This little-known rule lets you cancel any flight for free — and we had no idea
You know that anxious feeling when you’ve just made a plane reservation, and now it feels so… final? Well, it’s not final. By federal law, every commercial airline must hold your reservation for at least 24 hours and allow you to cancel it within those 24 hours, even if you already paid (which you probably did!).
This law has actually been on the books since April 2011 and also requires commercial airlines to notify you of this right. For example, airlines aren’t allowed to suggest, whether on a website or on the phone, that your reservation is non-refundable during those first 24 hours. And whomever you deal with when making a cancellation request during the first 24 hours must offer you a full refund in the original form of payment.
40 PHOTOS40 airport secrets only insiders knowSee Gallery40 airport secrets only insiders know
1. Global Entry and TSA PreCheck Are Totally Worth It
While many travelers are enduring long waits to get through security these days, insiders are taking advantage of Global Entry ($100) and TSA PreCheck ($85) for faster screening.
“Global Entry is a must for anyone who travels internationally and includes TSA PreCheck for your domestic flights,” said frequent traveler Lee Huffman, founder of BaldThoughts.com. "Because you are what’s known as a Trusted Traveler, you can skip security lines at the airport and don’t have to take off your shoes or remove your 3-1-1 liquids bag."
2. Sign Up for Airline Rewards Programs
Even if you don’t fly often, you could benefit from signing up for an airline rewards program. After just a few flights, you might have enough miles or points to score free or low-cost travel. And you might not even have to use the same airline to redeem your miles.
“You can often fly on partner airlines using your airline’s miles,” said Huffman. “In some cases, using Airline A’s miles to fly on partner Airline B requires less miles than if you used Airline B’s miles for the same flight."
3. Don’t Check Your Bags
One way to make sure your stuff arrives safely is to pack like a pro and take only carry-on bags when you travel. Typically, airlines allow for one carry-on bag and another small item, such as a purse or laptop. However, checking your bags can mean waiting in long lines, and there’s a risk of your luggage getting lost or even stolen.
Instead, utilize carry-on bags to save time and ensure your stuff arrives when and where you do.
4. Take Advantage of Airport Lounges
Airport lounges aren’t just for the rich and famous.
“Many credit cards and airline loyalty programs provide free or discounted access to airport lounges,” said Huffman.
Not only do these lounges allow you to escape the hustle and bustle of the airport to relax before your flight, but you can also enjoy complimentary beverages and snacks. Call your credit card company ahead of time to see if you’re eligible for entrance.
5. Pack Only What You Need
Frequent fliers know that one of the best airport tips is to travel light. While it’s wise to pack a few extra socks for your trip, stop and ask yourself if all the items in your suitcase are truly necessary.
“When packing, think about [in] exactly what situation you’ll want a certain item of clothing,” said Gillian Morris, CEO and founder of Hitlist, a travel app that alerts you when cheap flights are available.
6. Fly Off-Season for the Best Deals
Many people enjoy taking summer vacations, but airport insiders know that traveling off-season is the best way to find deals.
Typically, traveling to your intended destination at off-peak times — for example, during the rainy season — can save you money. Do your research to see when the "low season" is for the place you’d like to go.
7. Pack an Empty Water Bottle
The best airport travel tips save you both money and time.
Instead of having your water bottle thrown out by the TSA, or having to stop and buy a $5 water bottle at the food court, pack an empty bottle to stay hydrated. Airports have water fountains where you can fill up before your journey — for free.
8. Clear Your Cookies Before You Book a Flight
If you’ve ever searched online for a flight and then waited an hour or so to purchase, you might have seen the price increase. The culprit could be your cookies. After all, internet browsers track your activity online, and some booking sites might increase the price depending on demand.
To avoid this situation, travel pros suggest clearing your cookies or using a private browser when booking a flight. You might just be able to score a lower rate on your next trip.
9. Bring Your Own Headphones
Many airlines offer free in-flight entertainment, but not all of them provide headphones for free. In order to save money and keep yourself entertained during a long flight, pack your own headphones. As a bonus, you’ll look busy and avoid any unwanted conversations with people in your row.
10. See If You Can Gate-Check Your Bags
More and more airlines are making baggage fees the norm — and charging $25 or more per checked bag. One way to avoid baggage fees — and the hassle of flying with carry-on luggage — is to check a small bag at the gate.
Most airlines don’t charge to check carry-on bags at the gate, but you should check before heading to the airport to avoid surprises. Along with saving you money, this airport tip can help keep you comfortable during the flight. Instead of stuffing a bag under your feet, you can save this valuable space for a more crucial commodity — your legs.
11. Fly on a Tuesday for the Best Deals
The weekend is prime travel time for many people, which can mean higher prices and larger crowds. For the best travel deals, fly on a Tuesday. Additionally, you should consider booking a flight that leaves at a non-peak time, such as early in the morning or late at night.
12. Four Wheels Are Better Than Two
The luggage you travel with matters, and having four wheels can be better than two. This way, you can avoid dragging your bag and push it in front of you instead.
Additionally, bags with four wheels allow you to navigate tight spaces and maintain better control over your luggage. The end result is that you can get through the airport faster.
13. Download Your Airline’s App
One easy travel tip that can make air travel easier: Download your airline’s app. In most cases, you can enjoy paperless boarding and get real-time updates on any flight delays, changes or updates. As an added bonus, having a mobile boarding pass can help you save time — and some trees.
14. Wear Slip-On Shoes
If you dread taking off your shoes in the security line, make your life a little easier and wear slip-on shoes. This simple travel hack can keep the line moving and make getting through security a little less painful.
15. Pack Your Own Food
Airline food has a bad reputation, and for good reason. Instead of eating substandard food on the plane, or picking up overpriced snacks in the airport, pack your own items ahead of time. Sandwiches, fruit, crackers and granola bars are all smart choices, but be sure to check with the TSA to make sure your menu follows security guidelines.
16. Spend Money to Save Money
While airport shops have a reputation for jacking up prices, travelers can occasionally score good deals. Some states, such as Oregon, have no sales tax. If you’re thinking of shopping at the airport, compare prices online and check tax laws before you travel.
17. Pick an Aisle Seat
Planes can be cold, and the temperature tends to drop even lower by the window. In fact, cold air can leak right through the window glass at high altitudes.
Opt for an aisle seat to stay warm on your next flight. As a bonus, you won’t have to climb over anyone to go to the bathroom.
18. Bring the Sanitizer
Airplanes can be hotbeds for germs. Be sure to bring hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes to avoid illness when you fly. One area not to miss is your tray table. Tray tables might contain germs, so take the time to sanitize that tray before you eat your snack off it.
19. Get Social
One of the best travel tips for saving money is to get social. Follow various airlines, airports and airline booking sites on social media sites, like Twitter and Facebook, to score promo codes, discounts and insider tips.
20. Know Your Airport Code
Before arriving at the airport, learn your airport code or the three letters that refer to your destination, such as LAX. After all, some cities have multiple airports, and your luggage tags can get mixed up if you’re not sure where you’re headed.
21. Make Your Luggage Unique
At baggage claim, the sea of bags can look eerily similar. One of the best travel tricks is to make your luggage unique by tying a ribbon or tag to the handle.
Not only does differentiating your bag from the rest save you time, but it also ensures someone else won’t walk off with your belongings.
22. Wear a Jacket
Picking the aisle seat might not be enough to keep you warm on your trip. For best results, wear several layers, including a jacket, so you’re prepared to handle temperature fluctuations. Along with helping you deal with the cold, donning a coat gives you more pockets for small items that you want to keep handy on your journey.
23. Get a Rewards Credit Card
If you like flying with a particular airline, it might make sense to get an airline rewards credit card. Often, these airline-based cards can have generous sign-up bonuses and offer perks like discounted travel, early boarding and access to airport lounges.
“If you have great credit and do not have any spending problems, you can sign up for credit cards to earn hundreds of thousands of frequent flyer miles, so your upcoming trips are all free or heavily discounted,” said Eric Rosenberg, travel hacker and founder of Personal Profitability.
24. Plan Ahead
Frequent travelers plan ahead to make their lives easier and ensure they arrive at the airport on time. Pack the night before, look up driving or public transportation directions, check the weather and traffic, and print out important documents ahead of time.
25. Choose the Path of Least Resistance
The amount of traffic in arrivals and departures can vary, depending on the day. However, you can still get where you need to go, regardless of which lane you choose. If there are too many travelers in the departures lane, consider changing it up and getting dropped off at arrivals.
26. Check In Ahead of Time
One travel tip that can limit the amount of time you spend waiting in line at the airport is to check in ahead of time. Many airlines allow travelers to check in early and print their own boarding pass. If you only bring a carry-on, you can head straight to security.
27. Avoid Wearing Jewelry
Security lines can be a pain, but you can make life easier by leaving the jewelry at home. In some cases, you can keep your jewelry on while going through security, but it might set off the metal detector. So, you might have to put your bling in the bin or get a pat-down from security.
For best results, avoid wearing jewelry altogether and pack it in your bag instead.
28. Don’t Wrap Your Gifts
If you’re going home for the holidays, think twice about wrapping your gifts ahead of time. After all, airport security might decide to unwrap your items to get a look inside. Save yourself the hassle by putting your family’s presents in gift bags.
29. Volunteer to Go on a Later Flight
If you’re not in a rush to get to your destination, consider volunteering to get bumped off a crowded flight. Many airlines offer vouchers to people who give up their seats. In some cases, these offers are worth more than the original flight costs.
30. Check Your Flight Status Online
Before heading to the airport, check your flight status online. Delays happen, and instead of waiting at the terminal for hours, you can get real-time updates before leaving the house.
31. Mix and Match Flights
To get the best deals on flights, consider nixing the round-trip ticket in favor of two one-way tickets. One airline might have the cheapest departing option, while another might offer the most affordable return. You can purchase two one-way tickets on different airlines to save cash for souvenirs at your destination.
32. Make Copies of Important Paperwork
Travelers need to keep track of various documents, including airline tickets, passports, itineraries, hotel reservations and driving directions. As a result, it’s easy for important items to get lost in the shuffle.
To ensure you have all of your required documents, make copies of the most important pieces of paperwork and keep them in your luggage.
33. Skip the Starbucks Line
While Starbucks might be calling your name on those early flights, skip the cup of joe and the line to save money.
Instead, you can score free coffee on your flight. Also, if you’re flying Alaska Airlines or Delta, you can enjoy Starbucks coffee as part of the complimentary beverage service.
34. Bring Travel Size
To ensure your toiletries aren’t thrown in the trash, make sure all liquids are stored in containers measuring no more than 3.4 ounces. Most people don’t have products of that size at home, so bring shampoo samples that you’ve received on other trips. Some stores also sell travel-size shampoo, toothpaste and other items for your convenience.
35. Bring a Spare Plastic Bag for Toiletries
Per TSA guidelines, your toiletries should be stowed in a separate bag for screening. However, those bags can break or get dirty during your travels. Bring a spare resealable plastic bag for toiletries for your next flight.
36. Keep Your Laptop Easily Accessible
When you go through security, you typically have to take out your laptop for screening. To move through the line quickly, keep your laptop in an easily accessible location, so you’re not digging for it while in line.
37. Check for Free WiFi
If you have time to kill at the airport, you might start browsing on your phone to stay busy. Instead of eating up all your data, check the airport website ahead of time to see if it offers free WiFi. If not, you might be able to browse for free while visiting one of the airport restaurants or bars.
38. Bring a Portable Phone Charger
Your smartphone could be your No. 1 travel tool. After all, it lets you access directions, view your mobile boarding pass, answer emails and communicate with others before and after your flight.
While most airports have charging stations, they can often be crowded. Instead of fighting the crowd, bring your own portable phone charger so you’re never out of juice.
39. Wear Your Luggage
If you truly want to avoid baggage fees, consider wearing your luggage. Some clever travelers have stuffed their jackets with items to save money. However, a company called Jaktogo has taken things a step further by creating wearable luggage.
40. Use the My TSA App
Using the My TSA app, you can get answers to your most pressing travel questions and assess what items you can and can’t bring on flights. Additionally, you can get updates on delays, find out about cancellations and check wait times in the security line.
If you didn’t know about this law, don’t blame yourself. According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), not all airlines have been complying. For example, an airline that references the cancellation right only on a “customer service” page that most customers would not normally be aware of, it’s not complying. The DOT has been encouraging airlines to fall into line and is who you should go to if you have any trouble getting your refund. Here are some other popular travel myths you might be buying into.
Please be aware of the following, however:
- To be eligible for the 24-hour cancellation right, you have to have made your reservation at least a week before the flight’s departure.
- Travel websites (such as Expedia) are not subject to this rule (only commercial airlines are), so if you book through one of them, you may be subject to their less-favorable rules. On the other hand, some of these websites give you longer than 24 hours in which to cancel (for example, Priceline may give you the weekend to rethink your travel plans if you book on a Friday, according to Travel + Leisure), but you should always check to find out what kind of commitment you’re making if you book on one of these websites.
Next, don’t miss these 11 secrets travel booking companies don’t want you to know.
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