What you need to know about the “24-hour rule”

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Kahtan Daker bought a ticket on Turkish Airlines and said he canceled it 20 minutes later (“within the 24-hour grace period,” he told us). The airline is refusing to refund his money.

What’s in a day? Twenty-four hours, certainly time enough to determine whether or not you’ve made a mistake by purchasing seats on a major airline. The rule states that you’re allowed to cancel your flight reservation within 24 hours of booking and receive a full refund. Or, does it state that you are allowed to “hold” that reservation for up to 24 hours and then submit your credit card information and complete the purchase?

Unfortunately, for us travelers, the answer is not so simple. Actually, the policy is much more complicated, and it varies by airline.

First, the “24-hour rule,” which is regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation, isn’t specific enough, leading to mass confusion and dollars wasted on airfares that end up being uncancellable.

Even the document itself contains language that indicates the airlines are making it hard for us to determine how we can use the rule to our advantage. The document states:

The Enforcement Office recently reviewed several U.S. carrier websites and found that while all contain a customer service plan, there is a significant disparity in the methods of disclosing the 24-hour reservation requirement.

On one end of the spectrum, some carriers disclose the 24-hour reservation requirement on their “Frequently Asked Questions” webpage, on the payment page before the finalization of an online reservation, and also through the “live chat” format upon inquiry. These notifications ensure that consumers are informed of their right to a full refund or free fare hold.

On the other end of the spectrum, some carriers’ websites disclose the 24-hour reservation requirement only on the customer service plan page and omit any mention of it on other webpages that describe cancellation policies and cancellation fees applicable to “non-refundable” or otherwise restricted tickets, and this is problematic.

It’s more than problematic. It’s disastrous for travelers who lose money to carriers because they haven’t followed the rule, well, “to the rule,” based on the airline’s policy.

And our forums are littered with stories that indicate the problem is not going away:

If you read through them (I’m waiting), you’ll see that the rule varies by airline and by how far in advance the flights are. Specifically, ensure the carrier is flying to/from the United States and that the flight is at least seven days in advance of your reservation, or the rule will not apply. One forum poster smartly advises:

An important note on international airlines — these rules only apply to flights involving travel to and from the U.S. Some airlines’ websites will not have these policies built into their sites for customers in other countries. So if a carrier has country-specific reservation portals, be sure to use the one for U.S. customers.

Another forum reminds that if you book through an online travel agency such as Expedia, Travelocity, etc., make sure you contact them to cancel, not the airline.

Getting back to Kahtan Daker’s dilemma at the beginning of this story — his flight on Turkish Airlines (not a U.S. carrier) neither departed from nor arrived at a U.S. location, so the 24-hour rule did not apply to him.

The bottom line is that if you’re booking airfare through any air carrier, don’t make any assumptions of how the 24-hour rule will apply to you. Read through all of the fine print before you hit “Hold” or “Purchase.”

Mark Pokedoff

Four-time Emmy-award-winning television sports production specialist and frequent traveler. Longtime freelance writer and travel blog enthusiast. Proud papa of four amazing kids who have been upgraded to first class more than all their friends combined.

  • sirwired

    I have to say, it never would have occurred to me to think that a flight on a foreign carrier, between two foreign destinations, would ever be subject to US rules of any sort. The policy certainly does have some complications, but that part of it doesn’t seem to be very confusing.

  • vmacd

    20 minutes? I can’t even imagine not receiving a refund. That’s not even enough time to buy travel insurance.

  • Annie M

    Excellent article.

  • greg watson

    I wish there was a 24 hour rule for non-cancellable purchases including hotels. I realised that a hotel booking was not as advertised & tried to make a change with booking.com. within 2 hours of the original booking. Although the trip was 8 months away, they, & The Ruskin Arms Pub & Hotel in East Ham. UK would not budge. My mistake, but lesson learned !

  • Lindabator

    buying a NONREFUNDABLE ticket means just that – not refundable if only a short amount of time, or a sick mother, or job conflict, etc. Means nonrefundable – so know BEFORE you confirm — reading T&Cs are vital — or just call a travel agent (we could actually void a ticket that is nonrefundable within 24 hours – something the airline will not do)

  • bbinsf

    Yup I got screwed by American right after they acquired the wonderful USAirways. AA policy back then was a “hold” rather than refund, but it was not disclosed on the booking page. USAirways was like Delta, United, etc–refund.

  • Michael__K

    Turkish Airlines implements the DOT’s 24-hour rule with the “Hold” option. So even for flights to/from the US, they won’t issue refunds within 24-hours (as we’ve seen before) if you paid for the ticket instead of using their “Hold” option.

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