Bet You Didn’t Know: 24 Hour Cancellation Policies For Award Tickets

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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.

award cancellation
Maybe the airlines know that in a previous life I was a serial hidden-city throwaway ticket buyer.

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…

award cancellation

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…

award ticket cancellation

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.

award cancellation

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…

award cancellation

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,

award cancellation

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.

AirlineAward Cancellation Policy
Air Canada/ AeroplanDoes NOT allow 24 hour cancellations on award tickets without a fee.
AlaskaAllows 24 hour cancellation of award tickets without a fee.
AmericanDoes NOT allow 24 hour cancellations on either revenue or award tickets without a fee.
British AirwaysAllows 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).
DeltaAllows 24 hour cancellation of award tickets that depart or arrive in the U.S. without a fee.
FrontierAllows 24 hour cancellation of award tickets without a fee.
HawaiianAllows 24 hour cancellation of award tickets without a fee.
JetBlueAllows 24 hour cancellation of award tickets without a fee.
SouthwestAllows cancellation of award tickets without a fee at any time.
SpiritAllows 24 hour cancellation of award tickets without a fee.
Virgin AmericaAllows 24 hour cancellation of award tickets without a fee.
UnitedAllows 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.

Did you know the airlines 24 hour award ticket cancellation policies?

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