By Mike Grasso
Sale airfares come and go within a few days, while unadvertised drops in fares usually last just a matter of hours. Take some relatively recent examples such as Los Angeles to Fiji for a few hundred bucks, and San Francisco to upstate New York for $2 bucks. One minute you see them, next minute - poof, fare be gone. You're craving a vacation and the "deal of the century" is right before your eyes, but you're not sure how your significant other & work will feel about you taking more time away. How do you break free of your ambivalence to book?
While I don't have the perfect answer to that question, but perhaps more time to think it over will help! Most airlines offer some form of a "cooling off" period. They don't officially call it that, but essentially it allows you to purchase a ticket on their website and then later decide (usually within 24 hours) to cancel and receive a full refund, giving you plenty of time to chat up the S.O and Boss. This policy can can also be helpful if, for example, after booking you realized you selected the wrong date of departure, giving you an opportunity to make the correction at no charge.
A variation to the refund scenario is a 24-hour hold policy, whereby after you build a reservation on the airline website, you can place it on hold for up to 24-hours. Airlines offer a refund or hold - not both. Below I've outlined and linked the policies of major U.S. carriers. These policies are subject to change, and may not apply to every specific scenario, but do provide a general rule to follow when booking with the different airlines.
Southwest Airlines: (no link) 24 hour cancellation policy. Beyond 24 hours, Southwest does not charge a change fee, allowing you to hold as travel credit up to a year from date of purchase.
Continental Airlines: 24-hour cancellation policy
U.S Airways: 24-hour HOLD & cancellation policy
Virgin America: 24-hour cancellation policy
Delta Airlines: Cancellation until midnight the next day.
United Airlines: 24-hour cancellation policy
American Airlines: 24-hour HOLD policy.