Cancellation Policies of Major US Airlines & Online Travel Agencies

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Miles and points enthusiasts are usually meticulous in planning their travels, but sometimes life gets in the way and we have to change our plans or cancel altogether.

Or other times folks might jump on a low or mistake fare and realize afterwards that it doesn’t work for their schedule.

If you need to change your plans, airlines and online travel agencies (OTAs) like Orbitz, Expedia, and Priceline all have different cancellation policies.  And with airlines, fare rules can be rather complicated.   So here’s a rundown of what to expect when you cancel a ticket!

Cancellation Policies Of Major US Airlines And Online Travel Agencies

Changing or Cancelling a Ticket? Do You Know Your Airline’s Policy?

Airline Cancellation Policies

Jump to:  Alaska Airlines  |  American Airlines  |  Delta  |  Southwest  |  United Airlines  |  Expedia  |  Orbitz  |  Priceline

Generally speaking, airlines may refund you for a cancelled ticket, depending on the fare paid.  Most low fares, regardless of the class of service, are completely non-refundable.

And policies vary on award tickets, too.  Very few award tickets are completely refundable (you’ll get all of your miles or points back with no fee), while other airlines charge penalties to return miles to your account.

1.   Alaska Airlines

Link:   Alaska Airlines Refunds

Link:   Alaska Airlines Award Ticket Refunds

a)   Paid Tickets

If you cancel a paid ticket within 24 hours of booking, you’ll get a full refund.  There are no fees.

After 24 hours, a fully-refundable ticket can be refunded to your original form of payment.  For non-refundable tickets, you’ll get a credit that can be used towards a new ticket (you’re responsible for any difference in fare).  But you’ll pay a change fee if you cancel less than 60 days prior to departure.  The fee paid depends on class of service and elite status (if any) of the passenger.

Passengers with MVP Gold elite status or higher won’t pay a change fee.

Cancellation Policies Of Major US Airlines And Online Travel Agencies

Alaska Doesn’t Have Change or Cancel Fees Until 60 Days Prior to Departure

b)   Award Tickets

Alaska will let you cancel an award ticket and redeposit the miles back to your account.  If you cancel more than 60 days prior to departure, there is no fee.  Within 60 days, you’ll pay $125 to get your miles back, unless you’re MVP Gold elite or better.

You can’t get a refund on the $15 telephone booking fee, or $25 partner award fee.  And if you’ve booked an award ticket through Money & Miles, it’s treated like a discounted paid ticket.  So the policies of the purchased fare apply.

2.   American Airlines

Link:   American Airlines Refunds

Link:   American Airlines Award Ticket Refunds

a)   Paid Tickets

You can hold a reservation on American Airlines for up to 24 hours and get a full refund if you change your mind.  But after 24 hours, you’ll lose all or part of your ticket depending on the fare paid.

Non-refundable tickets are just that – you generally can’t get a refund unless there are extenuating circumstances, like illness or death of a family member or traveling companion.  In that case, you’ll have to provide documentation of the illness or death.

If you’ve bought a refundable (expensive) ticket, you can get a full refund (minus a cancellation penalty, depending on the fare paid) for an unused round-trip ticket up to 1 year from the date of issue of the ticket.

For a partially used ticket, you can get a refund for the unused portion of the ticket, minus any cancellation fees that apply to the fare.  The 1 year rule also applies.

Cancellation Policies Of Major US Airlines And Online Travel Agencies

You Can Get Your Money Back on Refundable American Airlines Tickets, but There Might Be a Fee

If you want to change your ticket to a different date, you’ll pay the difference in fare.  The ticket must be re-issued within 1 year of the original date of issue.

b)   Award Tickets

If you need to cancel an award ticket, you can get your miles back if you pay a $150 fee, as long as the ticket hasn’t expired.  If you need to cancel more than 1 award ticket and return the miles to the same account, you’ll pay an additional $25 per ticket.

If you’ve used part of the ticket and have to cancel your return leg, you can’t get your miles back at all.

And you’ll pay between $75 and $150 to change your award ticket, depending on how close you are to your date of travel.  American Airlines Executive Platinum elite flyers don’t have to pay the fee.

However, if only your dates of travel are changing (with the same routing), you won’t be charged a fee, unless the change results in a departure date within 21 days.  Then you’ll have to pay $75.

3.   Delta

Link:  Delta Refunds

Link:  Delta Award Ticket Refunds

a)   Paid Tickets

If you cancel a paid e-ticket with Delta by midnight on the day after you bought your ticket, you’ll get a full refund.  This only applies to tickets bought directly through Delta and only for flights originating in the US, US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Canada.

Cancellation Policies Of Major US Airlines And Online Travel Agencies

Change Your Mind on Delta? You Have Until Midnight the Day After Booking to Get a Full Refund

If you have a refundable ticket, you can cancel and get your money back, but you may pay a fee depending on the fare rules on your ticket.

All refund requests are subject to the rules of ticketed fare, and fees or penalties may apply to your refund. Your itinerary will be CANCELLED at the time the refund is processed.

For a non-refundable ticket, you can apply the value of the ticket to another flight.  You’ll pay change fees and any difference in fare.  For domestic tickets, the ticket must be reissued and travel completed within 1 year of the original ticket issue date.  International tickets have the same rule, but travel must begin (not be completed) within a year of the original ticket issue date.

Like other airlines, Delta will make exceptions in the event of passenger, traveling companion, or family member death.

b)   Award Tickets

If you cancel a Delta award ticket, you’ll be charged $150 to have the miles redeposited to your account.  Diamond and Platinum Medallion elite members don’t have to pay a fee.  And you must cancel at least 72 hours prior to departure, or you’ll lose your miles altogether.

You can change an award ticket up to 72 hours prior to travel, but you’ll have to pay taxes and fees on the new ticket and pay a $150 fee (also waived for Diamond and Platinum Medallion elite flyers.)

4.   Southwest

Link:   Southwest Refunds

Link:   Southwest Award Ticket Refunds

a)   Paid Tickets

Paid Southwest tickets can be cancelled within 24 hours of booking for a full refund.

Refundable (Business Select and Anytime) fares can be fully refunded within 1 year of the date of issue.  Or you can apply the value towards another ticket.  There are no fees.  But you have to cancel within 10 minutes of departure, or you’ll lose the value of the ticket.

Cancellation Policies Of Major US Airlines And Online Travel Agencies

Need to Cancel a Southwest Flight? You Won’t Pay ANY Fees!

Non-refundable tickets (like Wanna Get Away fares) can be cancelled without a fee, as long as you cancel at least 10 minutes prior to departure.  The value of the ticket can be used towards another ticket within 1 year of the original ticket’s date of issue.

b)   Award Tickets

You can change or cancel an award ticket without a fee.  The points will be immediately returned to your account.

If you fail to cancel but don’t fly on the ticket, Southwest will redeposit your points within 3 to 4 days after the date of the last flight in your reservation.

Southwest really does have the best change and cancel policy! 

5.   United Airlines

Link:   United Airlines Refunds

Link:   United Airlines Award Ticket Refunds

a)   Paid Tickets

You can cancel a ticket and get a full refund within 24 hours of purchasing your ticket.  That’s great for folks who like to jump on low fares but realize later that they can’t travel on the dates they’ve purchased.

Most United Airlines tickets are non-refundable.  You can get your money back on a refundable fare, but there might be cancellation fees based on the rules of the ticket you purchased.  Depending on the ticket, you might be able to apply the fare paid to a new ticket, but you’ll have to pay a fee.

United Airlines says:

The refund amount you will receive depends on several variables.  For example, if the ticket has both refundable and non-refundable fares included, each fare will be considered individually.  Tickets that are partially traveled will be calculated at a prorated amount based on the rules of the ticket purchased and segments flown.  Fees and surcharges collected in conjunction with the ticket will only be refunded if applicable.

It’s complicated and vague!  And you might be able to apply the value of a non-refundable ticket to a new ticket, but you’ll pay a penalty.

Most fares are non-refundable, and are not eligible for voluntary refunds.  However, the value of your ticket may be eligible to be applied toward the price of a new ticket for a fee.

b)   Award Tickets

You can get your miles reinstated to your United Airlines account when you cancel an award ticket, but you’ll usually pay a fee.  Depending on your elite status, you’ll pay between $75 and $200 to have miles returned to your account (unless you’re a Global Services, Premier 1K, or Premier Platinum elite member, in which case you won’t pay anything.)

Cancellation Policies Of Major US Airlines And Online Travel Agencies

You’ll Pay Fees to Cancel Award Tickets on United Airlines, Unless You’re a Top-Tier Elite Member

You can cancel your award ticket within 1 year of the date of issue and get the miles back, as long as you pay the applicable fee.

Online Travel Agency (OTA) Cancellation Policies

If you book a paid ticket through an Online Travel Agency, you may be able to cancel your ticket and get a refund or apply the value of the ticket towards future travel.

Bear in mind that even though you’ve purchased a ticket through an Online Travel Agency, your ticket will still be subject to the fare rules, cancellation policies, and fees from the airline you’re traveling.

1.   Orbitz

Link:   Orbitz Cancellation Policy

Link:   Step-By-Step Guide to Cancelling a Flight on Orbitz

Orbitz will let you cancel most tickets within a short time after booking (depending on the airline).  You’ll get a refund for the ticket, but not the Orbitz service fee.

Cancellation Policies Of Major US Airlines And Online Travel Agencies

You MAY Be Able to Cancel Your Ticket on Orbitz, but It Depends on the Airline and Fare You Booked

If you’ve bought a fully refundable ticket, you can get a refund but it has to be processed through Orbitz.  It can take up to 45 days for the refund to be posted to your credit or debit card.

Non-refundable tickets may be applied towards future travel, but you’ll have to pay the difference in fare, plus any fees charged by the airline and a $30 Orbitz change fee.  You’ll need to check the fare rules on your ticket to determine if you can cancel and use the funds towards another flight.

2.   Expedia

Link:   Expedia Cancellation Policy

Expedia’s policies are similar to Orbitz.  Depending on the airline, you may have until midnight the day after booking to cancel and get a full refund.  There’s no cancellation fee.

Cancellation Policies Of Major US Airlines And Online Travel Agencies

Expedia Doesn’t Charge Change or Cancellation Fees…but the Airline You Booked With Might

Fully refundable tickets can be refunded, but you’ll have to cancel through Expedia.

Funds from non-refundable tickets might be applicable towards future travel, but again you’ll pay the difference in fare and any fees imposed by the airline.  Expedia does not charge change or cancel fees for any type of ticket.

3.   Priceline

Link:   Priceline Cancellation Policy

You can cancel a Priceline ticket within 24 hours of booking and get a full refund with no cancellation fees.  You have to call before 11:30 pm Eastern Standard Time and at least 1 hour prior to departure or check-in.  However, Air India, JetBlue, and Spirit Airlines are not included.

And tickets purchased with the Name Your Own Price® program (where you don’t know the full itinerary until after you book) do NOT get a refund and you can’t change the ticket regardless of how soon you cancel.

Cancellation Policies Of Major US Airlines And Online Travel Agencies

Don’t Negotiate a Name Your Own Price® Fare Unless You’re Absolutely Sure You’ll Travel…They Can’t Be Changed or Refunded

Fully refundable and non-refundable tickets can be refunded or changed based on the airline’s fare rules for the ticket.  As with other OTA’s, you’ll have to pay the difference in fare, any fees charged by the airline, and a $30 (per ticket) Priceline service fee.

Bottom Line

If your plans change and you need to cancel or change a paid or award airline ticket, you’ll have to look closely at the policies of the specific airline or online travel agency you booked with.

Generally, you can get a refund on fully refundable tickets (but may pay a fee).  Non-refundable tickets can sometimes have their value applied to future travel, but you’ll always pay a difference in fare and airline change fee (except on Southwest, which doesn’t have change fees).

Online travel agencies have similar policies, and will defer to the airline’s fare rules and fees.  Orbitz and Priceline add change fees, but Expedia doesn’t.

Have you had to change or cancel a ticket?  What was your experience?

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21 responses to “Cancellation Policies of Major US Airlines & Online Travel Agencies

  1. This article makes no memtion to the fact that you can change the date on an Award ticket booked through American and will not pay any fee as long as the routing is not changing. I think that it’s definitely worth mentioning. More flexible then the other legacy carriers.

  2. You forgot to mention that if you are an Alaskan Airlines MVP Gold or above you can cancel or change a ticket without penalty. One of the best elite benefits out there!

  3. Oh geez, I have a story from last week!

    My husband and I were in Japan, returning on an ANA flight that codeshared with United. We had planned to make a small flight from one airport in Japan to Narita airport, and then take a direct flight back home. But as it turned out, our travel plans changed a little and we were going to be near Narita the day of the flight and wouldn’t need the first small leg. We called ANA and they said United would be able to cancel that leg for free if we called them closer to our departure date and asked them to let us “abandon” the first leg of the flight.

    So I’m sitting on a bench in Tokyo Disneyland while my husband makes a “quick, five minute call” to United on a payphone to abandon the first leg. The operator then tried to charge my husband 100 dollars for each of us to “change” our flight.

    I completely understand the inconvenience to an airline to issue us a NEW seat or CHANGE the date on which we’re flying, because they’re giving us a NEW seat on a NEW flight and may not be able to sell or reissue the seat they gave us originally. But in this case, we didn’t need a NEW seat, we just wouldn’t be there for the first flight (which we already paid for, and were not asking a refund for), and didn’t want the airline to cancel the second flight because we were a no-show.

    My husband was on the phone for about 45 minutes reasoning with this guy on why the “change” fee should not apply to us. (If anything, aren’t we saving them gas by making the plane less heavy? Just put two empty cardboard boxes on the seats with our names on them!!) Apparently, the charge would cover a “re-issuance of the ticket,” which basically means digitizing some info and probably costs the airline about 7 cents of manpower. But most of all my husband stuck to his guns because we wouldn’t have changed our travel plans if ANA hadn’t assured us it would be fine! I should probably add here that this flight was booked with AWARD MILES, and might be part of the reason they gave us so much trouble.

    Anyway, finally the operator went to ask his manager. He came back and reported that the manager said he couldn’t do it. But he stuck to his guns and said he just couldn’t accept that. So the operator caved and made the change, but asked us to PLEASE never do this again or expect it because it goes against their policy (the manager probably told him to say no and see how we responded. Sneaky!).

    So that’s my story. What a pain that was! We got my husband a Mickey Tiramisu Ice cream Bar later as a reward.

  4. Reichan – nice story! Your husband did great and deserved that Tiramisu Ice cream 🙂

  5. Nice compilation!

  6. I booked a ticket for my mom who lives outside the states: The outbound with United and inbound with Alaska Airlines. She couldn’t fly due to a painful foot. A month before departure date, United informed me that they changed the time to depart thirty minutes later than scheduled. A day before departure date, I called United to inform them that since they changed the time, she could not fly and asked for a refund. The CSR forwarded my request and within four days, United emailed me that my request was granted -full refund for a paid ticket with no fee. With Alaska Airlines, I called them, after calling United, that my mom could not make the return flight. They offered me the credit for the award ticket good for one year. I told them that my mom was awaiting for a foot surgery and would not know if she could recuperate within one year to fly. She said I could use it to fly to or from my mom’s residence. Sometimes you just have to wait and hope that the airline might change their schedule close to the departure date or at the last minute to get a full refund without any fee.

  7. wrong, Alaska Airlines has another rule – you can cancel OR change paid ticket within 24 hours of booking

  8. Does the United award redeposit fee apply to each person on a reservation? For example, if I have 4 people on a single record locator (and no UA status), do I pay $800 or $200 to redeposit the miles if I cancel?

  9. How about changing the flight with award ticket ?

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  13. Just curious how this relates to international airline policies. My husband and I had booked flights to Fiji several years ago and then had to cancel, long before our booked flights. We each had to pay $300.00 to cancel. This was in 2007 and the airline was New Zealand Air.

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  15. Due to the ebola crisis last October 2014, I spoke with the Delta Supervisor that we had to cancel our flight to Texas. Since we had already paid for our tickets we were told that we had until September 2015 to use the tickets and notes would be place on each ticket purchased. My question is how do we schedule our flights for September which would be 2 adults, 1 senior and one child. Do we give you our ticket numbers? or do we go ahead and schedule the flights for our trip, or do we talk to a Deltga Supervisor?


  17. Mary,
    I would check and recheck with Delta because due to the Ebola, they were cancelling flights in and out of certain points in that area. Under those circumstances I would argue that they should have either refunded or changed your flights with no change fee.
    Either way, if you have the one year policy in place to reschedule, then contact Delta who will have all the information on hand when rebooking your new flights

  18. My dear friend bought 2 first class tickets on British Airways from UK to Australia recently.

    He bought one ticket for himself and the second for his Mum as a surprise trip for them to reunite with his sister who now lives in Australia.

    He just died 3 weeks ago suddenly, and now his Mum is left grieving as you can imagine, but also with a first class ticket to Australia and one for her Son who has now passed away.

    Obviously her son will not be lucky enough to use the ticket as he is now deceased and buried!

    She has been trying to get one of the following options: Full refund of her sons ticket, voucher for someone else to use the ticket in order to accompany on the upcoming flight.

    So far nobody from BA has been sympathetic or caring in any way to this situation and I just cant believe that this is morally right?? As a matter of fact they have been downright rude…

    This was to be a very special family reunion, and was very very costly in terms of ticket costs, 12,000 British Pounds each to be exact (approximately $18,000 US dollars each ticket!!!)

    Surely we all thought that someone at BA would help to give this poor woman some sort of compassion and resolve.

    But NO! Nothing at all will they do…..

    I have posted this saga on Facebook and so far many many others have written to say that this just is not right and that BA should be ashamed of the way they are treating this situation.

    Looking for any thoughts out there??

    British Airways, you should be ashamed of yourselves!

  19. Hello, do you know that for united airlines, if I bought a unrestricted ticket (a fully refundable ticket), how long before departure I could still cancel and get a full refund? I’m expecting cancelling the ticket about 6~12 hours before departure, but I’m not sure whether I could still get full refund, even for an unrestricted ticket… thanks!

  20. IMO Expedia “secretly” changed their policy for cancellation for free within 24 hrs. While I have successfully cancelled my other flights for a full refund within 24 hrs before, there were two recent reservations that they gave me a hard time. One supervisor (of course this kind of argument always escalates to a supervisor or some sort) initially even wanted to charge me a $200 fee for Canadian Airlines while another supervisor (when I called another time after I discovered that they issued a refund in short of $7 ) told me that they will charge a $7 expedia fee if the reservation is made with multiple airlines even if you call and cancel it within 24 hrs. However, when I ask to see a policy document with details, no one could give me a proper link.

    I called multiple times, argued and finally got my full refund. However, in case you want to avoid such drama, please be advised that Expedia may have started to charge you whatever fees they want for whatever reasons even within 24 hrs. They may be just hidden in terms & conditions. Good luck.