Most award tickets (tickets booked using airline miles) are either refundable for free or for a small fee (small in comparison to fees on cash tickets); some award tickets may be nonrefundable and non-changeable, especially if these were promotional tickets booked for a discounted mileage amount. But generally, you can cancel a mileage ticket and get the miles and taxes refunded without much hassle. The story with cash/revenue tickets is a bit different when you try to change or cancel/refund them.
While the rules on award tickets are generally easy to understand (change/cancel-wise), the policies on cash/revenue tickets can, at times, be very confusing – some tickets are refundable, some are cancellable but nonrefundable, some are non-changeable, etc. the list goes on. It is very important to understand your options prior to making your booking so you know what you can do if you need to change/cancel.
Free Change/Cancel within 24h
When buying a cash ticket, you usually have 24 hours to cancel or change it for no fees – if you cancel within the 24h window, you can get back the full amount to your original form of payment. There are a few restrictions to this rule – some airlines only allow this if you booked at least one week prior to your departure, while other airlines might not have this restriction; be sure to check with the airline you are booking to understand your ticket rules.
The first 24h after you book a ticket are crucial – you always want to make sure that your name(s) are spelled correctly and your flight details are correct because once the 24h window is over, change fees can add up very, very quickly.
Basic Economy / Economy Light
Basic Economy or Economy Light tickets are generally nonrefundable and non-changeable – meaning that once the free 24-hour cancellation window has passed, these tickets are set in stone and you can’t do much. Each airline sets their own rules and some may allow changes or refunds for a fee, but generally, don’t expect this option as these are the cheapest tickets with a bunch of restrictions.
The other exception that might allow you to change or cancel a Basic Economy ticket without penalty is if the airline issues a travel waiver that covers your flight – for example, if there is snowfall and the airline allows you to change or postpone your flight.
Regular Cash Tickets
Due to the situation occurring in the past few years, most airlines now allow you to change or cancel your ticket for free (as long as your ticket is not a Basic Economy or Economy Light flight). Airline tickets are generally valid for a year from the original date of issue – so if you can change your flight for free (no change fees; but a fare difference may apply), expect to complete your travels within a year of when you originally bought the flight. Airlines have been extending validity of ticket in the past few years, but don’t expect them to be more generous again as travel recovers.
Most (not all) airlines now offer you the ability to cancel your ticket for no fee and save the value of the ticket as a credit to use towards a future flight. You can easily then apply the amount you have on your credit towards a new booking – you can pay the difference with your credit card (if the flight is more expensive). If your new flight is cheaper than your credit, most airlines allow you to save the remaining value towards another future flight.
Keep in mind that like with changes, if you cancel your ticket for a credit to use in the future, the credit will generally only be valid a year from when you originally purchased the flight. Again, some airlines have extended credits in the past, but do not expect this to happen again as travel is almost back to normal.
Refundable/Flexible Cash Tickets
If you have purchased a refundable or flexible ticket, chances are that you can fully refund the ticket back to your original form of payment. However, most of us usually do not buy these tickets as they cost a significant amount more than regular tickets. Flexible tickets offer more flexibility – such as free changes and the ability to refund your ticket to the original method of payment. Keep in mind that while your ticket may be refundable, remember that you must cancel tickets prior to departure (generally at least 2h before the scheduled departure time), otherwise you could forfeit the entire value of your ticket and/or be charged a no-show fee.
All in All
Cash/revenue ticket rules are generally different and more complicated than cancellation/change rules on award tickets. Before buying a ticket, you are always able to view the “Fare Rules” which explain exactly what your options are and what the various components and restrictions on the ticket are – airlines also have dedicated sections on their websites where you can view what their rules are in regards to changes or cancellations.
Airline credits are great as you can easily apply the value of your cancelled flight towards a new booking – but keep in mind the policy of the airline and also the expiration date(s) of your credit(s). It is definitely much easier to change or cancel flights nowadays due to the event occurring in the past few years – flexibility is key for everyone and airlines have finally made changes and cancellations simpler.