When do airlines charge your credit card? Spoiler alert: it’s usually instant.

When do airlines charge your credit card?

Your flight is months away. You didn’t want to run the risk of the flight being fully booked, so you reserved a seat with your credit card. Even though you have weeks before the departure date, will the charge still show up right away? When do airlines charge your credit card?

The amount of time it takes to see a charge for an airline ticket show up on your credit card bill is often different than the time it takes for them to actually issue the charge. It’s a bit complicated, so let’s try and break it down step by step:

When do airlines charge your credit card?

Most airlines will charge your credit card the full amount of the ticket price immediately. In all my years of purchasing airline tickets, the charges usually show up on my “recent transactions” feed within 30 minutes of making the purchase.

In contrast, if you’re using a debit card, the airline will check your available balance before issuing you a ticket. Even if the money isn’t immediately taken from your account, it will typically be deducted within one or two business days.

Buying an airline ticket is the same as making any other purchase. Whether you use your credit card the day before your flight or weeks in advance, you will need to supply the airline with a valid card number so that the reservation can be completed.

wing view sunrise
I’m not naming any names *cough*United*cough* but there are some airlines that charge your credit card the instant you smash the “purchase” button.

How long will it take for the charge to show up on your credit card bill?

While most major carriers immediately charge your credit card, it can take a few days before you notice the charge on your account.

When the charge shows up on your credit card bill depends on a two things:

  • When the airline decides to bill your account
  • When the credit card issuer decides to post the charge to your account

Basically, that’s just a long way of saying “it depends”. However, based on my own experience of booking tens of thousands of dollars worth of airline tickets over the years, it’s usually instant, but it never takes more than 2-3 days.

Note that it’s the same if you use a self-service booking website or purchase the ticket directly through an airline.

Most airlines charge you immediately, but that doesn’t mean the charge shows up at the same time on your credit card statement. It depends on your billing cycle. If you purchased the airline ticket at the end of a cycle, you might not see the charge until the next month.

What happens if the charge doesn’t show up on your credit card statement?

If the charge doesn’t appear within seven business days, it’s a good idea to confirm your purchase with the airline. It rarely happens, but your payment might not have been processed properly.

In this case, you will need to repurchase the ticket. You will want to keep an eye on your statement to ensure you aren’t charged twice for the same ticket. If that happens, you can dispute the charge with the credit card issuer.

sitting at the airport
Is this not the perfect spot from which to pester an airline about a recent purchase you made that didn’t show up on your credit card statement?

Can you book a flight without a credit card?

Many first time fliers (or those who don’t fly often) are surprised to learn that not everyone uses a credit card when paying for a flight. Using a credit card will be the most advantageous (mainly due to having the ability to earn loyalty points for every dollar spent). However, there are other options:

Debit cards

If you don’t want to use a credit card, airlines also accept debit cards. The cost of the ticket is immediately deducted from your banking account. You don’t have to wait for the charge to appear on a statement.

Cash

Paying cash is another option, but it can be a hassle. You cannot book a flight online or over the phone with cash. Your only choices are to visit a travel agent or the airline’s ticket counter at the airport. Booking through a travel agent means avoiding the lines and crowds at the airport, but usually includes an extra fee for their services.

Important: Not all airlines will accept cash these days, so make sure to double-check with your airline before heading to the airport.

Check

You can also pay for the ticket with a check, but be ready for some issues. You again will need to visit a travel agent or the airport, but it doesn’t hurt to call the airline. The routing number on the check (along with the printed number and your personal information) might allow you to pay over the phone. Chances are, you will have to go in person, and you will need several forms of identification.

American Airlines 777
The quickest and easiest way to pay for an airline ticket is with your credit or debit card. If you really hate them (and you want them to know), pay with a check.

Is it better to book flights on a debit or credit card?

I used to always recommend booking flights with a credit card. However, debit cards issued by major banks these days come with many of the same protections you get with a credit card. It includes purchase protection and the ability to receive a refund if the ticket isn’t used.

There are guidelines for airline ticket refunds. You cannot cancel the charge after the flight departed. Every card is different, so read the fine print before you use it to book an airline ticket.

Here are some things to consider when trying to decide between using your debit card or credit card for purchasing airline tickets:

  • With a debit card, you don’t have to wait for the charge to appear. Your bank immediately withdrawals it from your account. Even if the funds are still in your account, the purchase is listed in the pending column.
  • With a debit card, you always know how much money you have available to spend on your trip.
  • Credit cards offer perks you don’t get with debit cards. Along with airlines offering bonus miles, many credit card companies have travel plans. You can get cashback rewards for buying airline tickets, along with matching, doubling, or tripling the airline’s free miles. You also can cash your earned miles in for discounted or free plane tickets.
  • I always recommend leaving your debit card at home, since you run the risk of losing it or having it stolen. Once someone withdraws the funds from your bank account, it is almost impossible to receive a refund. If you somehow do manage to get a refund, it is usually months after the theft occurred.
  • In contrast, if your credit card is stolen, it’s easy to report it stolen and you won’t immediately be charged for any fraudulent purchase. The credit card issuer will cancel your current card, send you a new one, and conduct an investigation into the fraudulent charges. If no wrongdoing is found on your part, the case will be dismissed and you won’t be charged for anything.
  • You may have more protections using a credit card when it comes to dealing with a misspelled name on an airline ticket. Most airlines can help you resolve an error like that, but if they don’t, the purchase protection benefits of some credit cards may make it easier for you to get your money back.
  • The same goes for purchasing an airline ticket for someone else. Using a credit card is better since it’ll be easier to get your money back if there’s a major mistake with the booking.

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