How To Book A Flight With Free Cancellation

If you've ever felt nervous about booking that flight, there's one rule that may help ease your mind. Because of a rule by the U.S. Department of Transportation, you can cancel your flight within 24 hours of booking your airfare to receive a full refund. And this 24-hour cancellation policy entitles you to a full monetary refund versus an airline voucher or travel credit. Better yet, you won't incur any fees for canceling. In essence, you'll have a full day to reconsider your travels, figure out logistics, or see if a lower fare becomes available. 

Although a federal policy of the U.S. Department of Transportation, the 24-hour cancellation rule applies to all U.S.-based airlines, as well as any international carriers with flights to, from, or within the U.S. However, there are a few caveats about the 24-hour cancellation policy. That said, knowing how to book a flight with free cancellation can be a beneficial hack for savvy (and undecided) travelers.

Book directly with the airline

In the language of federal policy, there are three criteria you need to meet to ensure you receive a full refund from the airline if you cancel your flight within 24 hours. Although different airlines and travel agencies may offer their own cancellation policies, the federal rule requires the following circumstances for the federal policy to apply.

First, your flight must originate in or go to the U.S. As stated, this includes international carriers. Secondly, you must have booked your flight with the airline directly. If you booked through an online travel agency (OTA), such as Priceline or Orbitz, you're not guaranteed a full refund under the federal 24-hour rule. However, many online travel agencies, such as the aforementioned, do have their own 24-hour policies, which we'll cover in the next section. Third, the flight must be booked at least seven days prior to the departure date, meaning you won't typically be able to cancel a last-minute flight without penalty.

OTAs offer different cancellation policies

While online travel agencies aren't under any regulatory obligation to refund your canceled flight, most OTAs do offer their own policies. However, they may or may not adhere to a strictly 24-hour timeframe. For instance, Orbitz typically allows you to cancel flights on U.S. carriers up until 10 or 11 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time) the following day of your purchase, while Travelocity provides the usual 24-hour window. On most eligible flights, Priceline actually allows you to cancel your flight up until 11:29 p.m. the next business day of your purchase. So, if you booked a flight on Friday, you could take a full 72 hours to mull over your travel plans.

However, you'll need to read the fine print of all OTAs regarding their cancellation policies. In some instances, the travel agency may only offer flight credit, and some booking sites don't provide a cancellation policy at all. If you're a bit gun-shy with your travel planning, we recommend simply comparing airfares on an OTA and then booking directly with the airline, ensuring you're covered by the federal cancellation policy.