Book the wrong flight? Some airlines will let you off the hook

A Tam, August 19, 2009
Fares from Washington DC, District of Columbia:

    Just booked a non-refundable fare and immediately realize you booked the wrong dates or the wrong city? Or simply decide that you don't want to attend Aunt Freda's annual bingo marathon after all?  Depending on the airline or online travel agency you bought from, you might be able to cancel and get a full refund if you do so within a certain time. But it might take some work and some airfare vendors are more frustrating to deal with than others.

    In general, if the airline you are booked with has a no-penalty cancellation policy you must cancel within 24 hours of purchase, or else regular change fees will apply. Many major U.S. based carriers offer a 24-hour grace period and let you get a refund for no fee. The only exceptions are American Airlines and Air Tran. Continental and Northwest/Delta make it super easy to cancel fee-free with just a few mouse clicks. If your ticket is not on either of those airlines you will have to be patient and spend some time on the phone.

    If you've bought from an online travel site such as Expedia or Priceline, you'll have to be even more patient. Last week we received an email from a reader about her experience trying to cancel a ticket booked on Priceline, and in short she wasn't able to reach a representative in time and was stuck with a ticket she no longer needed. Under Priceline's rules, if you phone them by 11:30 p.m. ET on the day that you book, you can get a full refund. But as our reader discovered, it's easier said than done. If you can't get through by phone send them an email or better yet you might have luck calling the airline directly to see if they can do anything.

    Another option is to put your fare on a "courtesy hold". American and US Air offer a 24-hour hold, and although this is allows you to double check your reservation, if the fare goes up meantime you'll have to pay the higher price.

    Here are the refund policies for some major U.S. based carriers and online travel agencies:

    Airline Cancellation Within How to Cancel Other notes.
    Continental 24 Hours Online or Phone Refund Policy
    Northwest 24 Hours Online Customer's First
    Delta 24 Hours Online Customer Commitment
    Jetblue Not Available    
    USAIR Not Available   24 Hour hold only
    Air Tran 4 hours Phone Voucher for future travel only
    United 24 hours Phone or Online Cancellation Policy
    American Not Available   24 Hour hold only
    Southwest 24 Hours Phone  
    Ticketing Site Cancellation Within/by How to Cancel Other Notes
    Orbitz 10 p.m. CST the day after booking Online Courtesy Cancel
    Expedia 24 hours Phone Expedia Promise
    Travelocity 24 hours Phone Travelocity Guarantee
    Priceline prior to 11:30 pm ET day of booking Exchange Guidance