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Save money on cash flights with 24 hour cancellation policies

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Some people aren’t aware that DOT Regulations mandate that airlines give you a 24 hour period after purchase in which to cancel your ticket with no penalties. What this means is that airlines have de facto 24 hour cancellation policies. I recently used this to my advantage to save some money on a cash ticket.

The Scenario

Jess and I are going to a wedding on the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend in Los Angeles, but we both need to be back at work on Tuesday. What that means is that we need to fly back on Monday, Labor Day itself, aka one of the busiest travel days of the year. For the outbound, I tacked on a reward flight to our current Germany trip as a free one way.

Back to economy for us
Back to economy for us

So I was only looking for a return flight. Although I have kept an eye on award tickets, unless the price was extravagant, I was going to limit myself mostly to cash (which I ended up doing). We also were leaning towards nonstop flights and wanted to avoid redeyes, although we were willing to forego those conditions for the right price.

Using American Airlines’ 24 hour hold policy

My original goal was to book one way flights on American Airlines. I have some e-certificates that I bought and was reimbursed for using the American Express Platinum Card’s airline benefit. To comply with the DOT regulations, AA allows you to place a ticket on hold for 24 hours before you purchase it, essentially locking in the price for a day.

I’ve been monitoring airfares over the last two months using Kayak, and there were a couple of one connection flights on AA that were close to $200 (which is the bar I mentally set for myself). Supposedly the lowest fares are generally around the 6-8 week mark, so I knew my best chance at a low fare would be on this trip.

The 24 hour hold is a great thing
The 24 hour hold is a great thing (click to enlarge)

Using the AA 24 hour hold is simple, you just go through like a normal booking and when it comes time to pick your payment option just select “24 hour hold.” It’s that simple. I put a couple of fares on hold over the last two weeks but for one reason or another never pulled the trigger. That ended up working out. Two things worth noting:

– Generally AA says that the hold is good until midnight Pacific time the next day (at least that’s the message I was getting)

– Once you buy the ticket, all cancellation fees are in effect. The 24 hour hold is in place of free cancellation. So don’t get that twisted.

Utilizing Delta’s 24 Hour Free Cancellation Policy

I never ended up pulling the trigger with AA and the prices started rising so I felt like I had lost out. But then last night I saw Delta had a fare for $249 per person, nonstop. At this point, flying home nonstop and getting home on time had become more important to us, so I pulled the trigger.

Canceling on Delta is super simple
Canceling on Delta is super simple (click to enlarge)

What then happened was I woke up this morning and saw Delta had the same flight for $208! Instead of shaking my fist at the sky, I just calmly pulled up my reservation on, cancelled it, and rebooked with the lower fare. So I saved $82 in just a few clicks.

Why did that work? Because Delta allows you to cancel for free for 24 hours. So in the end, I saved a bunch of money, get to fly nonstop, and finally got to redeem my points from my Barclaycard Arrival Plus World MasterCard®. Huzzah.

24 hour Cancellation Policies can save you money

Hopefully my experience illustrates how some due diligence and knowing of the rules can save you some money. Obviously I just lucked out that Delta dropped the fare overnight (and I’m sure there’s some fare matching thing I could have done but it was just easier to cancel and rebook). But still, 24 hour cancellation policies can take a little bit of the sting out of the airfare guessing game.

Here are the policies of some of the major US airlines. Note these policies only apply to itineraries booked directly through the airline:

Alaska – free 24 hour cancellation

American – 24 hour HOLD before purchase

Delta – free 24 hour cancellation

Jetblue – free 24 hour cancellation (unless flight booked less than 7 days before departure)

Southwest – no change fees as far as I can tell, though does not apply for international travel

United – free 24 hour cancellation

US Airways – free 24 hour cancellation

Virgin America – can hold for 24 hours or free 24 hour cancellation

Final Thoughts

Don’t forget you have 24 hours to cancel a bad booking. Not only can this save you money on travel you have to take, it can also save money if you bought a flight impulsively! Or something. For me personally, it’s always nice to know I have that safety net. Happy flying!

Purchasing the second ticket may or may not have triggered a little mini-app-o-rama too...
Purchasing the second ticket may or may not have triggered a little mini-app-o-rama too…
Just an average joe trying to fly his family for less

2 thoughts on “Save money on cash flights with 24 hour cancellation policies

  1. Some of these policies may carry over to tickets that originate outside the U.S., but the DOT policy does not address that. If you’re booking a ticket that with the first flight from a non-U.S. airport, double-check the cancellation policy!

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