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As you may have noticed, lower than normal airfares come and go very quickly – often within a matter of hours. This happens so quickly that I know many families miss out on the sales because they just aren’t able to get everything in order fast enough to be able to commit to pulling the trigger on non-refundable reservations. I can relate to that dilemma completely, but the reality is that you can commit risk free in many cases to “non-refundable” tickets without having any penalties if you realize the flight won’t actually work for your family within 24 hours.
This is thanks to a Department of Transportation rule, consumers must be able to either hold an airfare reservation at the quoted fare for 24 hours without payment or be allowed to cancel a reservation within 24 hours without penalty if the reservation is made at least 7 days (168 hours) before departure. So, this 24 hour window to hold or cancel isn’t something airlines offer from the goodness of their heart – it is something they have to do in the United States. This means even notoriously fee-hungry airlines like Spirit Airlines give you the option to cancel and refund reservations penalty free in the first 24 hours.
This week I actually had to use this penalty-free cancellation option for the first time in a while when I was accidentally a week off in booking flights for Grandma to come back and
visit help out with Baby S next month. I didn’t even realize the error, but thankfully Grandma caught the error within a couple hours when I sent her the itinerary, so we were able to go online and change the United flights to the correct week without any fees or penalties because of the DOT’s 24 hour rule. We also could have simply refunded the trip if we no longer needed the flights. Had we missed the 24 hour window there would have been a very painful $200 fee to change the flights – which was almost as much as the flights cost in the first place.
It is important to note that while most airlines allow for penalty free cancellations within 24 hours, American Airlines instead takes the route of allowing you to place flights on hold for free for 24 hours. This can be super helpful if you want to purposefully hold flights while you think about it, but it also means that you don’t have the option to cancel penalty free in the event you accidentally make a mistake while purchasing the tickets the way I did earlier this week.
There are pros and cons to both approaches airlines take to meeting the DOT’s 24 hour requirement, but in both cases you really can take advantage of airfare sales that pop up even if you aren’t 100% sure of your plans at the time of purchase. I’ve seen way too many friends and family members kick themselves for missing out on things like $400 round trip tickets to Hawaii or $70 tickets to Chicago because they need to “talk to their partner first” or they need to “line up someone to watch the kids”. Yes, those are obviously very important things to do, but remember you can actually pull the trigger on the airfare first (or put the flights on hold in the case of American) and then tie up the loose ends within 24 hours.
Thankfully, you can also have 24 hours to fix your sleep deprived reservation date glitches the way I did this week as long as someone catches the error in time.
Have you ever had to use the penalty-free 24 hour refund rule?