Travel Miles 101 has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Travel Miles 101 and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. Disclosures.

Airlines offer different types of fares and tickets to passengers – ranging from Basic Economy to Fully Refundable First Class; the more flexibility a ticket has, the more it will cost you. Standard tickets these days usually allow free changes but no refunds and a ticket is usually valid for one year from the date of original issue and could be changed several times, if the fare rules allow it. It is important to understand the various ticket types prior to booking so you know what your options are if you need to change or cancel your flight.

An Award Ticket

Award tickets work differently than cash tickets since they are purchased with a combination of miles/points and cash (for the taxes/fees/surcharges). Depending on the frequent flyer program, you will either have to pay to cancel your award ticket or you can cancel for free. In both cases, the miles/points would be returned to your airline account for future use and the taxes/fees paid would be refunded to your original form of payment.

In rare cases, a frequent flyer program could issue you a voucher for the value of your ticket in miles and taxes which could be applied towards a future award ticket, but this is rare, and in most cases the points just go back to your account.

Free Ticket Refunds within 24 Hours

Most airlines offer you the ability to cancel and get a full refund within 24 hours of booking your ticket – some online travel agencies also offer this. There are no questions asked and you can simply fully refund your ticket if you are within that timeframe. While this policy applies to a lot of airlines, be sure to check the rules before booking a ticket as there can be some restrictions as to how close prior departure you book and on what routes – also, some airlines outside of the U.S. may not have this rule.

The 24 hour rule can also apply to some award tickets where a frequent flyer program still charges change or cancel fees – if so, they may also have this rule whereby you can cancel your award ticket for free within 24 hours of booking it.

Non-Refundable and Non-Changeable (Basic Economy)

Basic Economy or Economy Light tickets in most cases are non-refundable and non-changeable after the 24 hour booking period has gone by. There are a few airlines that let you change your ticket for a fee and some that let you cancel it for a fee, but in most cases, don’t expect to be able to change or cancel a Basic Economy ticket.

Non-Refundable, Changeable Tickets

Most regular tickets these days (non Basic Economy) are able to be changed for no fee, but cannot be refunded to your original form of payment. The ability to change your ticket without any fees depends on a variety of factors, including, but not limited to:

  • ticketing airline
  • operating airline
  • routing flown
  • fare purchased

Remember that while there might be no change fees charged, you would most likely pay a fare difference. If the cost of the new flights is lower, you could either get a voucher for the difference or forfeit the difference.

Cancel a Non-Refundable Ticket for a Voucher

If you have a non-refundable ticket that allows changes, you may be able to cancel the entire itinerary and get a voucher for future use. If a voucher is issued, remember that it may be valid only for one year (some airlines use the one year timeframe from the date you originally purchased your ticket while others issue you a voucher for a full year).

If you do opt for a voucher, remember that it can come with a bunch of restrictions:

  • valid only for one year, depending on the airline
  • some vouchers are non-transferable, so the original passenger must fly
  • in some cases, you must fly the same routing, cabin, and airline (only date can be changed)
    • this usually applies to an airline credit rather than a voucher

Check the details carefully before requesting a voucher or airline credit for your flights – and be sure your itinerary is eligible prior to requesting a cancellation.

Fully Refundable

If you have purchased a fully refundable fare, you can cancel your ticket usually up to a few hours prior to departure and get the full amount of your ticket refunded to your original form of payment. It is, however, important to check how close to departure you can actually cancel as every airline has a different policy – some have 2 hours prior and others might require 24 hours prior to departure.

All in All

When purchasing an airline ticket be sure to carefully check the fare rules so you know what can be done if you need to modify your travel plans. You usually want to stay away from Basic Economy tickets since they aren’t worth it and come with a bunch of restrictions and on the other end of the spectrum, fully refundable tickets aren’t worth the high price either, since you can purchase a normal ticket in most cases and just get a voucher to use on a future flight if you have to cancel. Remember that every airline has different rules and policies, so be sure to check those prior to purchasing a ticket.

Travel Miles 101 has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Travel Miles 101 and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.