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 United.com: 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 united.com, 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.