American Airlines Ditching Confusing 24-Hour Hold Policy For 24-Hour Cancellation Option

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Federal airline regulations require that carriers must either give most passengers a 24-hour window to cancel tickets without penalty, or allow travelers to put tickets on hold for 24 hours before being charged the airfare. Of all major U.S. carriers, American Airlines is the only one that doesn’t offer the cancellation option, resulting in costly confusion for some travelers. But AA says it is ditching that policy and will begin offering the 24-hour cancellation window instead.

American chose to change its policy on 24-hour holds after passengers continually called the airline confused about why they were unable to cancel their flights within 24 hours of purchase, The Washington Post reports.

According to the Department of Transportation’s regulations, as long as a customer books a non-refundable ticket at least seven days ahead of the scheduled departure, an airline is required to offer one of two options: allow that customer to change or cancel the trip within 24 hours without penalty, or hold that reservation at the current price for 24 hours without payment.

Unlike nearly all the other domestic airlines, American subscribed to the Department of Transportation’s 24-hour hold guideline, and that proved to be confusing for many travelers.

“Up until now, we’ve done it a little differently than other airlines,” Josh Freed, a spokesperson for American, tells the Post. “Reasonably enough, people assumed the policies were the same.”

The airline says it will phase out the 24-hour hold, but that travelers booking flights through its website can still use the option for now. Additionally, passengers using reward miles to book flights will still be able to use the 24-hour hold for the foreseeable future.

Last year, Consumerist reported on one passenger’s run-in with the sometimes confusing rule. Reader “B” discovered the policy the hard way after booking and trying to cancel a flight on American Airlines within that 24-hour period.

While part of the confusion came because the airline followed the lesser 24-hour policy, it also involved American’s display of the option: the “hold reservation” selection is included with other payment options, like “Credit/Debit Card,” and “PayPal.”


“I wouldn’t normally consider a ‘hold’ a payment option,” B. told Consumerist at the time, “and given its credit card-like symbol and location on the far right I just ignored it like I would ignore a specialized type of credit card that I didn’t have.”

In the end, B. filed a complaint with customer relations and was refunded for his ticket.

Here’s a full (updated) list of airlines’ 24-hour hold/refund policies:

Domestic Airlines:

Alaska Airlines N Y 24-hour free cancellation
Allegiant Airlines N Y 24-hour free cancellation
American Airlines Y N Y UPDATED: American will phase out the option of 24-hour hold, making the switch to 24-hour free cancellation.
Delta Air Lines N Y Provides a full refund if cancellation is made by midnight the day after purchase of most flights
Frontier Airlines N Y 24-hour free cancellation
JetBlue N Y 24-hour free cancellation
Southwest Airlines N Y No fee for cancellation, customers receive full credit toward future flight
Spirit Airlines N Y 24-hour free cancellation
United Airlines N Y 24-hour free cancellation

American Airlines will no longer let travelers hold flight reservations for 24 hours [The Washington Post]

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