Is United Changing Its 24 Hour Refund Policy?

The US Department of Transportation requires airlines to offer consumers either 24 hour holds or 24 hour refunds for tickets they sell which are purchased at least a week in advance of travel.

United and Delta have offered 24 hour refunds even day of travel, not limiting the “courtesy cancel” benefit to reservations that are at least 7 days prior to departure.

American used to offer reservation holds (but not cancellation), even before the DOT required it. Effective April 1 they moved to 24 hour refunds for reservations made 7 days in advance or more (but — meeting minimum requirements, but not competitive with United and Delta — not within 7 days of travel). They left the hold option up on their website although it’s no longer available for everyone every time.

United’s published policy has not changed and appears at 24 hours from purchase to cancel a ticket, even for close-in travel.

Reservations emails, though, have changed. Sometime between August and October, United added language to their email receipts that 24 hour refunds are available only “if the reservation is made one week or more prior to scheduled flight departure.”

And here’s the language from October 29:

Refunds Within 24 Hours

When you book and ticket a reservation through, the United mobile app, the United Customer Contact Center, at our ticket counters or city ticket offices, or if you use MileagePlus® miles to book an award ticket, we will allow you to cancel the ticketed reservation without penalty and receive a 100 percent refund of the ticket price to the original form of payment if you cancel the reservation within 24 hours of purchase and if the reservation is made one week or more prior to scheduled flight departure.

This new language mirror’s American’s policy, and comes after American’s President Scott Kirby became United’s President.

However a United spokesperson tells me, “We have not changed our policy to require the 7 day advance purchase and we have no plans to change the policy.”

That naturally leads to the question of why they’d change the standard language in their emails to inaccurately describe their policy. Someone actively made this change, and did it recently it seems. I’m working to find out why.

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. >Someone actively made this change, and did it recently it seems. I’m working to find out why.

    Because, of course, somebody at UA is either (a) ignorant of the change in policy, or (b) lying.

  2. @gary It’s definitely a goof on United’s part, but I don’t think there’s any grand plan to change policy.

    I looked back through a bunch of old confirmations. In Sept 2015 they added this language to the emails:

    “Notwithstanding the foregoing, you are entitled to a full refund if you cancel a ticket purchased at least a week prior to departure within 24 hours of purchase.”

    That changed in Oct 2016 to the language you quote above. I suspect they were originally trying to quote the actual DOT policy, and one of the lawyers didn’t look up the internal policy when updating the language.

    Hopefully anyway. I’d really hate to see that policy change.

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