Free 24 Hour Cancellation Policy on US Flights

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The biggest barrier to becoming a Thrifty Traveler is committing to those flight deals while they’re still hot. When it’s not in your nature to book a trip on a whim, committing to those deals within minutes can be nerve-wracking. You have to make sure the dates will work for your travel partners, get the OK from your boss, and find someone to watch the dog.

Lucky for you, the US Department of Transportation has your back. The DOT established a federal rule in 2011 that requires airlines to offer a 24-hour window for travelers to change their plans without having to pay additional fees. The rule allows passengers to either hold their ticket for 24 hours before paying or cancel their flight within 24 hours of paying, as long as it is at least seven days prior to takeoff. This 24-hour rule applies to all US carriers and any foreign carriers operating within the US.


24 Hour Cancellation

The 24 hour cancellation option is the one you’ll encounter most often. Any flight operating (even just starting or ending) within the United States has to give travelers the option to cancel for a full refund and no additional fees.


Delta’s cancellation policy


The Hold

A few airlines allow the hold option, where your flight is held at the rate you booked it for. The hold time is typically 24 hours. This 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 cancelled. 


Qatar Airways features up to 72 hour holds


Things to Consider

Before you grab that hot flight deal, there are a couple things to look out for:

  • This is an either/or rule – Airlines generally don’t offer both a hold & 24 hour cancellation, and they typically don’t work together.
  • Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) need not apply  Travel agencies are not subject to the same rules as carriers. If you’re booking through a third party, double check their cancellation policies or you could be out the entire amount of your flight plus cancellation fees. Good news is most major OTAs such as Priceline and Expedia typically offer 24 hour cancellation. Smallers ones found on Momondo & SkyScanner typically do not follow the rule. 
  • Miles are not mentioned – Though many airlines refund rewards or miles too, this is not required by the DOT rule.


Bottom Line 

All major US carriers now offer free cancellation within 24 hours, but up until recently, American Airlines only offered the hold option. Treat that as a reminder that you should still read the policy each airline follows once you book so you know exactly how the 24 hours is interpreted. All airlines are required to have their policy stated clearly on their website. No matter what the policy, you are guaranteed 24 hours to decide without losing your ticket or your money. So take that piece of mind and 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.

1 Response

  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?

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