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 of when you booked it. The U.S. Department of Transportation established this federal rule way back in 2011.
This little-known rule 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 Cancellation Rule
Before you grab that hot flight deal, there are a couple of things to look out for:
- Book directly with the airlines: Strictly speaking, this rule only applies to tickets booked directly with the airline. So it's always best to search using Google Flights, and then 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 DOT law as carriers. If you’re booking airfare 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 cancellations. Smaller ones found through Momondo and Skyscanner generally don't, so beware. It is one of the big reasons we suggest to skip the OTA and book directly with the airline if possible.
- This is an either/or rule: Airlines generally don't offer both a hold and a 24-hour cancellation window, 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. Make sure to understand your carrier's rules before booking an award ticket. Generally speaking, mileage bookings are more flexible than cash bookings.
Exceptions to the 24 Hour Rule
While the 24-hour rule is fairly encompassing, there are some important caveats. Most notably, flights booked very close to departure may not be eligible for a full refund within 24 hours of booking.
The Department of Transportation's guidelines officially says that this policy is only necessary for flights booked at least seven days before departure. But some airlines are more generous. As an example, here is how each of the major U.S. airlines approaches these last-minute bookings:
- Alaska: Must be booked at least 24 hours prior to departure.
- American: Must be booked at least two days prior to departure.
- Delta: Must be booked at least three days (or 72 hours) prior to departure.
- JetBlue: Must be booked at least a week prior to departure.
- Southwest: The 24-hour rule applies to all bookings.
- United: Must be booked at least a week prior to departure.
Be sure to read up on your airline's individual policy before buying your ticket to know whether the 24-hour cancellation window will apply.
It's also important to note that while you may not be eligible for a full refund if you change your plans more than 24 hours after booking, most airlines are now offering free cancelation for a voucher – as long as you book at least a main cabin fare. That means if you want any flexibility, you'll want to avoid basic economy.
Whether you're flying within the U.S. or heading abroad, you'll almost always have a 24-hour 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.
As we often say, “the hotter the deal, the shorter it lasts.” The 24-hour rule allows you to book now and ask questions later. 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!
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.
Does this rule apply to flights that are scheduled to leave within the 24 hour window. I recently booked a flight on Spirit, then tried to cancel it about a hour later, but they claimed that because the flight was scheduled to leave in less than 24 hours, this rule did not apply and would not refund my money. They only offered me a credit I could use in the future which had to be booked within 60 days and used within a year.
Great question. This will vary by airline but generally speaking once you hit that 24 hours before departure window, the ticket becomes non-refundable.
How does this differ from the Coronavirus cancellation policies Delta has; such as, even though my ticket is refundable, what are my options?
We’ve laid out all the specifics of Delta’s cancellation policies due to coronavirus here: https://thriftytraveler.com/delta-coronavirus-waiver-september/
TAP had a somewhat confusing web site for this 1st time user of their site. (FCO-MIA one way) I booked their economy tickets and paid for the upgraded seats … but luggage was not included. So I went back in and canceled the purchase immediately, and purchased their premium economy, which was actually slightly more expensive, but included luggage. They made me request a separate refund for each of the 4 tickets with a 10 day wait. TAP took the entire 10days, and AMEX took 2 more days to show the refund. The problem … they never refunded the $472 in seat upgrades. When I called, they said they would put the $472 in a travel bank, but would not refund it. He said I could try lodging a complaint. I lodged a complaint that took 3 days for them to decline the refund. I then went to AMEX Platinum to deny the charges. The dispute is STILL pending from the tickets purchased the first week of FEB. Estimated resolution from AMEX was APR 30th. It is still pending today May 5th.
I’m in the same boat. Did you get your money back?
I’m new to buying airline tickets. Does the 24 hr rule mean 24 hrs of buying the ticket or 24 hrs before departure day/time? Thanks.
24 hours from when you actually purchase the ticket.
I also recommend calling or emailing the US customer service line when trying to cancel a flight booked with an international airline. I recently booked with Thai Airways and had emailed customer service to cancel within 24hrs. The office was closed so I called their overseas customer service and the representative firmly stated non refundable, had transferred me to a manager who stated the same thing. At that point I thought I was stuck with the tickets.
US customer service had gotten back to my email the following day stating that per US DOT rule, they were able to void my reservation because it was within 24hrs. Always double check and triple check !!
What about international flight with stop over in another country. Is the entire trip subject to the 24-hour cancellation rule, or only the leg that touches US soil can be cancelled for free?
If any part of the itinerary touches US soil, the entire thing can be dumped within 24 hours.
Does the rule apply to all airlines that operate in the US? Do the flights have to originate in the US? If I’m flying FROM an overseas location1 to ANOTHER overseas location2 on an airlines that also operates in the US, will the 24 hour rule apply?
It only applies to flights that touch U.S. soil, regardless of the airline operating them.
Does the 24hr rule apply to non US citizens who purchase a flight on the airlines US website? Do you actually have to be in the US when you purchase the ticket to be eligible for the 24hr rule. The flight originates in the US and it’s destination is outside of the US.
As long as any part of the flight touches U.S. soil, the 24-hour rule is in effect.
Thank you. Qantas has just denied us a full refund as they are claiming we are not eligible because although the tickets were purchased on the Qantas USA website, the 24 hour cancellation policy doesn’t apply to us as we didn’t purchase the tickets in the United States.
Please comment if you have any evidence to support your previous comment. I sure hope DOT agrees with us.
I purchased a ticket through Priceline, Maui to LAX. After selecting “Basic Economy” a banner was put up that I am copying and pasting: “Free online cancellation for this flight within the next 23 hours!” I canceled my ticket within the 23 hours and they refused to refund my money. On 3 separate phone calls the explanations were the following: 1) My cancellation had to happen by Eastern Standard Time, which was 3 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time, where I made the reservation. Therefore I only had 20 hours to cancel 2) I had to make the reservation the same day as the flight, and not the day before, even though it was in the 23 hour window 3) My ticket was now suspended and I needed to contact the airline. So, I contacted the airline and they were puzzled why I was contacting them about a Priceline issue. I can still try to make reservations on Priceline from OGG to LAX, Basic Economy, and still get “Free online cancellation for this flight within the next 23 hours!” TRY IT YOURSELF!! In defense of Priceline, the agents I talked to have been very nice, but they obviously have to push the company line. I just wish they would take down that Free Online Cancellation message. I just tried Expedia–they put up the same message.
I bought a ticket from Copa and I have to call them to get the ticket since the website didn’t give me the options that I needed. However, they said that when booking over the phone, the 24-hour rule does not apply. The flight was bought in dollars, leaving from San Francisco to Brazil and back from Brazil to SF. The agent didn’t mention anything about the policy and the ticket was canceled just a few hours after the confirmation.
Copa doesn’t want to honor the refund and just wants to issue me a voucher. What can I do?