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I read:

  1. The DOT rule is that the airline has to offer (if purchased at least 7 days before departure) either a refund within 24 hours or a 24 hour hold without paying.
  2. [The DOT rule] doesn't discuss any limitations on consumers, the Covered Carriers must provide the option to any consumer.

However I read on the United Airlines 24-hour refund policy (mirror) that it doesn't apply for the following points of sale/regions:

Refund policies for certain international points of sale/regions:

  • Argentina: In compliance with article 4 of the Argentine Resolution 1532/1998 of the Ministry of Economy, Public Works and Services, the customer is informed that tickets issued by United Airlines, Inc. are non-refundable unless the customer has purchased a refundable fare ticket, subject to the terms established by United Airlines, Inc.
  • Colombia:
    • Right of Withdrawal: You can cancel travel up to 24 hours before the scheduled flight departure. If you cancel your reservation, United will refund your purchase, but it may keep 10% of the fare. The Right of Withdrawal does not apply to promotional fares, so please refer to the fare rules for your ticket.
    • Right of Retraction: When you purchase a ticket through a United Customer Contact Center or on united.com, you can cancel your reservation within 48 hours after purchase and request a refund as long as the cancellation is completed at least 15 days before the scheduled flight departure. If you cancel your reservation, United may keep $50 or up to 10% of the fare, plus nonrefundable taxes and administrative service charges.

Did I misread the United Airlines policy? If not, how is United Airlines avoiding the DOT rule on the free 24h refund/hold for flight tickets to/from the US?

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    I'll have to check the original text, but I would guess the Argentinian note is simply to comply with a notification requirement (absence of which may make the tickets refundable). The DOT rules still apply as "the terms established by United Airlines, Inc.". Similarly, the Colombian rule may also be in addition to DOT rules.
    – xngtng
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 4:55
  • @xngtng thanks, that'd make sense indeed. Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 4:57
  • It's probably one of those cases where two countries create potentially conflicting rules for the same ticket. United will generally post all of them in a way that gives them the most wiggle room (using words like "may" or "subject to") and then pick what's best for them if the case happens . If there is a real conflict, it will have to be settled through a court setting a precedent. United is probably fine with waiting until someone actually sues.
    – Hilmar
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 7:37

1 Answer 1

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It's not avoiding the DOT rule.

The Argentinian note says that the United terms and conditions apply, which I presume also includes the application of the DOT rule.

The Colombian rules are more permissive than the DOT rule, so by complying with the Colombian law to allow cancellations within 48 hours - United by default also complies with the US law to allow cancellations within 24 hours.

United may keep $50/10%, but we don't know if it does, and in what cases. It is plausible that United does not charge the $50/10% if cancelled within the first 24 hours, but is allowed to charge, according to the law of both countries, if cancelled in the next 24 hours.

Also, it is not clear from the United website if the regional-specific text is intended to replace the main text above, or supplement it. If the latter, then there's no contradiction at all, just statutory notices and expansion of rights according to local law.

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  • Thanks, makes sense. "It is plausible that United does not charge the $50/10% if cancelled within the first 24 hours" -> aren't they forced not to charge the $50/10% if cancelled within the first 24 hours by the DOT rule, assuming that the purchase was made at least 7 days till the scheduled departure? Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 5:51
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    Well yes, that's what I'm saying. They may charge according to the Colombian law, but half of that period is protected by the US law. The other half isn't though.
    – littleadv
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 6:00

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