I canceled my airline ticket within 24 hours. Where’s my refund?

When Ahmed Abdulrahim cancels a flight within 24 hours of booking it, he assumes he’ll have the money soon. Months later, he’s still waiting. Can his airline issue his refund?

Question: I booked a flight on British Airways from Cairo to Houston in June through Expedia. I canceled it within 24 hours and requested a refund. They told me it may take up to six weeks to process.

Now we are way beyond this time and nothing appeared in my account yet. I contacted Expedia and it claims the ticket was refunded three months ago. But my bank denies the refund has happened. Can you help me get my $750 back? — Ahmed Abdulrahim, Cairo

Answer: British Airways shouldn’t have made you wait nearly four months for a refund. But let’s take a closer look at why that wasn’t allowed. Even though you’re located in Cairo, you made your purchase through an American online travel agency for a flight to the United States.

The Department of Transportation has two relevant rules. First, the 24-hour rule, which says under most circumstances, if you book a ticket and cancel within 24 hours, you’re entitled to a full refund. You can find details on that rule in the department’s Fly Rights brochure, which is available from the dot.gov website.

The second DOT rule says that when a refund is due, the airline must forward a credit to your card company “within seven business days” after receiving a complete refund application.

“However,” it notes, “the credit may take a month or two to appear on your statement.”

You were well past that two-month mark. It was time for action.

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I publish the names, numbers and email addresses for the executives at Expedia and British Airways on my consumer advocacy site. You could have reached out to one of them and cleared this up.

Instead, you contacted me. And I agree with you, you’ve been more than patient. This foot-dragging with refunds is endemic to airlines and online travel agencies, and absolutely infuriating.

I got in touch with Expedia, which asked British Airways about your refund. The airline claimed a refund had been processed back in July, which still would have meant it didn’t follow the DOT requirement of a seven-day refund. I have a better idea: If the government gives us 24 hours to cancel a ticket, it should give airlines the same amount of time to refund the money. No exceptions. If they fail, they should face stiff fines, perhaps doubling the refund. That should fix the problem of sluggish refunds permanently. But one step at a time. You’re received your refund.

Update: Expedia followed up after this story appeared in my syndicate with the following new information.

I just learned from my customer service team that they discovered the reason behind Mr. Abdulrahim’s refund delay – and that the refund actually wasn’t missing after all. They reviewed the customer’s claim and found that he made a change to his flight reservation prior to voiding the ticket. He paid the exchange with a different credit card. British Airways processed the refund to the credit card used to pay for the exchange on July 17 (two days after the cancelation), but Mr. Abdulrahim didn’t realize this and was waiting for the credit to appear on the first credit card he used.

The team discovered this back in early October (Oct. 13th) and updated the customer, who confirmed it had indeed appeared on the other card, and that he was grateful for the follow up. I’m so glad this detective work could get to the bottom of this very strange issue, though obviously it would have been ideal to discover earlier.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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