/ Travel & Leisure

I’ve missed my flight, why’s it so hard to get my tax back?

Man running for plane

Most of us have sailed too close to the wind with flight times, but if we miss our flight can we get reimbursed? We’re entitled to reclaim APD taxes, but the airlines will make us jump through some hoops first…

A few years ago, I was happily at home packing my bags for a flight to the US, singing away to songs on the radio, when I made one final look at my ticket.

My heart stopped, I broke out in a deep sweat and I shouted at my husband, in the shower. The flight was in two, not twelve hours’ time.

I was lucky. Somehow, we survived the fastest taxi journey ever to the airport, breaking every speed limit on the way, were allowed to check in, escorted through security and ran down the aircraft aisle to our seats met by the glares of our fellow passengers, who were clearly nonplussed.

Don’t lose all your money

We were among the fortunate who managed to make the plane. Those who don’t – after over-sleeping, being caught in traffic or passenger transport chaos on the way (or for myriad other reasons) – will find themselves heavily out of pocket.

If it’s not the airlines’ fault that you’re not on the plane, then chances are, you won’t get the ticket price refunded. Your only bet would be a rather good travel insurance policy.

There is hope, however. It’s not all your money that should be lost. We pay taxes and Air Passenger Duty (APD) when we pay for our flight ticket. As the airlines only pay this tax to the government once the flight has taken off, if you’re not on the flight, then you are entitled to claim it back.

APD increases with distance flown, so you’d be able to claim an APD refund of £12 for a short haul economy flight to Europe, but £60 for a US flight and £85 if your final destination had been as far as Australia or New Zealand.

Too expensive to claim APD

Now, the cheeky airlines clearly don’t want to advertise this, because it is a nice little earner for them. Passengers who cancel their flights will not automatically have their money reimbursed – but they must apply to the airline for a refund. Many of the airlines in turn will charge hefty administration fees to deter you.

When Which? Travel looked into this a few years ago, the amount charged was up to twice the value of the tax, making it completely pointless. Seven of the eight major airlines we contacted charged an administration fee which was more than the total APD originally paid. (Credit where it is due, easyJet didn’t, and still doesn’t charge to reclaim APD).

The Air Travel Advisory Bureau has launched a petition to try and get the law changed so the money must be returned by the airlines when flights go unused. We’d like to see the same. In the meantime, we want the airlines to either charge an appropriate fee for reclaiming the APD on unused flights, or even better, charge nothing at all – what do you think?


I can’t see what the costs to the airline are – there can’t be many APD reclaims, so I think it should be an automatic refund, with no admin costs.

Sandra Buck says:
26 September 2011

I had to cancel a flight to Japan in June 2011 when my brother died unexpectedly.

My travel insurance company refunded my ticket costs in reasonable time, considering there was a substantial quantity of information for them to check.

15 weeks later, I have finally received my taxes and fees refund. I was refunding £139 and the full cost of taxes and fees was £367. I requested an explanation about how his figure had been worked out.

The travel agent reported:
“Please be informed that only a part of taxes can be refunded as some of the taxes are non refundable. Once we apply for the tax refund the amount and the decision taken is by the airline. Hence you cannot get complete amount back which was paid as tax.”

I was shocked at the level of refund, and the time taken to do the refund. Holding back £228 is excessive. I was more shocked that I couldn’t get a breakdown of how this was calculated. The Airline was KLM.

So I support any petition to clean this up!

Barbara says:
11 May 2012

I’ve experienced the same problem with KLM.

I booked a flight which cost £460 and £14 as a Credit card fee.
Now I missed the fight and whilst at the airport I contacted the travel agent straight away. I was told my ticket was non-refundable, but I may be able to claim back the taxes as I was not on the flight. I was asked to wait for 8 week, after which they offered my £75.

Am so incensed that it took them this long to offer me so little. Why can’t I get the full tax refund as that money was supposed to go to HR revenue when I take the flight, but rather they are trying to make profit from this.


This sounds a bit like the same scam the government pulls over tax refunds. HMRC often knows exactly how much tax you have overpaid, but doesn’t offer you a cent of it back unless you write them a letter applying for it. If you haven’t claimed it within the window allowed, which has been decreased in recent years I believe, then it goes into the coffers of the government and this is no different.

I think airlines should be forced to automatically reimburse you in full any monies claimed at taxes. This can all be done automatically by computers these days. The tax department should similarly be forced to notify you (via automated systems) that a refund is owed to you, for how much, and where you’d like your cheque sent to.

I am sure Jeremy Corbyn would sorth this out and put the opportunistic airlines to its place! 🙂 Well done on EasyJet by the way. Their stock went up in my book of fairness!

Jane says:
13 January 2016

I just recently got a refund of £129 from KLM on a flight I paid £720 for! I had to cancel it due to being too unwell to travel that day. No explanation or breakdown of refund was given. I was expecting half of that back in taxes, not a measly £129. KLM are just awful and customer service don’t reply to messages…………never again!

Judith Millward says:
22 July 2017

As with VAT, this is a government tax collected by airlines and should therefore be paid to the government if due, or returned to the traveller if unpaid. To do otherwise should be illegal. The money should be refunded automatically and it should also be illegal for airlines to charge for making legitimate refunds. Yet another example of business trampling over customers. Well done Easyjet, I shall try to book with you whenever possible.

EU Court rules in favour of BEUC member vzbv in pricing of air passenger tickets case
07 July 2017

The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that airlines must specify separately the exact price of the airfare, taxes and other charges that consumers pay when they buy an airline ticket. The German consumer organisation vzbv had filed a lawsuit against Air Berlin after discovering that the company was displaying its prices incorrectly. Taxes and charges, in case a consumer cancels their flight, must be refunded to the consumer, but Air Berlin was indicating that these were much lower than they actually were.

On top of that, the Luxembourg court confirmed that the EU rules protecting consumers against unfair contract terms apply also to air transport contracts. This interpretation greenlights a German court ruling in the initial case to pronounce a €25 fee, which Air Berlin was charging consumers if they cancelled their flight, as unfair. The airline was taking this amount out of the taxes and charges that would be returned to the consumer in case of a cancellation.

This is an important win for consumers and vzbv. BEUC supports actions to ensure that air ticket prices are transparent and that no unfair charges are added.

Thanks very much for that update, Patrick.

It’s not quite the same thing, but I bought a £121 ticket from BA for my daughter to fly from London to Newcastle this coming Sunday. It was a good price £131, though not the cheapest, and not refundable. Even if I had paid £100 more for a business class flight it’s not refundable. You can change to another day, but that costs £58 plus any fare difference. My daughter is ill and can’t travel. Except on a Sunday when the trains are rubbish she wouldn’t fly to Newcastle from London anyway.anyway. If I cancel the flight I would only get £32 in taxes back, but although this is done online and probably costs BA less than £1 in transaction costs they charge £15, so they make a profit on your tax refund. They also get the balance of the airfare. But the flight is clearly going to be full:current price for the same flight is £201, and allegedly there is only one seat left at this price, so if I cancel they will get what I paid, plus a £15 bonus out of the taxes I paid, plus an extra £200 or more from reselling the ticket. I will get the balance of £17 {£32 – £15 misappropriated by BA) back from the Government and nothing from BA. That’s such a big rip-off by BA that I prefer not to cancel, let my daughter be a no-show, and deny BA the fruits of a thorough rip-off. I should add that BA (unlike many airlines) do not permit name changes at any price to ensure that I cannot resell the ticket to others who might not otherwise be able to get on the flight. Not quite as blatant as the US overbooking scandals, but pretty rubbish as a form of customer service.