Risk-Free Cancellation Policy: A Comparison Between Airlines

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Commercial airlines based in the United States typically have a policy where you may cancel your flight reservation within 24 hours after you book it — from the time that a ticket was booked if the reservation is greater than seven days in advance, regardless of how restrictive is the terms of the airfare — with no penalty whatsoever, as a result of the guidelines pertaining to the protection of the consumer of commercial aviation which were set forth from the Office of the Secretary of the Department of Transportation of the United States on Friday, May 31, 2013.

Additionally, reservations must be held at the quoted price of the total airfare for 24 hours without cancellation or an increase in the price of the airfare.

This means that you have an opportunity to be able to change your mind about flight plans within 24 hours of initially booking your flight without having to pay any fees — but how do the polices of the airlines compare; and which ones have the better policies for your travel plans?

Listed below in alphabetical order are commercial airlines based in the United States, with links to their respective official policies for your convenience.

Alaska Airlines

Although reservations require immediate purchase, you may implement one change to wholly unused tickets within 24 hours of original date of purchase without incurring applicable change fees. Any applicable increase in fare still applies.

You may also elect to cancel your immediate-purchase travel itinerary within 24 hours of purchase; and you will be refunded your wholly unused ticket back to the original form of payment.

Allegiant Air

Qualifying itineraries — whatever that means — can be cancelled without penalty within 24 hours of booking, provided the scheduled time of departure was at least seven days away at time of booking. Otherwise, all purchases of travel, hotel, auto, activities or services, baggage and seat fees, related booking fees, carrier charges, and taxes are non-refundable.

You have the option to take advantage of its Trip Flex service, where you may you hold, change or cancel your reserved fare — as well as any package deals you may have purchased — for a fee, which is not refundable.

Details of refund policies are found in the section for frequently-asked questions; as well as the terms and conditions.

American Airlines

You can hold a reservation for up to 24 hours free of charge; and as long as you purchase your ticket before the hold expires, the price will be guaranteed even if the cost of the airfare increases. Unlike other airlines, no money is required from you to hold a reservation.

Additionally, you may also choose to hold a reservation for up to a maximum of seven days, starting at a cost of five dollars.

However, there is no risk-free cancellation policy of up to 24 hours; although this discussion launched by AAEXPmember pertains to the supposed elimination of the cancellation window of 24 hours.

According to this article posted at The Flight Deal, there is a caveat about which you should know: “if you HOLD multiple reservations with the same dates, American will run a sweep at midnight and cancel them all. To avoid such a situation, HOLD the reservations without being logged in on the AA.com site.”

Delta Air Lines

If you purchase a ticket from Delta Air Lines, you technically have 24 hours to cancel your reservation without penalty for virtually all electronic tickets; and you will receive a refund in your original form of payment…

…but Delta Air Lines has a rather generous risk-free cancellation policy:

Cancellation request must be made by midnight of the day after the eTicket is purchased or midnight of the departure date of the first flight, whichever comes first. Available only for eTickets purchased at the time of reservation through Delta ticket offices and airport ticket counters, Reservation Sales, or at delta.com.

The part of the policy — displayed in bold type for emphasis — means that if you book an airfare one minute after midnight, you could extend that risk-free cancellation period of 24 hours to as many as 47 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds.

The risk-free cancellation for itineraries originating outside the United States, the United States Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico or Canada cannot be completed via the Internet. You must place a telephone call instead.

Unlike American Airlines, Delta Air Lines does not offer the ability to hold a fare without payment; but refunds are rather quick and easy to implement. You may not see the refund reflected back in your credit card account for a day or two, however.

Frontier Airlines

Except for tickets purchased for travel within seven days, all tickets may be cancelled for a full refund up to 24 hours after the time of purchase.

Hawaiian Airlines

Part of the Customer Service Plan of Hawaiian Airlines is to allow you to cancel reservations booked a minimum of seven days prior to departure without penalty if requested within 24 hours of purchase.

JetBlue Airways

JetBlue Airways offers a risk-free cancellation policy of up to 24 hours if travel was booked at a minimum of seven days before the departure date.

Be aware, however, that bookings which have been changed are not eligible for a credit card refund and are subject to a cancellation fee, regardless of being within 24 hours of the original booking.

Southwest Airlines

If you cancel your ticket within 24 hours of booking it, Southwest Airlines will offer you your choice of two options:

  1. Refunding the airfare back to the original form of payment, or
  2. Retaining the credit to be used toward future travel

Spirit Airlines

Yes, even Spirit Airlines offers a risk-free cancellation policy of up to 24 hours if travel was booked at a minimum of seven days before the departure date.

Sun Country Airlines

Sun Country Airlines will permit you to cancel an airline reservation without penalty for up to 24 hours from the time of booking the initial reservation — provided the reservation was booked at a minimum of seven days prior to a flights departure.

This policy applies to regular published airfares; and it does not include Sun Country Vacation package bookings or group and tour bookings or “land products or any other non air product or activity.”

United Airlines

Known as its flexible booking policy, United Airlines offers the flexibility to change your reservation within 24 hours of purchasing your ticket without incurring change fees. This includes canceling your reservation and requesting a of 100 percent refund of the ticket price.

Unlike American Airlines, United Airlines does not offer the ability to hold a fare without payment; but you have the option to take advantage of its FareLock service, where you may you hold your reserved fare and complete the purchase of your itinerary at a later time for a fee, which is not refundable.

Virgin America

You may cancel a purchased ticket for a full refund without penalty for up to 24 hours after purchase, according to the refund policy of Virgin America.

You may hold a reservation for up to 24 hours free of charge; but that can only be done via using a toll-free telephone number and not through the official Internet web site of Virgin America. The hold will be canceled by Virgin America if the full payment is not received within 24 hours of holding the fare.


One distinct advantage of the policy of changing or canceling your reservation free of charge within 24 hours after you purchased it is reserving a low airfare which may exist for a very limited time: reserve now; then ponder the logistics and scheduling during the next 24 hours to see if the trip is feasible. If you need more than 24 hours and the sale is still in effect or there is still availability, simply cancel within 24 hours and book a new reservation for the same flight. The peace of mind to be able to do that can be comforting enough to allow you to book flights with little to no concern.

You can also use this policy to secure a flight before comparing alternative flights operated by other airlines in terms of schedule, price and convenience.

If an airline does not offer free changes, you may cancel the ticket without penalty and simply book a new reservation, which “resets” the period of 24 hours after purchase.

Notable differentiations in the risk-free cancellation policies amongst commercial airlines include the following:

  • Alaska Airlines allows you one change within 24 hours in addition to cancellation
  • Delta Air Lines gives you up to almost 48 hours to cancel your flight reservation, depending on when you booked it
  • American Airlines and Virgin America offer a free service to hold a reservation without payment
  • Southwest Airlines gives you the option to apply credit towards a future flight instead of a refund

If you decide to take advantage of this policy to its fullest extent, first ensure that you are completely aware of the rules of the specific airline from which you are purchasing your ticket in order to avoid unwanted surprises.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.