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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.
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 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 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 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.
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.
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