Aren’t airlines supposed to allow you to cancel a flight reservation for free if you do it within 24 hours — even for non-refundable tickets?
Mark Niu and his partner Bradford Thomas thought so, because the Department of Transportation (DOT) says so. But Turkish Airlines thought differently.
According to Niu, he and Thomas made reservations on a roundtrip flight from San Francisco to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines’ website, and paid for them by credit card.
That night Niu and Thomas found flights leaving and returning a day later, at the same fare, which were more compatible with their work schedules, but hadn’t been available when they previously booked. Turkish Airlines’ website did not allow them to modify the original booking. They then chose to purchase a new set of tickets for the later dates and attempted to cancel the original tickets.
They were surprised to be asked to acknowledge a charge for cancellation, so they didn’t click the box making that request and did not cancel their reservations. They then found out that Turkish Airlines’ U.S. call center was closed for the weekend.
The following morning, Thomas called Turkish Airlines’ San Francisco call center, only to be told that Turkish Airlines would not cancel or refund those tickets, as those were non-refundable tickets. Thomas asked to speak to another person or a manager and was told that there was no one else to whom he could speak.
Thomas then called Turkish Airlines’ customer service number, but the customer service representative he spoke to did not cancel or refund the original tickets despite it still being within 24 hours of booking. He did file a request to their headquarters to look into the matter for a refund, but was told that it would take a couple of days to review Niu and Thomas’s case and make a determination. Niu and Thomas were at least able to get an email confirmation that the request was filed, and the time on the email indicates that it was within 24 hours of booking.
According to Niu, “We are frustrated with their disregard of the DOT policy, but we’re hopeful that Turkish Airlines will refund us the tickets.”
Niu and Thomas were assuming that they could get a refund for the original tickets based on the DOT’s 24-hour reservation cancellation policy.
This policy covers all reservations made in the U.S. under all carriers, domestic and foreign. The policy makes clear that,
Each U.S. and foreign air carrier that has a website marketed to U.S. consumers post its customer service plan, which must include a commitment pertaining to the
24-hour reservation requirement, on its website in an easily accessible format.
It also considers the failure to offer a passenger a full refund in the original form of payment in the event of a cancellation request covered by the 24-hour reservation requirement to be an unfair and deceptive practice.
Niu reached out to our advocacy team for assistance, and my colleague Jessica Monsell contacted Turkish Airlines on Niu and Thomas’s behalf.
Thomas received an email from Turkish Airlines’ customer service department, promising to cancel the original reservations and refund the ticket fees in full.
Which begs the question: Why didn’t they do that in the first place?
Clearly, Turkish Airlines needs to fix its website (the U.S. version at least) to comply with the DOT’s 24-hour rule and get rid of that cancellation fee request. Even more important, it needs to make sure that its customer service representatives are informed of the 24-hour rule. Niu and Thomas shouldn’t have needed our assistance to get their tickets refunded.