I tend to overdo everything, which means that when I’m searching for travel I have like eleventy billion browser windows open. But one thing is the truest thing and I still never learn my fucking lesson about it: if you see a flight that looks even modestly passable, book now, think later. With one or two exceptions.
All the dumb airlines offer some kind of 24 hour refund policy. United and Delta are straight up about it; you buy, you don’t want, you log in, you cancel, you get refund (of either points or money). IS NO PROBLEM.
American will only do it if you bought the tickets at least two days before flight time, but they’ll usually offer a 24-hour hold option, which is sweet. JetBlue requires seven days, and no hold, which is the minimum they are mandated to offer by the FAA or FTC or some agency or another.
Here’s a United protip: if you’re paying (rather than award ticketing), you can select “Pay in Person” as an option, and United will put the ticket on hold for a couple of days at no cost. When you want it, you log back in and pay for it. This is the greatest.
Other airlines probably do other things, but I do not fly other airlines, because they are not where I am, or don’t go where I want to go, or don’t cost what I want to pay, so I’m not going to devote any more thought to them. You can probably figure it out on their web site.
Online Travel Agencies (e.g. Orbitz, Expedia) have their own policies, and in fact aren’t required to offer any refund. The only ones I usually use are Chase’s or Amex’s travel portals, because sometimes I pay with those points. Both offer 24 hour cancellation. With Chase bookings, you can cancel right on the web site, yay.
With Amex Travel, you have to call them, which is muy irritating, though they’re usually nice. If you paid with points, you have to explicitly say that you want the points redeposited in your account, or you’ll find yourself having converted your Membership Rewards points to pennies, which is probably not what you wanted. If you speak to a dummy who says you can’t do this (it happens), just ask to be transferred to the Membership Rewards department, who will have a bigger box of clues.
If I needed a last minute American or JetBlue flight I was undecided about, and I was actually gonna pay cash for it (so weird!), I might book it at Priceline or Expedia, because both seem to have no-matter-what 24 hour cancellation policies. (I think this would probably also work if I just paid cash at Chase or Amex, but I haven’t tried.)
You know why I’m telling you this? Because this very fucking morning, I found a sweet JetBlue Mint flight I wanted, and waited a whole 30 minutes before getting my shit together to book it. It had doubled in price. The walls shook at my bellows of rage. I will just try to breathe, and recognize that God obviously does not want me to take that trip in business class, for whatever reason; perhaps suffering in economy is a soul strengthening exercise. Because I’ll be a better person if I make it across the country without someone having a fork in their eye.
Here is what I am saying. If you find a flight you might want, book the fucker. Then you can keep researching without the soul-wrenching agony of the one that got away.