I’m sure a lot of you know what I’m going to share with you today–but for those who don’t today’s post is going to be very important. We’ll be talking about the different airline’s 24 hour cancellation/hold policies. I haven’t written about it before, so for completeness I wanted to put together this post.

The DOT Rule we’ll be discussing states:

“…passengers will be able to hold a reservation without payment, or cancel a booking without penalty, for 24 hours after the reservation is made, if they make the reservation one week or more prior to a flight’s departure date.” Source: DOT Briefing Room.

For additional information see the document “Guidance on the 24-hour reservation requirement

The protection is there for you, the consumer, to hold or refund a ticket without a penalty for up to 24 hours.  The only exception to this is if the flight is booked less than 7 days from departure date.  We’ll analyze this rule, and then go over the wording and policies of a few airlines, and finally get really risky/creative with the rule.

Hold or Cancel-The Difference is Important

You’ll want to ensure you’re booking with an airline that allows cancellations, not holds. American Airlines is the only one of the big players to have a hold option rather than a 24 hour cancel option:

AA Hold Screen

I don’t personally have a problem with this distinction–and the hold is nice in that it doesn’t cost you anything or mean you have to check to make sure you’re refunded.  However, booking and paying for an AA flight means you’ve committed to that ticket–and are now subject to the cancellation policy of the ticket.

The rule only states that you need to be able to hold or cancel, not both. By allowing the hold AA has fulfilled its obligation under the rule.  Your choice to not take the hold was declining your protection under the rule.  Ensure the airline you’re booking with offers a Cancel or a Hold policy, and craft your booking based on that.

Airline by Airline Policies

This is by no means an Exhaustive list–but it does cover many major carriers for domestic travel.  For anyone else, Google “[Airline name] 24 hour cancellation Policy” and see if they’re a Hold or Cancel Airline.  For the most part instituting a hold system seems to be the exception, but knowing that before you book is important. I’ve included actual text here for historical purposes, and in case the wording is changed in the future:

Airtran:“All bookings completed through AirTran Airways’ reservations or airtran.com will not be held without payment. Reservations may be cancelled without penalty within 24 hours after the reservation is made if the reservation is made one week or more prior to a flight’s departure.” Source: www.airtran.com

Alaska:“Reservations made via alaskaair.com or through one of our reservation call centers or airport locations require immediate purchase. Customers holding immediate-purchase travel will have the flexibility to make one change to wholly unused tickets within 24 hours of original date of purchase without incurring applicable change fees. Any applicable increase in fare still applies. Or if you prefer, you may elect to cancel your immediate-purchase travel itinerary within 24 hours of purchase, we will refund your wholly unused ticket back to the original form of payment.” Source:www.alaskaair.com.

Allegiant Air: “This travel itinerary may be canceled within 24 hours of purchase for a full refund, as long as your scheduled flight departure date is at least one week (168 hours) away at time of booking.” Source: www.alegiantair.com

American Airlines: “When you make a reservation on aa.com for American Airlines flights (including American Airlines flights operated by codeshare partners) aa.com allows you to place it on hold. aa.com will reserve it for you for 24 hours (and some international flights up to 72 hours.)” Source:www.aa.com

Delta:“Once you’ve bought a qualifying eTicket, you have a day to cancel it for any reason and receive a full refund—including any prepaid fees and Direct Ticketing Charges—with no cancellation fee.” And, “Cancellation request must be made by midnight of the day after the eTicket is purchased or midnight of the departure date of the first flight, whichever comes first. Available only for eTickets purchased at the time of reservation through Delta ticket offices and airport ticket counters, Reservation Sales, or at delta.com.” Source:www.delta.com

jetBlue:“Customers will have 24 hours from the time of their original booking to cancel their reservation without being charged a cancellation fee if travel was booked seven (7) days or more prior to the departure date (not applicable for Getaways reservations). Bookings that have been changed are not eligible for a credit card refund and are subject to a cancellation fee, regardless of being within 24 hours of the original booking.” Source: www.jetblue.com.

Southwest: “A reservation, once booked and confirmed by purchasing your ticket(s), means that we are holding space for you on the specific flight(s) shown on your ticket or Ticketless Travel Passenger Itinerary and Receipt.

We will allow you to cancel those reservations and/or tickets without penalty if you call or cancel online at southwest.com within 24 hours. A refund will then be processed to the form of payment of the ticket purchase.” Source: www.southwest.com

Spirit Airlines: The wording is hard to copy/paste, so I took a screenshot instead:

Spirit 24 hr

Source:www.spirit.com

United:“United’s 24-hour flexible booking policy allows the flexibility to make changes to your reservations within 24 hours of purchasing your ticket, without incurring change fees. This includes canceling your reservation and requesting a 100% refund of the ticket price.” Source:www.united.com

US Airways:“You’re allowed to cancel your refundable or non-refundable ticket for a full refund (and no change fees and/or difference in fare) within 24 hours of booking.” Rules: You must call 800-428-4322 (800-245-2966 TTY) within 24 hours of purchase to cancel the reservation and request a refund. The reservation must have been booked at least 7 days before scheduled departure. This policy does not apply to Dividend Miles award tickets. Refunds are only issued for tickets booked on usairways.com or with US Airways Reservations.” Source: www.usairways.com

Virgin America:“We are pleased to hold your itinerary for 24 hours when booking through our reservations call center. Regardless of the booking method, if you purchase a ticket and need to cancel within 24 hours of the original purchase, a full refund will be provided in your original form of payment without penalty.” Source: www.virginamerica.com

As you can see the wording is not consistent  with some policies being much more lenient, and others sticking to exactly the letter of the law, such as Allegiant’s exact 168 hour window.  On the other end of the spectrum is Virgin America, seeming to allow a Hold and a 24 hour cancellation window. It is also interesting that so many airlines (Alaska, American, Delta, Southwest, United and Virgin America) have no mention of the 7 day window that is in the rule. US Airways specifically mentions award tickets are not included, which is very Grinch-worthy of them.

Mistake Fares: Book Now, Sort Them Out Later

The 24 hour Cancellation policy of airlines can really be useful when booking mistake fares. Let’s use today’s Delta Mistake fares for an example; Flights were booking at insane prices; EWR-LAX for $23, or $80 in First, flights to HNL for $69 from the east cost.  These are now long since dead, but Delta has said they will honor any fares ticketed at these sale prices. Imagine being the guy/gal at Delta who has to call their boss on the day after Christmas and explain what happened?

The point is–when mistake fares happen book those flights, and sort them out later–using your consumer protections and the 24 hour rule to

The Fight Isn’t a Fair One

On our side we have all the technology in the world focused on finding and publicizing cheap mistake fares.  We have a rule backing us,  the consumer, forbidding almost any changes/cancellations by the airlines.  In just a few minutes Millions of Dollars can be lost by mistake fares like these–and the Airlines have little recourse.

The 24 hour rule should be kept in mind for flights like these; as long as you’re booking 1 week or more out, and the airline has a Cancel (not a hold) policy, always book now, and ask questions later.

Caution: Sometimes these mistake fares rely on your booking with a foreign/independent travel site. The 24 hour Rule is not always followed by foreign websites, and can only be guaranteed when booking direct from carriers.  Foreign sites often have more restrictive refund policies. Know the policy before you book. I’d still argue the 24 hour rule (since you booked in the US, and are located in the US), and mention a DOT complaint if you receive any resistance.  (HT: MLH)

Larger sites like Travelocity and such have their own 24 hour cancellation policy spelled out online:

Travelocity 24 hr cancel

Take a moment to check for the policy of the sites you use. Mistake fares happen fast–so sometimes you’ll just have to risk it, and then sort it out later.

Booking mistake fares is another great reason why having a solid demand schedule is important: You could knock off a ton of flights you know you’ll be taking in one fell swoop with a good mistake booking.

Not sure of dates you’ll be needing to fly somewhere? Book three different tickets, and cancel 2 within 24 hours.

Not sure if you’ll be able to line up a Hotel? Book and sort that out in the next 24 hours.

The basics are that the 24 hour Cancellation Rule allows you flexibility, use it as a tool for your bookings when you need to act first, and think later.

Extreme Use of the 24 Hour Rule

I’ve included this section for academic reasons–I wouldn’t suggest doing any of the following:

Notably missing from the wording on Alaska, American, Delta, Southwest, United and Virgin America is any discussion of the 7 day window.  Could you cancel and refund a flight booked less than 7 days away, but still within 24 hours of purchase from these airlines?  Possibly.  This would bring up interesting opportunities for last minute travel–at least on these airlines.  It could also end with you having to take the airline to small claims court–or fight it out with your credit card issuer.

And for the very Extreme: A friend of mine continually re-books his flights every day just before 24 hours, cancelling his previous reservation and keeping an eye out for fare reductions.  That’s far too much work for me–but then again I didn’t pay cash for any flights this year.  He swears it has saved him hundreds when a fare sale gets announced, but I swear he’s wasted thousands of dollars worth of his time, and I’m sure the Airlines are not big fans of his. Whats Your Take?

My Small Christmas Bonus

And Finally, a story to warm your heart—and my wallet this Christmas:

I shared on Twitter that I lost my License last month at LAX. I knew it slipped out somewhere, but LAX lost and found and the airline both said nothing was turned in.  Then, in the mail on Christmas Eve I received a small envelope. In it was my License, and a small note saying I left it in Terminal 5.

I don’t have a return address, or even a last name. I do know it was mailed from Los Angeles, so I have some extra pride in honesty for my fair city.  All I do know is the fellow’s name, Derrick. So, thank you Derrick your kindness really made my day.

Merry Christmas to all who Celebrate, and Happy Boxing Day to our Canadian neighbours to the North.


Everything below this line is automatically inserted into this post and is not necessarily endorsed by Milenomics:

– Written by Sam Simon. All ideas are my own, but I encourage you to see my point of view and I promise I’ll try to do the same. Connect with me on Twitter @Milenomics.

18 thoughts on “Airline 24 Hour Cancellation Policies, Tips and Tricks

  1. (first off, yay Derrick!!)

    i just thought i’d share my favorite 24-hour cancellation use — a couple years ago my parents were visiting China and wanted me to come along, but i couldn’t due to work. at the last minute, i was able to, so i went to the consulate in SF the day before departure to drop off my passport, to be picked up the morning of departure. that night i booked my flight (a pretty decent fare, mind you).

    jump to the next morning; i get my passport back, only it’s not mine, but i don’t discover this until i’m well on my way to the airport. it was too late to return to the consulate and still make the flight, and they were out on lunch anyways. long story short, i pulled over to a starbucks and canceled my flight for free thanks to the rule and booked a new one for that night (luckily only like $100 more), which i made.

    (we won’t get into the additional twist that i was identity thefted overnight before my departure and had a negative checking account balance…luckily i was meeting my parents!)

    • Wow, that’s quite a story, sounds like a moderately happy ending though. 😉 To be clear; the Identity theft wasn’t because of the passport mix-up, was it?

  2. I use the 24 hour rule all the time at work for my business travels. Quite handy!

    I also use it for United and Delta award tickets. In practice they allow free changes for 24 hours. I have been able to get better routings or upgrade economy segments due to space changing over night.

    Always check your award bookings with them the next day!

    Also, I got in on the Delta bonanza today and got 2 flights booked: ATL-SEA-ATL for $37 each for 2 trips. One of which is the FTU in April! #score

    Glad to hear you got the license back. I snagged an upgrade on Airtran last night by giving the FA’s on my Air Tran flight each a $1 box of chocolates. From middle seat in the back to the front with free drinks. I wasn’t expecting anything from my gift. They were flying on Christmas and I wanted a small way to thank them. My upgrade was a nice little gift!

    • All Excellent tips Robert, thanks for Posting these. I’ll be double checking my bookings from now on to try to take advantage of the 24 hr rule for better connections and such.

      Incredible BYOE move with the box of chocolates 😉 And +1 for the Delta scores–I missed them by 15 minutes–that’s what I get for doing real work at the job for 2 hours this morning.

  3. I’m kicking myself for not finding out about the Delta mistake fares until after it was long over. It seems like it takes an extreme amount of luck to be able to get in on these deals right when they come. After missing out on the United mistake fares from a month or 2 ago, I was equally disappointed. Do you have any tips for catching these?

    • Brandon: I missed them too. You can’t always be at the right place at the right time. : Some tips would be to stay active on Twitter–usually these things get tweeted by someone. If you don’t already follow @theflightdeal, and @airfarewatchdog, follow them both. You could also keep an eye on the flyertalk Mileage Run forum: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/mileage-run-deals-372/. And when another mistake fare comes up–book first and ask questions later.

  4. Got in on the DL deal today (won’t need to worry about the Avios & AA award booking i’ve been hassling you about). Booked some with DL.com then switched over to ebooking.com when DL shut down.
    The 24-hr policy has me a little worried though. I booked 4 iterations of 1 trip (didn’t know when the wife would want to go), so I need to cancel 3 reservations. 1 was made with DL.com (already cancelled – agent noted they were mistake fares), and 2 were made with ebooking.com. Haven’t been able to reach ebooking yet – have to call them in the UK tomorrow. Hoping they’ll go with the 24-hr policy.

    • MLH: Good to hear you took care of some of your flight demand with the mistake booking. As for the ebooking issue–please update me, I’ll be interested to know what they do/say when you push back with the 24 hr rule. I’ve read that some sites had initially tried to assess a cancellation fee, but folded pretty quick. Would be nice to know how ebooking handles it.

      On a somewhat unrelated note: Just this morning my Avios booking (on AA metal) became eligible for cancellation–and it was just the $2.50 per person that we discussed last week. For the first 4 days no cancellation was even allowed. I didn’t cancel, but I can personally verify that $2.50 per person online fee is correct (for AA Flights).

      • The problem I and others are running in to now is ebooking has their own cancellation policy that doesn’t conform with the US DOT’s 24-hr policy. They’ve stated that no full refunds can be given after 2300GMT (about 5 hrs after the deal ended), and the refunds they have offered are miniscule.
        Someone in the FT thread posted a link to a DOT release where I found this:
        “Does the requirement to allow a consumer to hold a reservation without payment or cancel without penalty for 24 hours apply to ticket agents?
        No. This requirement stems from the customer service plans covered carriers are required to follow and does not apply to ticket agents, although to maintain equivalent customer service levels agents may wish to apply the same or similar procedures.”
        So the book first, ask questions later suggestion should really only be used with carrier’s websites or OTAs with cancellation policy you’re familiar with.
        As it stands right now, I’ve got $900 in bookings I’m trying to cancel with ebookings. Looked at in totality, the mistake fare will still be a winner for me, but I want that $900 back!

        • MLH: Worrisome to say the least. DOT complaint and CC chargeback are two backstops you might want to reference if they want to play hardball. I’ll also update the post as well with a bit more wording about using caution in the section on OTAs.

  5. “Just this morning my Avios booking (on AA metal) became eligible for cancellation–and it was just the $2.50 per person that we discussed last week. For the first 4 days no cancellation was even allowed. I didn’t cancel, but I can personally verify that $2.50 per person online fee is correct (for AA Flights).”

    Could you explain this a little more? Why would a flight only become eligible for cancelling on the fifth day? A schedule change? Why couldn’t you cancel before that? Thanks!

    • Elaine: I should have worded that a bit differently–prior to yesterday when I went to cancel online it told me there was a problem and to cancel I Had to call in. Yesterday the online cancellation feature worked for the first time. I do not know if that was delayed due to BA site issues (they had some troubles the last few days), or there is a cooling off period. I rarely cancel flights I book, so I did it mostly because MLH had asked for more input on this: http://boardingarea.com/dealswelike/2013/02/27/cancelling-flights-booked-with-avios/ Which I’ve now confirmed is in fact true (for AA flights).

      And finally, Welcome back Elaine 🙂

      • Thanks and thanks, for the answer and the welcome!

        To date I have no Avios and no SW points. As I contemplate my next churn – for which I am overdue but things were too hectic and I really have to get myself psyched to do a churn day – I am thinking it best to go for a first-year-fee-waived CSP rather than a BA or SW card which are also Chase but do not waive the fee the first year. I just downgraded my husband’s CSP to a plain vanilla Sapphire card, with the thinking I’d get one for me for the next year’s use.

        The difficulty is that I am having a hard time doing our demand schedule as my husband – the working half of our household – can’t really think ahead much more than one trip… partly because he can’t predict his work demands but mostly because he is too preoccupied by the present to wrap his head around a trip that would be a year or more away.

        So it seems the UR points will be most flexible for us, and they will come with no annual fees. Do you agree with this as a strategy? Or would you suggest another approach? I also plan to get a few straight cash back cards during the churn, because they offer a flexibilty that is helpful. Thanks for any advice you can offer!

        Happy new year!

        • Elaine: With the difficulty of not knowing where/when you’ll use the miles UR would be better than a SW/BA card. The Southwest Annual fee is only really useful if you’re going to try for a companion pass.

          Don’t forget that Amex Gold/Platinum also earn MR which turn into avios as well as a host of other airline miles. May wish to consider that for BA and the CSP for Southwest flights. And Cash back cards are also great help, so definitely go for those. There’s no bonus with it–but the Fidelety Amex is the best cash back card out there, I highly recommend it.

          • Thanks for your advice. I am glad to have your confirmation that I am taking the correct approach.

            As for MR, the fact is I have none of those and know little about them, except that sometimes there are offers which make transferring MR points more valuable. I figured once I maxed out on other kinds of cards I would look into MR earning ones. But perhaps I should look into MR sooner.

            I was also kind of waiting for a spectacular promo – since I have been doing this, there was one 100,000 MR offer, but I was uneasy about making the spend at the time with the other spends I had going. Since I only do a limited amount of MS, and our point needs are less than many others, I find going slowly is better for me.

            As for the Fidelity card, I agree it is a great one. Matt of Saverocity introduced me to it, and as I consider which cashback cards to go for, I will definitely look at it again.

            By the way, our stay at the Downtown Grand in Las Vegas was lovely. And all five days were BRGs – the first was free and the subsequent ones were just $31!! They waived the resort fee unasked and upgraded us from a deluxe to a premium room. I would definitely go back.

            I found it by checking a website that listed successful BRGs and that is an approach I will use again. The upgrade came probably because once I knew we’d be staying there, I did a status match which gave me Platinum Status, and I mentioned that it was a delayed celebration of our anniversary. (Hey, my husband is always busy with semester-ending work on our anniversary, so this really isn’t an untruth!) All in all, we were delighted with the hotel.

            Thanks again for your help and advice. I look forward to more Milenomics in 2014!

            • MR Transfer bonuses have been much better in the past–so we’ll see if they continue the downward trend next year or reverse and get better. MR are super powerful points to have; you’re right though, the current offers for the PRG and Platinum cards are “ehhh” at best. Should one come around that is worthwhile do consider it, but for now you may be right to focus on other cards.

              The Downtown Grand BRG you pulled out sounds like a steal! And a great upgrade over the Excalibur. Good Job! I’m a huge fan of BRGs, hotel dicount codes, Pricline, basicially anything to drop that cost per night at hotels. BRG sites are a great resource, your booking is proof positive of that.

              Happy New Year as well–May 2014 exceed 2013 in all possible ways for you and your family Elaine. Thanks for the continued Support.

              • You too, Sam! I hope our paths cross in 2014 but even if not, I will continue to see you right here! Happy new year to you and yours! May it bring good health and smooth travels to wherever you want to be!

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