By Julian, author of Devil’s Advocate…
I have the worst luck. It’s practically guaranteed that the moment I book an airline ticket, the price will go down immediately afterwards. It’s as if I have permanent bad airfare karma.
Just this week I experienced a textbook demonstration of this phenomenon. I needed to book a transcontinental ticket from LA to NYC and, due to appointments and work commitments, I only had a super small window of time in which I could travel. I literally needed to depart on December 21st between about 11:15pm and 1:30am on a nonstop flight that got into New York by 9am.
Yes, for those of you snickering to yourselves, December 21st is in fact 4 days before Christmas, which is what is known in airline industry parlance as the “you are doomed” travel period. So my options were not exactly overflowing and they seemed to be getting worse by the day…
I didn’t mind paying up to $250 for the one-way trip and I had a $75 United gift certificate that would take away some of the sting. But at $404 that United flight (which was actually perfect schedule-wise) wouldn’t be any better than just sucking it up and buying one of the other over-$300 options. Unsurprisingly, reasonably-priced award tickets were not available on any of the Big 3, and the JetBlue flight was pricing at 21,200 points, which would mean 26,500 if I transferred points from Amex at their 5:4 ratio.
Fortunately I did have a stash of Virgin America points, and that $310 fare equated to only about 13,700 points. With an 11:10pm departure it meant I’d have to really rush to the airport, but with enough luck I could (hopefully) make it.
Since all the other options were worse, I went ahead and booked it.
So then of course, this happens…
I know I shouldn’t do this. You’d think I would have learned. Once you’ve bought the ticket, don’t look again. But somehow I can’t resist. And needless to say…
Sigh. Of course that same perfect United flight suddenly was pricing at $280, which would be only $205 with my $75 gift certificate. But it showed up after I had already bought my award ticket. 12 hours too late. The airlines won. I was doomed.
Or was I?
As most Frequent Miler readers know, the DOT requires airlines to provide a 24 hour cancellation window or a 24 hour hold on all domestic revenue tickets purchased more than a week out. But it’s not clear whether those regulations apply to award tickets, which means at least for the moment it’s up to each airline to decide if they want to offer a free cancellation window.
Fortunately, Virgin America is one of the airlines that does.
As you can see, Virgin is willing to let you cancel an award ticket with no fee within 24 hours of purchase, and they’ll even let you do it online. All I had to do was pull up my award ticket on virginamerica.com and click Cancel Itinerary, and I was brought to this page…
And when I confirmed the cancellation, Virgin confirmed that all was well. Note the taxes were not refunded but rather put into my Virgin America “Travel Bank,” but I assume I could call and get that $5.60 fully refunded if I wanted,
A list of 24 hour award cancellation policies.
The good news is that most major airlines currently allow award tickets to be cancelled within 24 hours after booking. But it’s not universal, so I’ve gone ahead and put together a chart of the current 24 hour award cancellation policies for many of the major U.S. airlines.
IMPORTANT NOTE: In most cases, you must book your award ticket at least 7 days before departure to be eligible for these 24 hour policies.
|Airline||Award Cancellation Policy|
|Air Canada/ Aeroplan||Does NOT allow 24 hour cancellations on award tickets without a fee.|
|Alaska||Allows 24 hour cancellation of award tickets without a fee.|
|American||Does NOT allow 24 hour cancellations on either revenue or award tickets without a fee.|
|British Airways||Allows cancellation of award tickets without a fee up until 24 hours before departure (but you'll forfeit up to $55 in taxes if you cancel more than 24 hours after booking).|
|Delta||Allows 24 hour cancellation of award tickets that depart or arrive in the U.S. without a fee.|
|Frontier||Allows 24 hour cancellation of award tickets without a fee.|
|Hawaiian||Allows 24 hour cancellation of award tickets without a fee.|
|JetBlue||Allows 24 hour cancellation of award tickets without a fee.|
|Southwest||Allows cancellation of award tickets without a fee at any time.|
|Spirit||Allows 24 hour cancellation of award tickets without a fee.|
|Virgin America||Allows 24 hour cancellation of award tickets without a fee.|
|United||Allows 24 hour cancellation of award tickets without a fee.|
|Last Updated: 6/10/2016|
So even if you use miles instead of cash to book your ticket, don’t despair if you find a better deal within 24 hours. You’re not doomed. At least not until you try to get a seat assignment on Spirit without a fee.
Other Recent Posts From The “Bet You Didn’t Know” Series:
Airfare Price Predictions and More with Hopper
Doubling the Citi Dividend 5% 4th Quarter Bonus Categories
The Citibank ThankYou Business Card
Find all the “Bet You Didn’t Know” posts here.
Delta is charging me an $150 fee to redeposit the points in my account
I’m facing the same issue with Delta. Did you ever get them to waive that fee.
If a cancel a British Airways award that was booked on an Aer Lingus flight, will I get my BA miles back?
[…] in the future, as I have with my past guides on getting your application status online and the 24-hour cancellation policies for award tickets. In the meantime, for banks still living in the 20th century you can do things the old fashioned […]
Delta award ticket cancellations within 24 hours are only free on tickets that originate in the U.S. Just like their revenue ticket policy.
Thanks, I’ll add that!
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Notably absent from your list is Aeroplan, which does NOT allow you to cancel within 24 hours for free.
That’s a good one — I’ll add it. Thanks!
I once booked British Airway happened at the time when they are closed. About 24 hours later I called to cancel but they are also closed so I call when they next open and they were able to extend the 24 hours to 48 hours cancellation no problem per their policy (http://ba.com/main/BOOK-WITH-CONFIDENCE?utm_source=BaEmail&utm_medium=ServEmail&utm_campaign=BE&USDOT=OpenBagCharges)
In my experience, AA lets you hold reward tickets for much longer than 24 hours. Pretty sure I have been able to hold tickets for 5 days or more, at least when doing it over the phone (e.g. for partner airlines that aren’t bookable on aa.com).
What if you book an international award ticket with Delta, and a month later they E-Mail you saying the flight schedule has been pushed out by 4 hours from original departure time? Are you allowed to cancel and get the award points back from Delta without any change fees since it’s the airline who switched up departure schedule? I remember reading somewhere you are allowed to cancel (even for award travel) if the new schedule cannot accommodate your original plans.
Yes, when there’s a “significant” schedule change you should be able to cancel and get the points back for free. I believe Delta defines “significant” as a change of 90 minutes or more, but someone can correct me if I’m wrong on that. Either way, I’d assume a 4 hour change would qualify, so give Delta a call.
How about making free changes to an award ticket within 24 hours? This is useful for Delta in particular.
Technically the 24 hour policy only covers cancellations, but you might be able to get a Delta agent to help you out by phone (especially if there is still award availability at the same level that you originally booked since that would be equivalent to canceling and rebooking).
BA does allow free cancellation of award tickets inside 24hrs with full refund of avios and taxes. After that though…
Yep, that’s correct — see my response above to Avi.
…which is peanuts when you compare it to the ludicrous charges the big 3 charge for cancelling after 24hrs
Your BA info is misleading…BA doesn’t allow cancellations for free after the 24 hour period. There is a $55 cancelation fee and they deduct it from what you paid, so only in the instance of domestic tickets, you forfeit the taxes since that’s all you paid, but if you book an award ticket to any country that has higher taxes like Mexico etc you’ll forfeit the full $55…
You are correct — I didn’t spell that out well at all. The taxes are forfeited up to the $55 cancellation fee, so any domestic ticket would be pretty much forfeited in full but taxes above $55 would be refunded. However, within 24 hours you should still be good to go for a complete refund either way. I’ll update the chart. Thanks!
I’m pretty sure AA allows cancellations on both revenue and awards within 24 hours. I’ve done it several times in the past year. Not sure you can do it online, but you can call and they’ll refund fully. If an agent tells you otherwise HUCA because I’ve had no problem. Don’t think it would make a difference, but I don’t have elite status.
The official AA policy is that they do not allow 24 hour fee free cancellations since they maintain a 24 hour hold policy instead. It sounds like you’ve been able to get agents to help you out, which wouldn’t be unprecedented, but it does technically go against their policy. See this story for an example: http://consumerist.com/2015/06/29/all-major-u-s-airlines-offer-free-cancellations-within-24-hours-except-one/
Do you know if US Bank Flexpoint allow 24 hour cancellation?
Sorry, I don’t know as I don’t have a FlexPerks. Maybe Greg or someone else here does?
Flexperks does allow cancellation within 24 hours. But, they charge $35 for it.
AA doesn’t allow cancellations but they let you hold the ticket for 24 hours, even on awards.
I assume BA “taxes” don’t include the fake YQ fuel taxes and those are refunded.
Correct, the YQ should not count as taxes, though any “premium” departure taxes out of Heathrow would. But as per my correction to the BA entry, those would be capped at $55.