Did you ever buy an airline ticket and then quickly realize you booked the wrong date?
If you bought a non-refundable ticket because the fares were cheaper than refundable ones, you might cringe at the thought of paying a high fee to change it. But if you made your reservation more than seven days ahead of travel and caught your mistake soon after purchase, you may be in luck.
We recently had an experience where a ticket booked late one night on United for Larry was inadvertently charged to Beverly’s credit card, although Larry had a similar airline credit card. That meant he would have to pay $25 for his first checked bag. A call the next morning to United customer service cancelled that flight, and he rebooked charging the flight to his own card. No cancel fees—and ultimately no baggage fees.
Regulations of the U.S. Department of Transportation require that, for tickets purchased more than a week in advance of flight, you’re entitled to hold your reservation and the fare and change or cancel your reservation within 24 hours of booking without paying a fee. With $200 as the typical cancellation or change fee for large carriers on domestic flights (up to $450 for some international fares), this is a significant savings.
Of course, you must act within the 24-hour window to change or cancel the reservation without penalty—keeping in mind that if you change flights, a fare difference may apply. You’ll still be required to pay for the booked airfare (always use a credit card, preferably for the airline you’re booking) and then get a refund. This applies to any airline selling airfares in the U.S.
This handy chart shows a variety of fees charged and policies of many different airlines.
|Allowing refunds keeps the skies friendly for passengers.|
A few airlines provide more flyer-friendly options. American Airlines allows you to hold your seat and the fare for 24 hours prior to payment. Of course, you must remember to actually pay for the ticket before the grace period expires. If you do pay at the time of booking rather than putting the ticket on hold, you will be expected to pay the change or cancel fee. Alaska Airlines allows free changes if made at least 60 days before travel.
Booking through third-party websites (Kayak, Ortitz, Travelocity, CheapOAir, etc.) can be more complicated. So it’s best to book directly with the airline, either online or by phone in order to take advantage of the 24-hour policy.
Other refundable situations
And then there’s the matter of involuntary refunds. If the airline refuses to carry you for any reason, your flight is delayed more than a specified amount of time (usually 2 or 3 hours, depending on airline), or the flight is cancelled you can apply for a full refund even on a non-refundable ticket. However, you do have to check in for the flight.
Also, a significant schedule change before departure might warrant a refund. That means a qualifying change in departure time (obviously more than a few minutes), longer layover, or change from a nonstop to connecting flight may be enough for you to request a refund. Always check the flight schedule before departure.
When your plans are iffy, it may be worthwhile to purchase a refundable ticket. But don’t hesitate to ask for a refund on a non-refundable ticket in the right situations.