This little-known rule lets you cancel any flight for free

You know that anxious feeling when you’ve just made a plane reservation, and now it feels so… final? Well, it’s not final. By federal law, every commercial airline must hold your reservation for at least 24 hours and allow you to cancel it within those 24 hours, even if you already paid (which you probably did!).

This law has actually been on the books since April 2011 and also requires commercial airlines to notify you of this right. For example, airlines aren’t allowed to suggest, whether on a website or on the phone, that your reservation is non-refundable during those first 24 hours. And whomever you deal with when making a cancellation request during the first 24 hours must offer you a full refund in the original form of payment.

If you didn’t know about this law, don’t blame yourself. According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), not all airlines have been complying. For example, an airline that references the cancellation right only on a “customer service” page that most customers would not normally be aware of, it’s not complying. The DOT has been encouraging airlines to fall into line and is who you should go to if you have any trouble getting your refund. Here are some other popular travel myths you might be buying into.

Please be aware of the following, however:

  • To be eligible for the 24-hour cancellation right, you have to have made your reservation at least a week before the flight’s departure.

  • Travel websites (such as Expedia) are not subject to this rule (only commercial airlines are), so if you book through one of them, you may be subject to their less-favorable rules. On the other hand, some of these websites give you longer than 24 hours in which to cancel (for example, Priceline may give you the weekend to rethink your travel plans if you book on a Friday, according to Travel + Leisure), but you should always check to find out what kind of commitment you’re making if you book on one of these websites.

Next, don’t miss these 11 secrets travel booking companies don’t want you to know.

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