So much for the 24-hour rule, Turkish Airlines

Aren’t airlines supposed to allow you to cancel a flight reservation for free if you do it within 24 hours — even for non-refundable tickets?

Mark Niu and his partner Bradford Thomas thought so, because the Department of Transportation (DOT) says so. But Turkish Airlines thought differently.

According to Niu, he and Thomas made reservations on a roundtrip flight from San Francisco to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines’ website, and paid for them by credit card.

That night Niu and Thomas found flights leaving and returning a day later, at the same fare, which were more compatible with their work schedules, but hadn’t been available when they previously booked. Turkish Airlines’ website did not allow them to modify the original booking. They then chose to purchase a new set of tickets for the later dates and attempted to cancel the original tickets.

They were surprised to be asked to acknowledge a charge for cancellation, so they didn’t click the box making that request and did not cancel their reservations. They then found out that Turkish Airlines’ U.S. call center was closed for the weekend.

The following morning, Thomas called Turkish Airlines’ San Francisco call center, only to be told that Turkish Airlines would not cancel or refund those tickets, as those were non-refundable tickets. Thomas asked to speak to another person or a manager and was told that there was no one else to whom he could speak.

Thomas then called Turkish Airlines’ customer service number, but the customer service representative he spoke to did not cancel or refund the original tickets despite it still being within 24 hours of booking. He did file a request to their headquarters to look into the matter for a refund, but was told that it would take a couple of days to review Niu and Thomas’s case and make a determination. Niu and Thomas were at least able to get an email confirmation that the request was filed, and the time on the email indicates that it was within 24 hours of booking.

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According to Niu, “We are frustrated with their disregard of the DOT policy, but we’re hopeful that Turkish Airlines will refund us the tickets.”

Niu and Thomas were assuming that they could get a refund for the original tickets based on the DOT’s 24-hour reservation cancellation policy.

This policy covers all reservations made in the U.S. under all carriers, domestic and foreign. The policy makes clear that,

Each U.S. and foreign air carrier that has a website marketed to U.S. consumers post its customer service plan, which must include a commitment pertaining to the
24-hour reservation requirement, on its website in an easily accessible format.

In addition,

It also considers the failure to offer a passenger a full refund in the original form of payment in the event of a cancellation request covered by the 24-hour reservation requirement to be an unfair and deceptive practice.

Niu reached out to our advocacy team for assistance, and my colleague Jessica Monsell contacted Turkish Airlines on Niu and Thomas’s behalf.

Thomas received an email from Turkish Airlines’ customer service department, promising to cancel the original reservations and refund the ticket fees in full.

Which begs the question: Why didn’t they do that in the first place?

Clearly, Turkish Airlines needs to fix its website (the U.S. version at least) to comply with the DOT’s 24-hour rule and get rid of that cancellation fee request. Even more important, it needs to make sure that its customer service representatives are informed of the 24-hour rule. Niu and Thomas shouldn’t have needed our assistance to get their tickets refunded.

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Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

  • James

    It may depend on the definition of “marketed to.” The Turkish Airlines website is at IP address, which is registered to Turkish Airlines in Turkey. They do have a “United States” option in their list of countries.

    In both chrome and firefox there are extensions that will indicate where a website is located. (It is interesting to visit my employer’s insurance web site and see it is hosted in Europe since their privacy laws are stronger and better enforced than US privacy laws.) Visiting Turkish Airlines shows a Turkish flag for the location.

  • Rebecca

    They really need to file a DOT complaint. The DOT can’t fine them and force change unless they receive complaints about it. I hope they do.

  • fairmont1955

    Airlines can’t be counted on to do anything they are supposed to – even legal requirements. Time and time again they show that they create an adversarial relationship with consumers. I had to reach out to a VP at American years ago and let him know I was sending my issue to an attorney general because his airline (after four attempts to get it rectified) staff wouldn’t meet their legal obligation to compensate me for canceling a flight of their own accord (not weather or anything out of their control). Luckily I keep records to document and his office called me two days later to let me know my refund was coming.

    I know people complain about stupid things; when it’s clear policy/legal is on their side, it shouldn’t be a fight.

  • Michael__K

    Looks like Turkish Airlines is one of the very few airlines that follows the American Airlines approach and offers a HOLD instead of a refund. (Qatar Airways and XL Airways are among the others that do this).

    When you make a reservation on a flight to/from the U.S. one week or more prior to your flight departure through any of the Turkish Airlines sales channels based in the U.S. (call center, ticket offices, website) we will allow you to hold your reservation at the quoted fare for 24 hours without payment.

  • Bill___A

    In answer to the poll question, the Airlines “that I deal with” do have the policy. I had to use it once, no problem.

  • Michael__K

    It would be very hard for them to claim that a flight departing from the U.S. is not marketed to U.S. consumers.

    It’s also moot because their Customer Service Plan (which they must post and adhere to by U.S. law), applies the 24-hour rule to ANY “flight to/from the U.S. one week or more prior to […] departure”.

    The problem is that they don’t offer the refund option like most airlines do. They follow American Airlines’ approach and offer a HOLD option.

  • MarkKelling

    But isn’t this in violation of the rule which states:
    “the Enforcement Office considers it to be a violation of 14 CFR 259.5(b)(4) and an unfair and deceptive practice for a carrier not to offer consumers the option of receiving a full refund in the original form of payment”

    Seems to me this needs better clarification.

  • Michael__K

    Where did you quote that rule from?

    The DOT’s May 2013 Guidance on the 24-hour Reservation Requirement (see footnote on page 1) clarified that:

    a carrier can choose either to hold the reservation free of charge for 24 hours or to allow consumers to cancel the reservation within 24 hours and receive a full refund and the carrier is not required to offer both options.

    Otherwise AA would not be able to exclusively offer the hold option either.

  • Bill___A

    The tools are available to block various countries. Their options are to abide by the law or to block the access to the website from the USA. They do fly to the United States.

  • MarkKelling

    It is from the linked document in the article which I understand is not the actual rule, but another “Guidance” document.

    As I stated, this needs better clarification.

  • Michael__K

    That’s the same May 2013 Guidance document I cited. See the footnote on page 1.

    The snippet you quoted is from the section that is specifically about the Refund option only.

  • MarkKelling

    All the airlines I fly follow the 24 hour refund option without issue. While I don’t often need to use this option, it has always worked as required when I did need it.

    I don’t fly AA or other airlines that choose the hold option. Not necessarily on purpose, it just turned out that way.

  • Bill___A

    Perhaps the DOT should not allow the airlines to pick and choose, they are not the same thing. Having a 24 hour refund rule only (and not requiring but allowing a 24 hour hold rule- provided they are not both used in the same reservation) makes the most sense to me.

  • Alan Gore

    American may be the only domestic carrier to gave taken the 24-hour hold option instead of a refund when the DOT rule was formulated, but how many foreign airlines have taken the option. And how plain is the Turkish website about it being a hold-not-refund carrier?

  • Michael__K

    Qatar and XL Airways are the other foreign carriers that I know of. Turkish does include the required disclosure in their posted Customer Service Plan (which I imagine few people read).

    I see that Turkish presents a clear option between “I want to pay via Credit Card / Debit Card” or “I want to make a reservation (& will pay later),” which is better than the way AA does it IMO. [see screen capture below]

    I could quibble that maybe they should use the word “Hold.” But I’m afraid the main problem is simply that many passengers aren’t aware that carriers don’t have to allow refunds within the 24-hour period if they offer a 24-hour hold option instead. Mainly because so few carriers use the latter option.

  • Fishplate

    The “original form of payment” for a hold is…well, nothing. So you don’t pay anything, and you don’t get anything back. But you do get to walk away from your reservation, if you change your mind, without any fees.

  • just me

    Both American and Turkish Airline by putting money on HOLD (they do not offer and they do not ask – they just automatically put it on hold and you must initiate additional contact to request refund to the original payment form) – they violate Fair Credit Billing Act which for since its inception has a condition that the refund must be done to the original form of payment only. Such condition is also in the credit card processing agreements between the airline and their cc processor. So they are serial violators of many agreements and at least one Federal law.
    Budget cuts results and defunding consumer protection arms of agencies results are visible. Cheer up all you budget cutters.

  • just me

    The Fair Crdit Billing Act mandates refund to original form of payment. Hold is not allowed – they must refund within specified period of time.

  • just me

    They do not give the option they just put it on hold. You must initiate additional contact to tell them to return payment to cc. I did not notice on American Airline any option given. Did you?

  • just me

    American Airlines before integration with US Airways – routinely did collect payment 24-hours after the reservation was made. After the integration they switched to more beneficial for them model of not offering but automatically placing fund on HOLD, under the excuse that you may use it to buy another ticket latter – thus violating the federal law.

  • just me

    Guys – you forget about Fair Credit Billing Act 15 U.S.C 1666e:
    § 166. Prompt notification of returns
    With respect to any sales transaction where a credit card
    has been used to obtain credit, where the seller is a person
    other than the card issuer, and where the seller accepts or
    allows a return of the goods or forgiveness of a debit for
    services which were the subject of such sale, the seller shall
    promptly transmit to the credit card issuer, a credit statement
    with respect thereto and the credit card issuer shall credit the
    account of the obligor for the amount of the transaction.

  • cscasi

    Must not be interpreted that way because American Airlines is being allowed to do so, despite complaints. As for me, I would rather put a reservation on the 24 hour hold without having to pay for it; giving me 24 hours to see if I can find something better. If not, I just pay for the held reservation. If I find something better and ticket it, then the held reservation does away at the end of the 24 hours and I do not have to worry about getting my money refunded as there was none taken.

  • cscasi

    So, what is it that the airline is supposed to refund me if I put the reservation on the 24 hour hold??? It did not ask for nor did it charge my credit card. If I let the reservation sit past the 24 hour hold, it evaporates. There is NO MONEY ISSUE.

  • just me

    You missunderstood the process.
    If airline does not charge for 24 hrs after sale – if you cancel – there is nothing to refund. But AA switched away from that process.
    They charge immediatly and after you cancel, instead of obligatory immediate refund to the original form of payment, the HOLD the money unless you call them again. So effectively canceling the ticket does not result in the refund to your original form of payment at all. It means that the airline keeps the money and if you forget – it is their gain. And if you drop dead before you tell them to refund it is unlikely your heirs will find out that the airline owes you money – and this is what they are counting on too.

  • just me

    The policy of the airline cannot violate the law. Whether you had a problem or not does not justify airlines violating law.
    Oh I already hear it – do not fly the airline that violates the law.

  • just me

    You are lucky to fly routes with competition – so you do not have to fly the largest airline of earth the AA.

  • Kristina

    I think you missunderstand the process. The way AA does it when you get to the payment screen you can either PAY or HOLD and if you HOLD you have 24 hours to come back and pay or else the reservation goes away and you are not out any money.

  • Fishplate

    That doesn’t make any sense. Are you saying that I have to call AA, cancel the ticket, then hang up and call right back to cancel it?

  • MarkKelling

    there was another article here that discussed this in great depth. You have those who think the hold is the best thing ever and those who think that the refund is the best thing ever. It just comes down to what you are used to and what you like. I prefer the refund option because I am fairly certain that when I book a flight that is the one I want and I will not be changing my mind unless I completely missed on the dates. Never had any delay or other issues getting refunds from the airlines I have used, just click on the cancel button on the web page and the refund appears (sometimes nothing even shows up on my credit card because I cancelled before they sent the posting through).

  • just me

    Exactly – if they do not charge you in 24 hours there is no issue. But this is not the “hold” – it is delayed charge. The “hold” is after you cancel the ticket if they charged you at the reservation time.

  • just me

    No I do not say that – stop imposing you misinterpretation, please.
    On AA website you can cancel your ticket within 24-hours – they do not give any option to choose between refund or hold. Besides hold is illegal by at least 1 regulation, 1 guidance and 1 federal law that prohibits it. You must than call.
    If call to cancel, the agent will not give option either – they will automatically do hold. So unless you know ahead of time that you must request the refund on the same call – the agent will not tell you and you will have to call again after you notice that the money did not come back to you. And many a time I got attempts of push back trying to convince me that hold is better for me — I wonder where do they get that idea from?

  • e santhin

    So what is the issue? Apparently they paid at time of booking and cancelled within the 24 hours. Airlines may choose under the stipulation but they cannot circumvent the intent of the regulations. If the airlines accept payment they cannot claim 24 hour hold.

  • John McDonald

    the 24 hours rule is a stupid rules that applies in USA only. It makes airfares more expensive. If you can’t make a decision, then you are a total & utter loser. Doesn’t apply in Australia & hope it never ever does.

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