American, Delta, and United all have some form of a 24-hour courtesy cancellation policy. But does this apply to no-frills “Basic Economy” tickets, which are explicitly non-changeable and non-refundable?
In short, yes. But there are limits. Let’s review each legacy carrier’s policy.
American used to allow holds on all fares instead of courtesy cancellations, but now offers holds as long as you are booked more than 48 hours prior to departure. American’s rules state–
You have up to 24 hours from the time of ticket purchase for a full refund if you booked at least 2 days prior to departure. You must cancel your trip for a refund.
Note that reservations made via the American call center are not eligible for a refund of the call center ticketing fee.
Delta Air Lines
Delta policy is generous in that you you are given until midnight the day after the e-Ticket was purchased to cancel without penalty. That means if you book a ticket at 12:01a on Wednesday you have until 11:59p on Thursday to cancel, nearly 48 hours. But also note that if you book a last-minute ticket, there is no refund once the flight date arrives. So if you book a ticket at 10p for a flight at 7pm the next day, you have two hours to cancel it — once midnight strikes, the courtesy cancellation period has expired.
Cancellation request must be made by midnight of the day after the eTicket is purchased or midnight of the departure date of the first flight, whichever comes first. Available only for eTickets purchased at the time of reservation through Delta ticket offices and airport ticket counters, Reservation Sales, or at delta.com.
United explicitly guarantees a 24-hour refund period for all tickets, including Basic Economy, if your ticket is purchased at least seven days in advance. Here’s the odd thing–every time you book a ticket with United, you are given a “24-hour flexible booking policy” guarantee, even for same-day departures. This happens routinely, without exception, to reservations made within one week of travel. United may eventually crack down on this, for its rules below certainly dictate a different policy, but in practice United is the most generous of the three in allowing refunds.
United’s 24-hour flexible booking policy allows the flexibility to make changes to select reservations within 24 hours of purchasing your ticket, without incurring change fees if you made your purchase one week or more prior to the original scheduled departure flight. This includes canceling your reservation and requesting a 100% refund of the ticket price. Although Basic Economy reservations are not eligible for changes within 24 hours, they are still eligible for a full refund if you cancel within 24 hours and you made your purchase one week or more prior to the original scheduled departure flight.
I’m just focusing on the big three legacy carriers because other carriers, like Alaska, JetBlue, Southwest, and Virgin, do not yet offer these sorts of fares restrictions intended to compete with Frontier and Spirit.
You can see although Basic Economy fares are technically non-modifiable once booked, they too fall under the same government-mandated courtesy cool-off period that all other fares do.