policy, is Basic Economy. Passengers who cancel will lose all money paid. For all other non-refundable fare classes, United will issue credit and allow rebooking on another flight for a year from the initial purchase date, but will deduct a change fee of $200-$400. Refundable fares will be issued back to the credit card they were purchased with. United’s Flexible Booking Policy also allows a 24-hour refund window for all tickets purchased up to a week before departure. 

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Cruise Line Cancellation Policies 

These policies generally follow a set formula—penalties escalate as the sail date approaches—but the time frames vary. 

Carnival Cruise Line: Carnival’s standard cancellation policy is:

For cruises of 2-5 nights:

Up to 76 days before sailing: Deposit refunded

75-56 days before: Lose deposit

55-30 days before: Lose deposit or 50 percent of total fare (whichever is more)

29-15 days before: Lose deposit or 75 percent of total fare (whichever is more)

14 days or less: Lose 100 percent 

For cruises of 6 or more nights:

Up to 91 days before sailing: Deposit refunded

90-56 days before: Lose deposit

55-30 days before: Lose deposit or 50 percent of total fare (whichever is more)

29-15 days before: Lose deposit or 75 percent of total fare (whichever is more)

14 days or less: Lose 100 percent 

Celebrity Cruises: Celebrity’s standard cancellation policy was changed on April 16, 2018. For passengers who booked after that date, the policy is: 

For cruises of 1-5 nights

Up to 75 days before sailing: No penalty

74-61 days before: Lose 50 percent of total fare

60-31 days before: Lose 75 percent

30 days or less: Lose 100 percent

For cruises of 6 nights or more

Up to 90 days before sailing: No penalty

89-75 days before: Lose 25 percent of total fare

74-61 days before: Lose 50 percent

60-31 days before: Lose 75 percent

30 days or less: Lose 100 percent

Disney Cruise Line: Disney’s standard cancellation policy is: 

For cruises of 1-5 nights

89-45 days before sailing: Lose deposit

44-30 days before: Lose 50 percent of total fare

29-15 days before: Lose 75 percent 

14 days or less: Lose 100 percent 

For cruises of 6 nights or more

119-56 days before sailing: Lose deposit

55-30 days before: Lose 50 percent of total fare

29-15 days before: Lose 75 percent 

14 days or less: Lose 100 percent. 

For guests on all sailings who booked Suites and Concierge Staterooms

90 days or more: Lose deposit

89-56 days before: Lose 50 percent of total fare

55-30 days before: Lose 75 percent

29 days or less: Lose 100 percent

Reservations for Inside, Outside or Verandah categories “with restrictions” 

All are non-refundable and non-transferable; a 100 percent cancellation fee applies from the time of payment.

Holland America Line: Holland America’s standard cancellation policy is:

For cruises up to 6 nights

75-57 days before sailing: Lose deposit

56-29 days before: Lose 50 percent of total fare

28-16 days before: Lose 75 percent

15 days or less: Lose 100 percent

For cruises 7 nights or longer (through summer 2021)

90-64 days before sailing: Lose deposit

63-43 days before: Lose 50 percent of total fare

42-22 days before: Lose 75 percent 

21 days or less: Lose 100 percent 

For Grand World and Grand Voyages

120-91 days before sailing: Lose deposit

90-76 days before: Lose 60 percent of total fare

75 days or less: Lose 100 percent

In addition, there’s a cancellation exemption for all cruises purchased during a specially priced promotion that is 100 percent non-refundable from the time of payment.

MSC Cruises: MSC’s Standard Booking Terms & Conditions says: 

For cruises of less than 15 nights 

89-61 days before sailing: Lose deposit

60-46 days before: Lose 50 percent of total fare

45-16 days before: Lose 75 percent

15 days or less: Lose 100 percent 

For cruises of 15 nights or more

109-61 days before sailing: Lose deposit

60-46 days before: Lose 50 percent of total fare

45-30 days before: Lose 75 percent

29 days or less: Lose 100 percent

For guests booked in MSC Yacht Club

120-90 days before sailing: Lose deposit 

89-60 days before: Lose 50 percent of total fare

59-30 days before: Lose 75 percent 

29 days or less: Lose 100 percent 

There are also different cancellation fees for MSC’s world cruises, so check before booking.

Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian’s cancellation fee schedule is:

For cruises of 6 nights or less

89-76 days before sailing: Lose 25 percent of fare or deposit (whichever is more)

75-61 days before: Lose 50 percent or deposit (whichever is more)

60-31 days before: Lose 75 percent or deposit (whichever is more)

30 days or less: Lose 100 percent

For cruises of 7 nights or longer

119-91 days before sailing: Lose 25 percent of fare or deposit (whichever is more)

90-61 days before: Lose 50 percent or deposit (whichever is more)

60-31 days before: Lose 75 percent or deposit (whichever is more)

30 days or less: Lose 100 percent

For passengers booked in Haven Suites, Suites, Garden Suites and Holiday Sailings

119-106 days before sailing: Lose 25 percent of fare or deposit (whichever is more)

105-91 days before: Lose 50 percent or deposit (whichever is more)

90-61 days before: Lose 75 percent or deposit (whichever is more)

60 days or less: Lose 100 percent

Princess Cruises: Princess’s standard cancellation policy is:

For cruises of 5 nights or less

74-45 days before sailing: Lose deposit

44-29 days before: Lose 50 percent of money paid

28-15 days before: Lose 75 percent

14 days or less: Lose 100 percent

For cruises of 6 to 24 nights

89-57 days before sailing: Lose deposit

56-29 days before: Lose 50 percent of money paid

28-15 days before: Lose 75 percent 

14 days or less: Lose 100 percent 

For cruises of 25 nights or more

119-90 days before sailing: Lose deposit

89-64 days before: Lose 50 percent of money paid

63-43 days before: Lose 75 percent 

42 days or less: Lose 100 percent 

Royal Caribbean Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean’s standard cancellation policy is:

For cruises of 1-4 nights

75 days or more before sailing: No charge (except on nonrefundable-deposit cruises)

74-61 days before: Lose 50 percent of total fare

60-31 days before: Lose 75 percent 

30 days or less: Lose 100 percent 

For cruises of 5 nights or longer

90 days or more before sailing: No charge (except on nonrefundable-deposit cruises)

89-75 days before: Lose 25 percent of total fare

74-61 days before: Lose 50 percent 

60-31 days before: Lose 75 percent

30 days or less: Lose 100 percent 

Viking: Viking’s standard cancellation fee schedule is:

For cruises under 35 nights

120 days or more before sailing: Lose $100  

119-90 days before: Lose 20 percent of fare

89-70 days before: Lose 35 percent

69-50 days before: Lose 50 percent

49-30 days before: Lose 75 percent

29 days or less: Lose 100 percent

For cruises of 35 nights or more (Grand and World Cruise Voyages)

180 days or more before sailing: Lose $1,000

179-150 days before: Lose 20 percent of fare

149-120 days before: Lose 40 percent

119-90 days before: Lose 60 percent

89-60 days before: Lose 80 percent

59 days or less: Lose 100 percent

Note: Airlines and cruise lines do periodically update their cancellation policies, so before booking check the current policy on their websites. If at the time of booking you’d like protection against potential cancellation fees, consider investing in travel insurance with adequate trip-cancellation coverage. 

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