The 24-Hour Rule: Your Free Cancellation Window Booking All U.S. Flights

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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.


24 hour booking

Delta’s cancellation policy


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. 


24 hour booking

Qatar Airways features up to 72-hour holds


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.


Bottom Line 

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!


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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.

2 Responses

  1. Andrew Baird says:

    For OTA’s, do we just need to look at their policy, or do we also need to verify the policy of the airline we are flying? For example, if I am booking British Airways on Expedia, can I assume that I can cancel within 24 hours or do I need to first check the British Airways policy to verify it is consistent with the Expedia policy?

  2. Bernard says:

    It’s more complicated and important to be careful. Delta’s 24 hour policy specifies midnight of the next day. But other of Delta’s “sister” airlines (even the ones where Delta holds a significant financial stake)–like Aeromexico–do not follow that guidelines. Instead they take 24 hours to the minute from the time of purchase. And they enforce it, shall we say, viciously, even for Delta prioriy members. This can create immense difficulty–and AM does not anywhere clearly explain their implementation of the 24 hour refund rule. So please be careful, friends, not to get snared: it can create huge difficulty.

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