Can I cancel my flight for free within 24 hours of booking?

The 24-hour reservation requirement is something the airlines don’t want you to know about. Rulecreated by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT), requires all airlines operating flights to, from, or within the United States to provide full refunds to passengers if they cancel their flight within 24 hours of buying a ticket.

Close up of woman using smartphone to watch flights
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Under the rule, airlines must refund the full fare to the original form of payment (not via travel voucher or flight credit) if a ticket is canceled within 24 hours of purchase, even on non-refundable rates.

How can this rule save you money?

Imagine you bought a plane ticket, then the next day the airline is having a big flight sale and the price of your itinerary is now less than what you paid for. If less than 24 hours have passed since you purchased your ticket, you can simply cancel the ticket and then rebook at the lowest price without worrying about change or cancellation fees.

We recommend that you check your ticket price several times during the 24-hour period following your booking to see if fares are dropping. This strategy often pays off and you can rebook and save.

Knowing the 24-hour rule can also give you peace of mind if you see an incredibly low rate that you want to jump on. Rather than waiting for your boss’s approval for time off or your travel companion to get back to you (and potentially miss that cheap flight), you can just book the ticket, and if that doesn’t work out, cancel it within 24 hours without penalty.

If you booked a ticket quickly, you can also take advantage of the 24-hour period to double-check information on your booking (like making sure you haven’t misspelled a passenger’s name) – something airlines airlines may charge you to correct.

Important exceptions to the rule

Close-up of a person using a mobile phone with overlaid graphics of planes flying away from the screen
Nattawut Thammasak | Adobe Stock

This rule only applies if you book directly with the airline. If you book through an online travel agency like Expedia, you’ll have to follow the company’s refund policy (which isn’t usually that lenient).

Airlines may choose to offer customers the option to hold a fare for free for up to 24 hours instead of offering a refund within 24 hours. Be sure to check that the airline you are booking with does not offer this before purchasing your ticket—American airlines is the one that offers free 24-hour care. If the airline offers free hold, you can still save money by putting the fare on hold and waiting to see if the price drops within 24 days of purchasing the ticket.

This rule only applies to flights booked at least seven days before departure. You will therefore not be able to obtain a refund if you book a ticket less than a week before your flight.

How do I cancel under the 24 hour rule?

You don’t have to do anything special to get your full refund when you cancel a flight booking within 24 hours. Simply cancel your reservation as you normally would, and the airline should promptly refund your original form of payment.

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