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How to Get a Refund When Your Fare Drops After Purchase

Scott Keyes
By 
Scott Keyes
Founder & Chief Flight Expert
3 min read
Last updated 
June 24, 2020

Airfare prices are constantly fluctuating, and even if you snag a great price, there’s always a chance the fare could drop even lower after you purchase. So what happens if you book a flight and the price decreases later? That all depends on what type of ticket you purchased and how long ago you bought it.

If the fare drops within 24 hours of booking…

For all flights into or out of the United States, airlines are required to abide by what’s known as the “24-hour rule” in the industry. 

Under this US Department of Transportation policy, airlines must allow you to cancel or change the ticket within 24 hours of purchase without any fees (alternatively, they can allow you to lock in the price for 24 hours at no charge, but most opt for the 24-hour cancellation or both). The rule applies to any flight that originates or lands in the United States, is booked directly with the airline, and was booked at least a week in advance of departure. 

In other words, if you discover a lower fare and you’re within 24 hours of booking the first ticket:

  1. Double-check that you’re within the 24-hour window
  2. Book the new flight immediately to make sure you get that lower fare
  3. Cancel the original (higher-priced) ticket

Just make sure you book the new ticket before you cancel the old one. That way you won’t be left with no ticket at all if the price rises again. 

Note that some online travel agencies (OTAs) have their own version of the 24-hour rule; we’ve outlined the details of each in our article about the 24-hour rule, but be warned that these rules often come with a bunch of caveats. Read carefully.

Scott explains more about the 24-hour rule in the video below.

If the fare drops on a flight booked more than 24 hours ago…

The policy here will vary by fare type. Most basic economy fares, for example, aren’t eligible for changes or refunds at all once the 24-hour window has passed. If you booked a main economy or higher fare, you may be able to cancel it and get some money back in the form of a credit. 

Each airline has its own refund policy for price drops, so if you’re outside the 24-hour window (or your flight isn’t covered by the 24-hour rule in the first place) you need to find out what the specific policy is for the airline with which you booked—and for your specific fare class. 

In most cases, the fees associated with changing your reservation are likely to negate any savings you might have found with a lower ticket price—so be sure you understand the cancellation/change fees involved before you decide to make any adjustments to your itinerary.

Here’s the policy for major US airlines during "normal" times. Note that during coronavirus policies are different. You can see current policies here.

Alaska Airlines

Refund/change fee (domestic): $125
Refund/change fee (international): $125
Refund form: Travel credit

Alaska’s price guarantee says that if you book a ticket on Alaska’s website and then find a lower price on another site within 24 hours, you can get a refund for the difference (as long as it’s more than $10). Outside that 24-hour window, however, Alaska’s refund policy is more strict. If you’re eligible for a refund at all (Saver fares aren’t), it’ll come in the form of credit with the airline—minus $125 (per person, per change) in “applicable change fees.”

American Airlines

Refund/change fee (domestic): $200+
Refund/change fee (international): $750+
Refund form: Travel credit

If you book a refundable ticket directly with American, you can get a refund that goes back to the original form of payment. If you bought a non-refundable ticket (which includes basic economy), the circumstances under which you can request a refund are much more limited

Some of the exceptions to the “non-refundable” rule are the death of the passenger or a traveling companion, a change in military orders, and a change made by the airline to your itinerary that’s 61 minutes or more from the original flight times. American’s ticketing fees vary considerably by flight class and change required, but in general you’ll be paying upwards of $200 for a domestic flight and $750 for international, which likely negates any savings from the lower fare.

Delta Air Lines

Refund/change fee (domestic): $200+
Refund/change fee (international): $200+
Refund form: Travel credit

Delta’s cancellation fee for non-refundable tickets starts at $200, which is deducted from the cost of the ticket. Whatever is left becomes an airline credit that you must use within one year from the original ticket purchase date. Changing a reservation with a non-refundable ticket also incurs a fee of $200–500 depending on the destination. Basic economy tickets cannot be canceled or changed. 

Frontier Airlines

Refund/change fee (domestic): $79-119
Refund/change fee (international): $79-119
Refund form: Travel credit

As long as you’re making a change (or canceling) a flight 60 days or more before the departure date, Frontier won’t charge a change fee. Beyond that, fees range depending on when you’re trying to make the change.

JetBlue

Refund/change fee (domestic): $75-$200
Refund/change fee (international): $75-$200
Refund form: Travel credit

With JetBlue’s Best Fare Guarantee, if you find a better deal anywhere other than the airline’s official website on the same day you bought the ticket, not only will you get a refund of the fare difference but you’ll also get a $50 credit toward another JetBlue flight. Beyond that same-day policy, however, you’ll pay a change fee—based on the original ticket cost—for most fares.

Southwest

Change fee (domestic): $0
Change fee (international): $0
Refund form: Travel credit or refund in original payment

Southwest doesn’t charge a fee to change a reservation, even if it’s outside the first 24 hours after purchase. Additionally, depending on the fare class of the ticket you bought, you may be eligible to receive either a refund of the difference or a travel credit in the amount of the difference if the fare drops.

Sun Country

Refund/change fee (domestic): $50-100
Refund/change fee (international): $50-100
Refund form: Travel credit 

For any changes made to a trip 60 or more days before the departure date, Sun Country won’t charge a change fee. After that, fees range from $50–100 (per person, per direction) depending on when you’re trying to make the change. If the new ticket is cheaper than the original one, you get the difference in the form of a credit that you must use within one year of the original ticket purchase date.

United Airlines

Refund/change fee (domestic): $200+
Refund/change fee (international): $400+
Refund form: Travel credit 

United doesn’t have many details in their published refund policy, but based on the accounts of other travelers, the airline may have an “unofficial” refund policy if the fare on a ticket drops (except for basic economy tickets, which cannot be canceled or changed). You’ll have to call United’s reservations desk directly and a change fee will likely still apply.

When it comes to other airlines, policies vary. If you’re outside of the 24-hour window and the fare drops by a significant amount, it’s worth checking out the airline’s policies, but remember than in most cases, the fees you’ll incur changing a nonrefundable fare might negate your potential savings. 

You can hedge your bets a bit when searching on Google Flights, which will indicate whether the price you have found is high, low, or average compared to the usual prices. If Google Flights indicates the price is low compared to average, you can book knowing it’s fairly unlikely the fare would drop a significant amount. 

google flights price bar showing if a price is a low, high, or average.

The bottom line

If you’re within 24 hours of booking and the price drops, book the new fare and then cancel the older, more expensive one. After 24 hours, particularly if you’ve booked a basic economy fare, it’s unlikely you can change your ticket without incurring large fees that would cancel out any savings.

Want cheaper flights? Join Scott's Cheap Flights. Our team searches for amazing deals and alerts you when we find a great fares departing from your airport. Our members save an average of $550 per ticket.

Last Updated 
February 7, 2020
How to Get a Refund When Your Fare Drops After Purchase
Scott Keyes
Founder & Chief Flight Expert

Scott has traveled to 46 countries (and 46 states!), living in California, to Oaxaca, to Oregon. He’s left-handed, drinks five cups of tea daily, and holds a vendetta against the “Happy Birthday” song. On a dare, he once ate 13 hot dogs (and a bowl of Dippin’ Dots) at the ballpark. He grew up in Ohio and founded Scott’s Cheap Flights in a Denver coffee shop. Favorite airport: PDX.

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