Exactly When to Purchase Refundable Airline Tickets (and When to Pass)

Updated 01/22/18
Harper and Harley

Planning a trip can be an overwhelming experience, even if you have the most blissful destination in mind. Unless you're a travel agent or a true frequent flyer, you might not know how to score the best flight deal, what hidden fees to look for, or which extras are worth considering. "When you're booking a flight online, make sure you're looking at all of your options," advises Emily McNutt of the travel advice site The Points Guy. As a pro travel editor, she knows exactly what to look for when selecting flights and reading the fine print.

One travel option that appears to be up for debate is whether or not to purchase refundable airline tickets. Most airlines offer this feature as a way for passengers to cancel a flight without penalty, but it tends to be a pricey upgrade. According to McNutt, buying refundable airline tickets depends on your plans. Keep reading to find out when you should splurge on flight insurance and when to pass.

If Your Plans Are Definite…

Pass. "If you have set-in-stone plans that you are positive will not be changing, it doesn't make sense to purchase a refundable ticket in most cases," explains McNutt. There's no need to spend the extra money if you can assure that you won't need to cancel your flight. The price difference between a refundable ticket and a non-refundable ticket can be up to a few hundred dollars, so if the hotels are booked and your plans are concrete, don't make the additional purchase.

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If Your Plans Are Subject to Change…

Splurge. "If you have tentative plans that have the possibility of changing, then it could make sense to spend the extra money in order to have the flexibility in your travel," says McNutt. This way, if you have to cancel you won't be hit with high cancellation fees, which range from around $70 to over $400 (depending on which airline you book with). That said, always have the facts. "Make sure you read the terms and conditions of the exact fare you're booking if you're booking a flexible ticket.

That way you won't so be caught off guard if you need to cancel," McNutt says.

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If Your Plans Are Spontaneous…

It depends. If you have a flexible schedule and tend to make plans on the fly, there's a couple things to keep in mind before biting the bullet and spending on a refundable ticket. McNutt advises brushing up on your rights when it comes to canceled flights. All airlines flying in to, out of, or through the U.S. are required to provide a complete refund if you cancel your reservation within 24 hours of the original purchase, explains McNutt. Some airlines also let you put a hold on a quoted fare for 24 hours at no charge.

"If you see a great fare, don't be afraid to jump on it. In most cases… you'll be able to get a full refund on your fare in 24 hours," she says.

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