American considers dropping the free 24-hour hold option

American Airlines is thinking about changing a key part of the reservation process.

The Fort Worth-based carrier this week began running some tests that involve the airline’s generous free 24-hour hold option.

As part of the experiment, some customers will no longer be given the option to place a reservation on a courtesy hold. Instead, they’ll only be able to cancel a reservation within 24 hours of booking for a full refund.

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AMERICAN AIRLINES

Other flyers will continue seeing the free hold option when purchasing a flight, though there’s no telling whether you’ll receive this courtesy until you get to the purchase page on American’s website.

For now, it appears that AAdvantage tickets can still be held, though it’s possible that the carrier will expand this test to include mileage awards in the coming days.

Part of the impetus for the trial is reducing the number of calls made to American’s reservations lines.

Passengers wishing to purchase on-hold tickets often needed to call if they were using flight credits to complete the purchase. But customers typically can apply flight credits online – with no call needed – if tickets are purchased at the time of booking.

In a statement, the carrier said “we continue to evaluate our product offerings to customers on aa.com and understand customers may need flexibility when booking travel plans. Customers whose travel plans change after they purchased a ticket with American can receive a full refund if they cancel the ticket within 24 hours of purchase.”

American’s test lasts two weeks, after which it’ll evaluate the data and decide if it should move forward with dropping the courtesy hold.

Historically, this popular option has been available for customers who might be on the fence about purchasing a reservation. Instead of ticketing your flight immediately, you could instead choose a free hold, which gave you a day to decide to either confirm or cancel your reservation.

Even if American drops the free hold option, you’ll still be entitled to a refund within 24 hours of purchase, assuming that you bought your ticket at least two days before your flight.

This policy is governed by U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations, which require airlines to either offer free 24-hour holds or a 24-hour risk-free cancellation period.

That said, American’s historically been quite generous as one of the few airlines to offer both options for travelers.

The carrier’s two biggest U.S. competitors, Delta and United, don’t offer a courtesy hold option and instead allow flyers to cancel and receive a refund within 24 hours of purchase.

(It’s worth noting that both Delta and United allow you to cancel within 24 hours of purchase, even for a same-day flight, assuming that you void your reservation before departure.)

Meanwhile, American is still the stingiest of the bunch in that it has a two-day restriction for its 24-hour free cancellation policy.

The DOT only requires free cancellations for tickets booked at least a week before departure, so all three airlines are more generous that the published rule.

While American considers the future of its free 24-hour hold, it’s possible that the carrier might decide to monetize this option, similar to how United offers a “Fare Lock” product for many of its flights.

In exchange for a nominal fee that varies based on your itinerary and desired hold time, you can lock in a United fare for a specified duration. American offers extended holds for a free in some cases, but it’s not as readily available as it is with United.

Either way, it’ll be interesting to follow how American’s test goes. More options are always better than fewer, so hopefully the carrier will see value in continuing to offer free holds, especially for award tickets.

Regardless of what the carrier decides to do, remember that American no longer imposes change fees for most tickets as of late 2020.

You can always change or cancel a flight even after the 24-hour grace period, though you’ll be on the hook for a possible fare difference if you do end up moving to a more expensive flight.

Budget Travel