American Eliminating Free 24 Hour Reservation Holds April 1, Changing to 24 Hour Refunds

Update: American says they’re still just considering this and the change isn’t final.

The US Department of Transportation requires US airlines to offer either the ability to hold a reservation for 24 hours without ticketing, or to allow full refunds on non-refundable tickets for 24 hours after purchase, for travel booked at least 7 days in advance.

For years and long before this DOT requirement American has allowed consumers to place reservations on hold. It’s not something they were forced to do.

Other US airlines offer 24 hour refunds, not the hold option. So some find American’s policy confusing since they actually compete by offering their own differentiated policy. But I like the hold option better than cancelling, not having to put down a credit card and make payment and then track to make sure a refund actually posts (and follow up if for some reason it does not).

Plus since American has offered the hold option, you get the best of both worlds.

  • If you want to hold a ticket for 24 hours, reserve through American.

  • If you want to buy it and have the option of a refund book through an online travel agency that offers 24 hour refunds like Orbitz does. (Note that I do not believe that the DOT requires online travel agencies to offer this, but in general they do offer it anyway.)

Effective April 1, however, American will be conforming to the rest of the industry. They will no longer free 24 hour holds and instead will offer only 24 hour cancellation. (HT: sukn)

The change to no longer offer a 24 free hour hold option should not affect the sale of extended holds. And this does not affect placing awards on hold.

I do not know whether:

  1. In practice they will allow free cancellation until midnight the following day rather than just 24 hours as is standard in the industry.

  2. American will honor 24 hour refunds for tickets booked within 7 days of travel. United and Delta do, but the DOT does not require this. American’s 24 hour holds were only offered for travel that was at least a week away. Within a week, they used to allow 24 hour cancellation but they eliminated that last summer.

I’ve reached out to the airline to clarify.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This is terrible. The current system allowed for construction of complex itineraries. Once complete you ticketed those PNR’s that became part of the final plan and discarded those that were not part of the final plan. It also provided a window to book hotel and car rental reservations. I will now have to lock in hotels and then book flights on whatever airline offers the best price on flights that tie in to my hotel reservations.

  2. I remember when they would allow 14 day holds on award reservations. Was particularly useful when booking 331 days out, since the return flights wouldn’t be in the system yet.

  3. So, how is one to use a paper Voucher received from AA when volunteering to take a later flight. These vouchers are not electronic, so unless AA introduces a way to use them electronically, they would have to allow the free 24-hr hold. Any thoughts?

  4. As I mention in the post, no change to award tickets.

    I remember 30 day award holds at United… that I’d extend. Korean Air does longer than that with their own metal 😉

  5. Ok, I’ll be the dissenting opinion here and say that I am glad they are making these changes. I assume that we’ll be able to cancel within 24 hours even on flights within 7 days which is a great change, if true. Plus, it will be harder for them to cancel tickets for mistake fares than it is for them to cancel holds. Only real downside is making sure you get the refund.

  6. I hope the refunds are automatic with an online cancellation. With the common long hold times, it would be awful if we had to phone to get the refund.

  7. I got burned 11 days ago. I reserved a trip and did not know AA did not offers 24 hr cancellations. Within 24 hrs, of my purchase, I went to extend the return date by one extra day and was advised of $200 fee per ticket change fee would apply. Thus I cancelled thinking I had that right to do so within 24 hrs. I immediately rebooked and extended my trip by one extra day on the return. It seems I ate the $460 fee for the original trip I cancelled. I called AA CS and spoke with an AA supervisor who was one of the rudest CS supervisors I have encountered. He finally stated he would refund only because I rebooked right away. I have yet to see my charge card re-credited yet. AA has no phone # to check on cancellations or refunds, offering only online inquiries that I completed 4 days ago and still have not gotten a response. It was my ignorance not knowing that AA was the only US airline that did not offer 24 hrs cancellation, but they obviously did not care to go out of the way to help a returning customer who made a simple date error. BYW… When you click “cancel” on the ticket, they do not even offer a pop up box advising you that you will forfeit the cost, nor is there a pop up box asking “are you sure you want to cancel”. Click cancel and it was done. I find this very deceiving and unprofessional. I worked hard to save up our AA points (392K) so we could go visit our son who is deployed in Korea and fly in bus. class. I will now spend my 392K AA points as fast as I can and do my best to avoid flying them in the future. Shame on AA for this practice.

  8. I also prefer this change because you always get the 24 hour cancellation policy. In the past, when you booked straight away you gave away your right to any grace period. Now you always get it which is how it should be.

  9. Come on people…this is obviously an April Fool’s joke. If you ever see ‘Rumor’ and “April 1′ at the same time, that should be the first thing that comes to mind.

  10. The guy who first reported this on flyertalk called into book. When the person booked by the phone the American website and systems were being updated. A message would pop up stating the hours and such. I couldn’t book online because of this.

    Did you also base this off the guy from flyertalk?

    Tonight I was able to hold 3 trips for late summer.

  11. @Jeremy there’s not even supposed to be a change until April 1 so why would you be surprised by being able to place trips on hold now? This isn’t based on the person who first reported it on Flyertalk, but based on confirmed by a reliable American Airlines employee who posted to that thread and on calling American as well and getting the same story from an agent. America’s corporate communications last night did reply to me and I should have details of the change today.

  12. So here’s the deal: the AA cancellation/hold policy is clearly better. The problem is that the vast majority of the public doesn’t understand it. Remember, most people, especially leisure travellers, only fly about once a year on AA. They’re used to the policy THAT EVERYONE ELSE uses, which is that you have to pay for your ticket when you reserve and get 24 hours to cancel. They think AA has the same policy. And then every once in awhile, they buy their AA tickets and want to cancel within 24 hours, and can’t. And they get mad.

    At least once or twice a year, friends and acquaintances call me to complain about this. I can only imagine how many such calls AA receives. So why offer a more generous policy that your customers don’t understand and don’t appreciate, that only causes unhappiness? Answer: there’s no reason. Which is why they’re changing it to the less-generous industry norm.

  13. Thumbs up to iahphx. And to OldmanBob: ditto. For the same reason iahphx explained. We usually buy our AA tix via Priceline: industry-standard 24-hour cancelation, fine. AA denied our cancelation and we had to dispute the charge on our credit card. (The charges on our statement were from AA, not Priceline.) We eventually won the dispute, but AA’s intransigence turned me off. And the *one* time we bought on, we clicked “buy”, not even noticing the “24-hour hold” option. Got burned when we tried to cancel the next day. Oh well, lesson learned. Big picture, it all comes out in the wash, even if the immediate sting (6X$200 cancel fee) pissed us off. (We ended up getting $230 roundtrips (plus that $200 fee, oh well) Newark-Cabo, so hey, it’s good.) We consistently fly for less than airlines’ costs per passenger mile, so if they win one from time to time, fair enough.

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