Passengers can change tickets and correct errors within 24 hours of purchase
In 2012, the Department of Transportation (DOT) promulgated the 24-hour rule. This regulation requires airlines to provide travelers booking flights 24 hours to cancel their trip or correct errors in the booking of any kind of ticket without any charge or fee from airlines. The only exemption was for tickets purchased within a week of travel.
This 24-hour rule has been on the books for about six years, but many consumers still do not know about it. Those travelers who do not know of the rule often have to pay change fees of $200 for domestic travel moments after they push “buy” on airline websites when they purchase tickets. When they purchase international tickets, the amount of money that can be charged for changes to and/or cancellation of airline tickets by airlines starts at $300 and goes up depending on the type of ticket purchased. The 24-hour rule provides travelers a window of time within which they can ensure that their tickets are to correct destinations and have names spelled properly.
Today, all airlines allow the cancellation of reservations within 24 hours of completion, as required by the 24-hour rule. If there was an error with the name of the passenger, the airline ticket must in most cases be canceled and be repurchased. That may mean that flash airfare sales may no longer be available if a name correction is requested. However, in most cases, consumers have a window of opportunity to correct errors. In most cases, even nonrefundable airline tickets may be refunded within the 24-hour window by airlines if the flight is booked prior to a week from travel.
The basic 24-hour rule means that passengers should carefully examine any airline ticket they purchase within this 24-hour window. If there is a mistake, contact the airline that issued the ticket or your travel agent immediately and notify them of the error in either destination or with an improperly spelled name.
Make sure the destination is correct. Many passengers make mistakes by booking to the wrong city airport. This might happen in Chicago, where flights take off and land at either Midway or O’Hare. In New York, there are not only JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark, but also MacArthur and White Plains added to the mix. And, in the DC area, choices are Reagan National Airport, Baltimore Washington Airport, or Dulles. Making a mistake in airports can mean major hassles with connecting flights that may be impossible to rectify. The 24-hour rule allows a no-charge correction.
Make sure the name is correct and spelled correctly. This is perhaps the most frequent mistake made by passengers that requires the 24-hour rule. In the day of TSA screening against terrorist watch lists and security checkpoints, an improperly spelled name can become a problem.
Here is the introduction to the 24-hour rule published by DOT:
The 24-hour reservation requirement is mandated by the Department of Transportation’s consumer rule “Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections” (14 CFR 259.5(b)(4), 76 Fed. Reg. 23110, 23166, Apr. 25, 2011) and applies to all reservations made seven days or more prior to the flight’s scheduled departure time. To comply with the regulation, carriers may not deceive consumers about the 24-hour reservation requirement when consumers inquire about cancelling or changing a reservation within 24 hours of making or paying for that reservation. This guidance also clarifies that the Department’s Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings (Enforcement Office) considers the failure to notify such consumers of the 24-hour reservation requirement to be unfair and deceptive in violation of 49 U.S.C. § 41712. It also considers the failure to offer a passenger a full refund in the original form of payment in the event of a cancellation request covered by the 24-hour reservation requirement to be an unfair and deceptive practice.
This 24-hour rule did not go over well with airlines. It was challenged in the court system as an overextension of DOT’s authority. The airline complainants lost their case. Their subsequent request to the US Supreme Court to change the regulation was also rebuffed by the highest court in the land when it refused to hear the case.
Remember: According to the 24-hour rule, passengers have 24 hours to examine their airline tickets and cancel the flight with full reimbursement, or make changes to their tickets without charge. This is another case where Travelers United was instrumental in working with DOT to put this rule into effect for American airline passengers.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past ten years with Congress, the Department of Transportation and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.