A trip in vain is the terminology used to describe a trip that has become meaningless because of a flight delay or cancellation. If the sole purpose of your travel is to attend a meeting or a scheduled event, and a flight change causes you to be substantially late or miss it completely, your trip is no longer necessary. It would be considered “in vain” to continue on to your destination.
The trip in vain is a source of controversy between airlines and passengers, because there are no clear-cut policies governing it. It falls into a mysterious area that the airlines seem to be aware of but are not broadcasting it to the public.
When a trip in vain occurs, airlines resort to their policies on flight delays or cancellations. The airline’s course of action is also determined by whether or not the problem is within its control. I have not found any official airline policies on a trip in vain, even though some airlines make reference to this.
Under the terms and conditions of many airlines, when a flight is canceled, the airline usually rebooks passengers on the next available flight. Passengers also have the option of rescheduling their ticket for a later date or requesting a full refund. Some airlines may try to offer a voucher for a future flight, however, it is worth requesting a refund rather than a voucher if the problem was within the airline’s control.
For example, if the flight is canceled because of a mechanical issue with the plane, that is within the airline’s control and a full refund should be issued. This should also apply even if you have flown the first leg of a connecting flight that gets canceled. If continuing on to your destination is no longer needed, it has become a trip in vain.
An airline ticket is a contract between the airline and the passenger. When it is unable to fulfill its obligation of getting you to the agreed-upon destination, it is defaulting on the contract. You should be given the option of choosing a refund for a canceled flight. This may also apply if your flight is delayed by more than 120 minutes because of a schedule change caused by the airline. Policies vary by airline, so check the terms and conditions.
The reason a refund is the preference over a voucher is because vouchers come with restrictions. If it is lost or stolen, it cannot be replaced. Vouchers are usually non-transferable (cannot be given to someone else or resold), are valid for one year only, and cannot be used for services, upgrades, preferred seat charges, fees, and more.
To avoid a trip in vain, plan for possible delays, since they are inevitable. Allow ample time in between connecting flights. If the reason for your trip is extremely important, or if you will experience a financial loss if your flight is changed or canceled, you may want to plan on traveling a day ahead of time. Many delays are for reasons that are outside the airlines’ control.
If you run into a situation where your flight is delayed or canceled, thus negating the reason for your travel, contact the airline immediately (by phone or at the ticket counter) to request a refund. The airline representatives should be aware of the problem and may be more likely to offer a favorable solution. If you decide to reschedule your ticket for a later date, request that the changes be made without an increase in airfare or added fees.
There is no guarantee that the airline will issue a full refund for a trip in vain if the cancellation is outside its control (weather conditions, etc.), but it is worth asking.
I had a trip CUN to LAS one way with a connection in DFW. The first flight (cun to dfw) was flown and the second flight from DFW onto LAS was canceled by the airline and there was no replacement flight available by the the airline for at least another few days. We had to make our own arrangements from there on for accommodations and continued travel. This was a true trip in vain for us.
When I contacted the airline for refund they only refunded a small partial refund that they have calculated to be the value of the unflown portion (officialy). Claiming that we flew a partial trip. As many times we reached out they deny a full refund. Is there any way to get AA to refund the full value?
Stephanie Patterson says:
I’m sorry to hear you had a problem with your flight and getting an accurate refund. Airlines do not disclose how they determine partial refunds when a segment of a flight is canceled. If you believe you should have received more based on the cost of a typical flight from DFW to LAS, I would suggest pursuing it with the help of Consumer Rescue (ConsumerRescue.org).
I am a travel columnist for Consumer Rescue and we specialize in helping travelers (and consumers) who run into problems. We have contacts that consumers do not have access to. This service is FREE. On the website, click on “Ask for Help” at the top of the page.
I look forward to hearing a good report back from you!