The 24 Hour Rule: Your Free Cancellation Window Booking Flights
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The 24 Hour Rule: Your Free Cancellation Window Booking 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.

Looking into your options for canceling upcoming flights due to coronavirus? Read our guide to the airlines’ policies – and why you should wait to cancel your flight.

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.


24 hour rule
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 rule
Qatar Airways features up to 72-hour holds


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 direct 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 cancellation. 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. 


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 say 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: 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.


Bottom Line 

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!

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

6 Responses

  • 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.

    • Hi Jeff,

      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?

  • 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.

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