Flight ticket refund and compensation: What’s the difference and when to claim?

Okay, I promised myself that this post won’t come out as a Ryanair rant. We’ve got enough of that on the web already, and I also realise that one of the reasons why it’s so cheap is that they don’t give absolutely any crap about their passengers at all. My girlfriend and I had some bad luck recently – 3 out of 8 flights we took in the last 6 weeks were delayed almost three hours with consequences such as:

– a rather unpleasant night at the airport (once)

– working whilst very tired the next day (three times)

– a £70 taxi back home (twice)

On top of that, two weeks ago the Stansted Express broke down half-way which made my GF miss her flight….Oh, forgot to mention – we didn’t have any travel insurance. Please don’t hurt me – we’ve learnt our lesson. So, before we go into the details of the difference between refund and compensation please note:


Steady now… If you’re a frequent traveller I strongly recommend you getting yourself some kind of insurance cover (starts from around £18/year for a single person) – it can make your life much safer (and easier).

Let’s get to the point – What’s the difference between a refund and a compensation?

From a legal point of view (EC Regulation 261/2004, the airline you’re travelling with might be obliged to compensate you for the inconvenience of a delay or cancellation from €250 up to €600 (depending on the distance) if:

  • your flight arrived at the destination three hours or more late
  • the delay or cancellation was caused by the airline (i.e. staff problems, not enough seats sold etc.)
  • your flight departed from an EU airport (regardless of the airline) or it was an EU airline flight which landed on an EU airport
  • the flight was delayed by two hours or more, you should receive food, drinks, accommodation (if needed) and communications (also if needed) – You are entitled to this kind of help in all circumstances 

It’s good to know that you can claim compensation on all flights you travelled on (and they comply with the rules above) which departed after 17th February 2005No worries – you don’t have to remember your flights, just dig up your flight details, register (for free) on FlightStats website and find the data you need for your claim:-)

A refund is slightly different – the airline refunds yourthe full amount you paid for your tickets, putting you back in the same financial position you would have been in if you didn’t have any problems with your flight. You’re entitled to it regardless of the cause if:

  • the flight you were planning to travel with (due to depart after 17 February 2005) was cancelled (doesn’t matter when) and you decided not to travel with an alternative flight offered by the airline
  • the flight was cancelled and you are stuck at the airport – in which case the airline is obliged to provide you with food, drinks & accomodation on top of your refund.

In some cases you can get a refund and compensation: 

  • if your flight was cancelled, you can claim a refund and if the alternative flight you were offered to travel with was delayed, you can also get a compensation (seems odd, but still) ranging from €125 to €600 (depending on the flight length)!
  • if your flight was delayed by five hours or more, it doesn’t matter who fault it was – you can get a refund.
  • if your flight was delayed by five hours or more, you decide not to travel and the delay was caused by the airline you can claim both a refund and compensation.

How to claim? 

First of all, all of the readers have got travel insurance, right? All you have to do is contact your travel insurance provider and they will give you all the details.

If you don’t have travel insurance, you can find some refund/compensation claim templates on the web and then send it over to the airline via appropriate channels (which can be found on the airlines website).

Please be aware of claims management companies – you can do exactly the same thing as they do but without spending a penny on it, though it will take an hour or two of your own time.

Obviously, airlines try to avoid paying their refunds and/or compensations as much as they can, but don’t worry – they can’t break the law. After all, David defeated Goliath, didn’t he?:-)

Had some experiences with claiming refunds? Share with us in the comment section!