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I understand that airlines in the U.S. are legally required to offer free cancellations within 24 hours of booking. Does this apply to all itineraries that have either departure or arrival in the U.S. or are there further restrictions?

For example, I had booked a one-way multi-stop itinerary, all on the same ticket and same airline:

March 2: Mumbai (BOM) -> Abu Dhabi (AUH)
March 4: Abu Dhabi (AUH) -> Chicago (ORD)

Within 24 hours I called Etihad to cancel the ticket. The operator told me the 24-hour grace period rule does not apply to this itinerary because it starts in India.

In my case the operator made an exception and refunded my ticket anyway, but I want to better understand the ins and outs of this rule for next time.

  • Offering a 24 Hour Hold will also comply with the Rule so if EY offers a 24 Hour Hold and you chose Purchase instead, they can legitimately claim the rule does not apply. – Johns-305 Nov 25 '16 at 22:01
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    I booked one with Lufthansa: round trip Germany/US originating in Germany. Cancelled withing 24 hours without any problem. – Hilmar Nov 26 '16 at 1:50
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I understand that airlines in the U.S. are legally required to offer free cancellations within 24 hours of booking.

We have discussed this recently. The conclusion is that both foreign and US-based airlines are required to offer free cancellation within 24 hours of booking (if booked longer than 7 days in advance) for flights into, or from the USA.

Additionally, the US-based airlines are required to offer this even on flights outside the USA (i.e. those which do not include the USA).

Thus:

  • 24 hour grace period works for ALL air travel into the USA, or out of USA (as long as the flight departs more than 7 days later);
  • 24 hour grace period works for ALL air travel on US-based airlines, even if the itinerary does not include any US airports (same 7-day restriction).

This means the operator you spoke to was wrong. If you encounter this situation, it is important to proceed with cancellation, so it is timely recorded (and refuse to "call back tomorrow"), and then follow-up in writing with the billing/refund department.

Note 1: some airlines are excluded from this requirement, but it is unlikely you'd be ever flying on those.

Note 2: technically the airlines could offer a free 24 hour "reservation hold" for the ticket instead of offering free cancellation to satisfy the DOT rules, but I'm not aware of any airline which is doing so (and business-wise it makes little sense to do so, as this is very easy to abuse: one can easily keep the whole plane "booked" this way until a week from departure).

The DOT regulation is here.

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