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The Sneaky 24-Hour Flight-Booking Fee You Need to Know About

Airlines and hotels are notorious for sneaky fees, but online travel agencies can get in on the action, too. I remind travelers often about the 24-hour refund rules for airlines that are enforced by the Department of Transportation, which say that travelers can expect a full refund from an airline for any flight they book, as long as they request the cancellation within one day. That means you have 24 hours to look for a cheaper fare, or to cancel if you realize you somehow made a booking mistake—no questions asked, even if it’s a basic-economy ticket.

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But there is one important exception to this rule to keep in mind, and it’s based on booking fees. One traveler wrote in recently asking about a $75 refund fee they faced within the 24-hour time limit for a flight cancellation. Here’s what happened.

Editors note: The below has been lightly edited for clarity.

“I booked a basic-economy trip through JustFly.com to go to Baltimore. I realized two hours later that the flight was reserved for October 29, whereas I wanted to be in Baltimore on October 28. I thought that I could cancel within 24 hours without having to pay anything, but when I canceled, JustFly had charged me $75.00. What about having 24 hours to cancel your flight, as indicated on most sites and for every airline? Was I charged because my ticket was basic economy?”

To the reader: The $75 fee you paid was assessed by the third-party booking site, JustFly—not by the airline. The 24-hour rule applies to all airfares, including basic, but it applies only to airline fees and not to fees imposed by third parties such as online travel agencies (OTAs). The $75 fee for cancellations within the 24-hour period is specified under JustFly’s terms and conditions—a place most people probably don’t check.

This is a good reminder about yet another sneaky fee to look out for. As for sites that won’t charge you a fee, Expedia offers free cancellation within 24 hours, without an exchange fee. On Priceline, however, there is a $30 exchange fee within the 24 hours.

Presumably, every OTA decides whether to assess a booking fee and how much to charge. It’s just another price gouge, and another one of those annoying items to add to the list of what you have to check before buying. That’s one reason so many in the industry recommend buying directly from an airline, unless a third party has a much better deal and charges no fees.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

By Ed Perkins

A nationally recognized reporter, writer, and consumer advocate, Ed Perkins focuses on how travelers can find the best deals and avoid scams.

He is the author of "Online Travel" (2000) and "Business Travel: When It's Your Money" (2004), the first step-by-step guide specifically written for small business and self-employed professional travelers. He was also the co-author of the annual "Best Travel Deals" series from Consumers Union.

Perkins' advice for business travelers is featured on MyBusinessTravel.com, a website devoted to helping small business and self-employed professional travelers find the best value for their travel dollars.

Perkins was founding editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter, one of the country's most influential travel publications, from which he retired in 1998. He has also written for Business Traveller magazine (London).

Perkins' travel expertise has led to frequent television appearances, including ABC's "Good Morning America" and "This Week with David Brinkley," "The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather," CNN, and numerous local TV and radio stations.

Before editing Consumer Reports Travel Letter, Perkins spent 25 years in travel research and consulting with assignments ranging from national tourism development strategies to the design of computer-based tourism models.

Born in Evanston, Illinois, Perkins lives in Ashland, Oregon with his wife.

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