Found a Hot Airfare? Here's How to "Hold" It Before You Book

by  Karen Gardiner | Aug 26, 2014
British Airways plane
British Airways plane / Leit_Wolf/iStock

Many of us have had this experience: You see a good fare for a flight you want to book, but first, you need to talk to friends or family, or maybe book the days off work. A day or two later, when you return to the booking site to complete your reservation, the flight has jumped in price and you are left kicking yourself for not having just booked when you first saw it.

Last week, a new holding fee service was announced by British Airways that should help avoid this very situation. The new fee allows customers up to 72 hours of consideration time before deciding whether or not to go ahead to book a flight. You pay $5 per person to put a hold on a short-haul flight or $10 for long-haul, then, if you do go ahead and book, the fee is refunded.

You will see the new service when booking on the BA website, with a section asking if you need more time and would like to reserve the flight appearing at the bottom of the screen. The service, however, is not offered for last-minute flights (in this case, flights booked within 21 days of departure). (For tips on taking advantage of last-minute air fare deals, see our checklist.)

Note that there are a few restrictions and things to keep in mind. For example, there are a number of destinations to which flights cannot be held. After holding the reservation, you will not be able to change the dates or the route, but you can change passenger names. Iberia, which merged with British Airways in 2010, is offering a very similar service, the main difference being that you can reserve up to five days before the flight.

BA is not the only airline out there that offesr this flexibility when booking. United offers a similar option called Fare Lock, which allows customers to hold a fare for 72 hours for a fee of between $5 and $20, depending on the route. Most importantly, while it is not too widely known, the U.S Department of Transportation actually requires carriers to hold a reservation at the quoted fare for 24 hours without payment or allow a reservation -- even a non-refundable one -- to  be cancelled within 24 hours without penalty." Although this only applies to flights more than seven days out.

If you need just a little more time, and don't want to pay a fee, Delta might just offer the best service. Although you do have to pay the money upfront, Delta Airlines gives you a day to change your mind after booking and receive a full refund. Delta's Risk-Free Cancellation service states that the cancellation request "must be made by midnight of the day after the eTicket is purchased or midnight of the departure date of the first flight, whichever comes first." Technically, that actually gives you more than 24 hours of thinking time: if you made the booking at 12:01 a.m on a Tuesday, you would have until 11:59 on the Wednesday to cancel.

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