American Airlines Improves 24-Hour Cancellation Policy
American Airlines has changed its 24-hour cancellation and refund policy again — but this time for the better. The airline will now allow customers to cancel (for free) within 24 hours of booking on tickets purchased for flights as close as two days ahead of departure. The previous policy only covered tickets booked at least seven days out.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires airlines to give customers either the opportunity to put a ticket on hold for 24 hours before purchasing, or provide at least 24 hours after booking a flight to cancel without penalty even on a non-refundable ticket. However, that rule only applies to tickets booked at least seven days in advance of departure, so AA is being more generous than the DOT rule requires.
Originally, American complied with the DOT rule by offering a 24-hour free hold option before purchasing tickets. But after a mistake fare in 2015 caused headaches for the airline and led to a settlement with the DOT regarding cancelled holds, the carrier switched to a 24-hour cancellation policy in April 2016.
The new 24-hour policy, which has been in place for a few weeks and clarified in recent days, also applies to American award tickets redeemed at least two days ahead of departure. Meaning if space suddenly opens up and you want to book a speculative award, you can do so knowing that you can cancel within 24 hours and won't have to pay a redeposit fee — so long as your flight leaves at least two days after booking. Customers will also no longer have to cancel and request a refund for tickets in two separate steps, streamlining a previously somewhat confusing process.
When American changed to a 24-hour cancellation policy in 2016, the airline stated that free 24-hour holds would eventually disappear. However, those 24-hour are often still available at aa.com depending on the flight. There's no guarantee that any particular booking will be offered a 24-hour hold option, but if you do get the opportunity to put an itinerary on hold, you'll still be eligible for the 24-hour free cancellation if you end up booking the ticket before the hold ends. That means in certain cases when booking American tickets, you can get quite a bit of time to consider your options before you're 100% locked into a non-refundable ticket.
When it comes to American's main competitors, United currently requires tickets to be booked at least seven days in advance of departure in order to be eligible for free 24-hour cancellations, though enforcement of that rule is spotty. Delta is the most generous of the three legacy airlines, as you can cancel almost any Delta revenue ticket within 24 hours if it was booked directly with Delta. Award tickets are a different story, as Delta does not allow award ticket cancellations within 72 hours of departure.