Sooner or later, it probably happens to all travelers. You book a flight, fully intending to fly, but then a sudden circumstance arises and you cannot take your trip. Unfortunately, unlike many other purchases, you typically cannot receive your money back if you cancel a flight booking. However, there are some ways you may be able to get your money back, and the determination may lie in what kind of fare you originally purchased.
When you shop for airfare, you are probably most attracted to the cheapest fares. Unfortunately, the most inexpensive tickets an airline offers are usually nonrefundable. Nonrefundable means just what it says; you cannot get a refund on a nonrefundable airline ticket. That is the trade-off you make when you buy the ticket. The airline locks you in and gets your payment no matter what, but you have the chance to fly more inexpensively, sometimes decidedly so. However, even though you may not strictly receive a refund on a nonrefundable ticket, you may able to retrieve at least some of the value of that ticket. Many airlines will allow you to change the date or even the itinerary of your flight ticket for a fee, allowing you to apply the remaining value of your ticket to a future trip. There are usually restrictions, and you have to contact your carrier to determine your airline's specific policies.
In many ways, refundable tickets are the exact opposite of nonrefundable tickets. Instead of buying a restricted, inexpensive ticket, with a refundable ticket you get an expensive, flexible ticket. Most refundable tickets are priced hundreds of dollars higher than nonrefundable tickets, but in exchange you don't have to worry about what happens if your plans change. With a refundable ticket, you can usually not only change your ticket without a charge but actually receive a full refund of your original purchase price.
Award tickets are a different type of ticket altogether from refundable and nonrefundable tickets. With an award ticket, you apply your accrued mileage points toward a complimentary ticket. Although award tickets usually carry some kind of processing fee, it is typically insignificant relative to the overall cost of a purchased ticket. Most airlines allow you to change an award ticket without incurring additional fees, but if you cancel your ticket and want a refund of your processing fees and miles, you may owe an additional cancellation fee. Each individual airline has its own policies regarding award tickets.
Some airlines allow you to carry over a credit for a cancelled flight to a future trip. If you pay for a flight and don't make it on the plane for any reason, you can usually use that credit on a future flight with the airline, perhaps within one year. Check with the airline for details.