24 Hour Cancellation Policies for Major U.S. Airlines

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The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires US airlines to allow travelers the opportunity to hold, change, or cancel an airline ticket during the 24-hour period immediately following the booking of a flight without penalty. They require airlines to provide a full refund in the original form of payment should a traveler wish to cancel their ticket as long as the reservation has been made seven days or more prior to the flight’s scheduled departure time.

U.S. Department of Transportation

However, each airline adheres to these laws in their own manner as the DOT doesn't provide strict requirements but rather general guidance. Since there is no defined standard, it’s critical to know the nuances of the different policies.

24-Hour Cancellation Policies

  • American Airlines

American Airlines offers a 24-hour hold option that actually expires the following day at 11:59 PM CT. This means if you book a ticket in the morning, then the hold will last much longer than 24 hours. These holds are available for flights departing at least seven days later. However, American allows free cancellation within 24 hours of booking for both revenue and award tickets for flights within two days of departure.

  • United Airlines

United Airlines allows free changes or cancellations within 24 hours of booking which begins at the time of purchase. United also offers a paid hold option called FareLock. These holds range in price depending on the fare and can last three or seven days. Additionally, Basic Economy fares are not eligible for changes within 24 hours, but they still qualify for full refunds if canceled within that time frame. This holds true as long as the purchase took place at least one week prior to departure.

  • Delta Air Lines

Delta issues full refunds for tickets purchased directly with them and canceled by midnight of the day after purchase or midnight of the departure date of the first flight—whichever comes first. This policy also applies to award tickets. However, Delta does not permit changes to award tickets within 72 hours of departure free of charge.

  • Alaska Airlines

Alaska is quite generous with their policy by allowing free changes and cancellations if made at least 60 days prior to departure. Alaska also offers free changes on revenue tickets for flights wholly within the state of Alaska.

  • Southwest Airlines

Of course, Southwest is notorious for letting travelers make free changes or cancellations at least 10 minutes prior to departure. The caveat is that canceling more than 24 hours after booking means that travelers are issued a full credit for future travel. Those credits must be used within the following year of the original reservation. The only additional payment is if there is a difference in fare.

  • JetBlue

JetBlue permits cancellation without penalty up to 24 hours after booking if the reservation is made at least one week prior to departure. This type of cancellation refunds the entire fare to the original form of payment. However, much like Southwest, canceling anytime after 24 hours of booking results in a refund of JetBlue credit only. Any “no show” without cancellation prior to departure will result in forfeiture of the money.

Online Travel Agency 24-Hour Policies

Online Travel Agencies function with their own rules, but must also adhere to the fare rules, policies, and fees of the designated airlines. Here are two examples:

  • Priceline

Priceline specifically operates within business days when it concerns their cancellation policy. After purchasing a ticket you can cancel it free of charge until 11:29 PM ET the next business day. Booking through Priceline on a Friday is advantageous because you can cancel the ticket without penalty until 11:29 PM ET on the following Monday.

This is an extremely generous policy and a favorite. Booking through Priceline is a great way to get extended cancellation terms on a flight booking. You'll see the exact cancellation terms offered on a booked ticket on the final page before completing the purchase.

However, this policy does not apply to Name Your Own Price, Frontier, or Spirit airfares. As unsettling as it is, you must call after booking to get the precise cancellation deadline for Frontier and Spirit tickets.

  • Orbitz

Orbitz also offers a 24-hour cancellation policy which permits cancellations until 10 or 11 PM the next day. Individual tickets may vary depending on fare rules and if purchased for a low-cost carrier flight. The best way to determine the terms of a ticket is to go My Trips, login, find your itinerary, and click “Policies and Terms.”

However, if you plan to take advantage of this, do it prior to Orbitz’s customer service call center closing at 6 PM Pacific Time. Reports indicate their web cancellation portal only operates during their customer service hours. So you can’t do it yourself at that point or speak with a representative. Prevent an unnecessary panic attack and, if possible, plan to cancel well before the advertised deadline.

Final Thoughts

As you can see each airline demonstrates their own interpretations of the US Department of Transportation’s requirements. In previous years it seemed all but impossible to make changes to travel itineraries without paying for expensive premium cabin fares. Armed with this information, you can protect your wallets and holidays by leveraging these policies in your favor.

When it comes time to book, make sure you've pulled the right card out of your wallet for the ticket purchase, and don't forget to check for additional points you can rack up through a double dip of an online shopping portal — especially if you're using an OTA.

24 Hour Cancellation Policies for Major U.S. Airlines
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Comments

  • Joshua Shuttlesworth says:

    I wish more airlines adopted the SW policy.

  • Does the 24 hours start from payment or time the ticket is held?

  • Thanks for the different airlines policies on the matter, good to know each individually.

  • Good to have this information to keep, a few times we have had to cancel and must admit did not know the airlines terms on this.

  • So is airlines like Frontier operating illegally?

    • No, they are not. Why would you think they are? We actually don’t cover the ULCCs (Ultra Low-Cost Carriers) Frontier/Spirit — sure they get a mention in the Priceline policy, but that has nothing to do with the airline policy when booking directly.

  • Here’s to Alaska for their generous cancellation policy!

  • Thanks for this. An interesting read. Priceline’s policy is a good one to remember!

  • This is one of the few instances where Americans have greater purchase protections than in the EU.

  • Nice to be reminded of our options

  • Logan Fisher says:

    I’ve taken advantage of these 24-hour policies. It’s funny how they charge your credit card almost instantly but take 10 days to issue the refund.

  • Thanks. Does the JetBlue policy mean I can cancel up to the last minute and still get a full credit. And does this mean a refund if reserved with miles?

  • A very useful summary, thanks.

  • Byron Dubow says:

    Had some problems with Travelocity last night attempting to cancel an American Airlines reservation. Through the Travelocity site it would only offer me travel credit (which would then get dinged with a $200 fee when I went to apply the travel credit to future AA reservations). I had to call AA directly, cancel my ticket, then call Travelocity to request a refund. Wasted about an hour, with zero explanation from Travelocity.

    • Charles Janay says:

      I’d leave the ‘hold’ on speakerphone when I can at work (and, probably have someone call me on the other line just before they answer, to screw it up). But, at least you got it’

  • Does this apply for foreign airlines as well?

    • The referenced documentation on the DOTs website spells out the specifics – I’d recommend you check with your particular carrier to figure out their exact policy implementation.

  • Good reference.

    However I wish people didn’t assume that, by booking from the US, that every airline in the world is required to offer 24-hour cancellation, even though the flights don’t touch the US…

  • I often book through American Express to take advantage of get 5X MR points and the pay-with-points option (which then gives me 35% of my points back because of having the Business Platinum Card). I have been told by an American Express Agent that they give until 2359 the next day for cancellation and full refund. Reading this article, I’m wondering now if the agent was just quoting me American’s policy (since I was probably booking an AA Flight) and it would be different for other airlines. I’ll have to clarify next time I talk to them. Thanks for the info.

  • Good thorough information to have. Thanks.

  • A lot of evaluation to do to take the best offer.
    I think Priceline rule is easy to understand and not bad at all.

  • The_Bouncer says:

    I wish these policies existed in Europe.

  • Great reference!

  • Good to know. I’ll have to make sure to read the rules whenever I book. I don’t know if I’ll remember this post. Or maybe I should be looking up things here first and cross ref it with what I read just to see if I can understand it fully. I know things change but, of course, anything on the travel agent or airline website would be in legal terms.

  • Bertrand Say says:

    Good to know and Southwest has the most customer friendly policy among all US airlines.

  • Love Southwest!

  • Thanks for organizing this concisely and all in one place. Great for future reference.

  • Back in the days i had a medical situation and wasn’t able to fly – i contacted United with the documents, but they said “no refund” – my transatlantic-trip by Lufthansa was cancelled without any problems, but the inner-us-trip with United they didn’t give me any cent back – kind of strange, this was..

    • I’ve had exactly the opposite experience multiple times this year with United. Documentation provided, fees refunded. The flight wasn’t refunded, it was saved as a credit, but they waived all the fees.

  • Does this work for any ticket booked with a US airline – such as a BA operated codeshare booked through AA website?

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