Lawmakers are accusing airlines of withholding billions in travel refunds. The nearly $10 billion missing from the pockets of customers comes from vouchers that should have been sent as cash refunds for canceled flights. This is really a situation where knowing your rights as a passenger can make all the difference.

Federal law requires airlines to provide full refunds to passengers when flights are canceled by the carriers. Airlines in the United States are currently canceling up to 80 percent of their flights as they deal with the COVID-19 crisis. However, many airlines have been playing it fast and loose with the rules by simply sending travel vouchers by default. This means that only customers who reach out with complaints are receiving cash refunds in some cases. Many travelers who don't fly often are not aware that these vouchers don't satisfy the legal refund requirement.

We still don't have the full picture when it comes to whether or not airlines are fully honoring their refund obligations. A handful of senators recently asked airlines to provide details regarding their current refund policies and practices. Notices were sent to the following airlines:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • Allegiant Air
  • American Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • JetBlue Airways
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Spirit Airlines
  • Sun Country Airlines
  • United Airlines

We know that at least two carriers are doing even more to assist passengers during the pandemic. Both Allegiant and Spirit are issuing refunds to passengers who choose to cancel their own tickets. The bottom line is that all airlines seem to be complying with the requirement to issue refunds for canceled flights. However, some are issuing vouchers over cash by default. That means you may need to advocate for yourself if a voucher comes your way.

Scott Dylan is a contributing writer at GET.com and has been to (almost) every country in North, Central and South America with nothing more than a backpack, a laptop and the desire to explore. He speaks Spanish fluently and has logged enough time in planes, trains, rideshares, buses, taxis and rickshaws to know how to rack up rewards and points to get anywhere his heart desires for pennies on the dollar. Email: scott.dylan@get.com.