The 24-Hour Rule: Your Free Cancellation Window Booking All U.S. Flights
It might sound too good to be true, but this is real.
On any flight that touches U.S. soil – no matter the airline, where you’re coming from, or heading to – you can cancel your flight for free within 24 hours. The U.S. Department of Transportation established this federal rule way back in 2011.
It comes with some caveats, and we’ll get into those later. But consider this your “book first, ask questions later” policy. For those times you see a great flight deal or an insane mistake fare but aren’t sure whether it will work – or just blank on a previous commitment for a flight you just booked – this can be a real lifesaver.
24-Hour Booking Cancellation, or a Hold?
There are a few different ways that airlines have gone about honoring this rule.
The 24-hour cancellation option is the one you’ll encounter most often. Any flight operating (even just starting or ending) in the United States has to give travelers the option to cancel for a full refund and no additional fees.
But a few airlines allow the hold option, allowing you to lock in the current price before booking. The hold time is typically 24 hours. That gives you time to check for cheaper fares or confirm travel plans before you have to pay anything. Once you commit to purchasing the ticket, everything can be completed online. Before the 24-hour hold is up, you will need to pay for your ticket or it will be canceled.
Things to Consider with the 24-Hour Booking Rule
Before you grab that hot flight deal, there are a couple of things to look out for:
- Book direct with the airlines: Strictly speaking, this rule only applies to tickets booked directly with the airline. So it’s always best to book direct if there’s any possibility your plans may change.
- Some OTAs follow, others don’t: Travel agencies are not subject to the same rules as carriers. If you’re booking through a third party, double check their cancellation policies before booking. The good news is that most major online travel agencies like Priceline and Expedia typically offer 24-hour cancellation. Smaller ones found through Momondo and Skyscanner generally don’t, so beware.
- This is an either/or rule: Airlines generally don’t offer both a hold on top of the 24-hour cancellation, and they typically don’t work together.
- Miles are not mentioned: Though many airlines refund rewards or miles too, this is not explicitly required by the DOT rule.
Whether you’re flying within the U.S. or heading abroad, you’ll almost always have a 24 hour booking window to cancel your flight and get a full refund. Remember that next time you see an insanely cheap mistake fare to book it before it disappears.
Just be sure to read up on the airline’s 24-hour cancellation policy to ensure you’re covered in case plans change. Then book the ticket!
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.