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Need to Cancel a Flight? Here Are the 3 Most Common Questions—Asked and Answered!

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Tasmiah Rashid
Written by Tasmiah Rashid

The alarm goes off. Today, you woke up less cranky than the other days. Why? It’s t-minus five days until you hop round trip flights to paradise! But just as you’re about to walk out the door with a pep in your step, you hear little Suzie let out a scream—she’s taken a tumble and fractured her ankle. Yikes! You know what that means right? So long sunny sojourn…time to cancel your much-anticipated trip.

Good, bad, unfortunate or exciting – things come up all the time, so having to cancel a flight is quite a common thing. But, where do you start? “Will I get a refund?” “Can I keep my miles?” “What kind of fees do I have to pay?” Whether you’re a novice or a know-it-all, when it comes to travel, chances are that you have dozens of questions buzzing through your head when you need to cancel travel plans. That’s where we come in. Here are three of the most common questions on how to cancel a flight…asked and answered!

So…Can I Even Cancel My Flight?

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First thing’s first—the most important thing to do when it comes to scrapping those round trip flights is to check the cancellation policy! Yep, there’s a chance you might not even be able to cancel your flight. Many airlines these days sell low-priced, highly restrictive basic economy fares. While these are great for your wallet at the time of purchase, when it comes to canceling your flights, it might cost you more than you bargained for. If you’ve booked a basic economy ticket and need to cancel your flight, chances are that you won’t be given a refund for the cancellation, and, in fact, may even be faced with an additional penalty fee—yikes!

Even if you’ve booked a refundable or flexible ticket, remember: every airline has a deadline to cancel or make any changes to your flight (usually twenty-four to forty-eight hours before your departure). Once the window closes, fee or no fee, basic economy or business class… your only option is to book a whole new flight. Talk about pricey consequences!

Whether you booked online or over the phone, directly through an airline or through a third party—to be completely sure of what the rules, regulations, and restrictions are regarding cancellations, do some thorough research before you buy. If you’ve already purchased your ticket, go ahead and pick up the phone and speak to a representative to clear up any further questions you may have.

Now that you’re a travel pro, go ahead and book those round trip flights. Your next adventure awaits!

What Is My Refund Timeframe?

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Although the refundability of your airfare depends on the type of ticket you’ve purchased, we have some good news for our domestic fliers! No matter what type of ticket you book, you have twenty-four hours to make changes or cancel your flight, penalty-free. Thanks to the U.S. Department of Transportation rule that requires all airlines serving the United States to allow you to cancel your domestic or U.S. bound flight within twenty-four hours of booking, if you make your changes in that window then your refund is yours to keep, in full! (Note: The twenty-four-hour rule is only valid if you’ve purchased the ticket at least seven days prior to departure.)

Once you’ve passed this twenty-four-hour period, however, the status of your refund changes along with the kind of airline ticket you’ve booked. For example, basic economy tickets are the least expensive for a reason. You may be aware of the baggage limitations on these fares, but did you know that they also have flight cancellation restrictions? Similarly, although not as restrictive, if you’re booking round trip flights with non-refundable tickets you’re still likely to face constraints and fees. So, unless you’ve booked a refundable ticket (usually only available if you book standard economy or higher), it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get fully reimbursed for your canceled flight. If you do, you’ll probably still have to pay a fee or penalty and your refund may only come in the form of credit from the airlines.

PRO-TIP: If you have an alternate date in mind for your trip (and do not have a basic economy ticket, of course), opt to change your flight instead of canceling it. Often, the fee for a flight change is smaller than canceling a flight.

How Can I Avoid Cancellation Fees?

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If you’re booking a trip amid a crisis or during a particularly busy time and are worried you might have to change or cancel your flight, consider purchasing an upgrade or travel insurance. Adding on travel insurance to a non-refundable flight ticket might be your only shot at a full refund if you need to cancel your trip for a covered reason (i.e., illness, the death of a loved one, loss of a job or a home disaster). Similarly, if you opt for an upgraded seat at the outset, along with the extra perks and legroom you’ll probably also have more rules to help you save on all that money you’ll spend when you need to cancel your flight! So, dishing out the extra cash up front now may just save you from losing out on a hefty chunk of money later.

Don’t have the money to upgrade or get insurance? Consider booking a one-way ticket instead of round trip flights. If you foresee a high likelihood of cancellation at the time of only one leg of your trip, it might be best for you to wait and book a last-minute flight when you have a better idea of your schedule and timing, instead of paying a pretty penny for cancellation and change fees.

Flying during a period of inclement weather or peak travel season? Take advantage of schedule changes! Read up on your airline’s schedule change policy. Often, if your departure or arrival time is changed, you might be eligible for a free change or cancellation. Although not recommended, if you need to cancel your flight and you’re a bit more flexible, you can take a chance and wait to see if there is a schedule change. But, don’t wait too long! As mentioned before, each airline has a change and cancellation window, so just remember to cancel before the deadline!

Last but not least, go ahead and pick up the phone and talk to a representative to see if you can get cancellation fees waived. In certain circumstances, such as jury duty or the death of an immediate family member or your travel companion, you might qualify for a fee waiver. But remember, representatives are bound by their company’s rules, so don’t get angry at them or upset if they can’t help you.

Have any advice on how to cancel a flight? Share it with us in the comments below!


About the author

Tasmiah Rashid

Tasmiah Rashid

In a past life, Tasmiah was either a Bollywood actress, renowned ethnographer or master chef; no questions asked. In this one, she is a shower-singing, croissant enthusiast, who also writes content for Fareportal, in that order.

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