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The ins and outs of non-refundable airline tickets

(CNN) -- If you get a deal on airfare, you can be fairly certain you're getting a "non-refundable" ticket. But that doesn't mean it will have no value if your travel plans change.

Travelers are often confused by what "non-refundable" means when it comes to airline tickets.

In general, it means that you won't get any money back if you cancel or change your flight. However, most airlines will allow flyers to apply the face value of the canceled ticket toward the purchase of a new ticket. In those cases, a penalty of $50 or $75 usually is charged.

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Some restrictions apply (of course)

Some restrictions apply to how ticket credit can be used.

For example, American Airlines requires the new ticket to have the same routing as the original.

"In other words, if the ticket was from Dallas to Los Angeles, you would have to be flying from Dallas to Los Angeles," said American spokesman Bill Dreslin.

In addition, non-refundable tickets are non-transferable, which means new tickets must be issued in the same name as that which appears on the canceled ticket.

Deadlines for using ticket credits

Airlines also set deadlines for using ticket credits, usually up to one year. Savvy travelers can find ways to extend a ticket's life.

"Go ahead and make another reservation, get ticketed and then change it again," said Chris McGinnis, CNN business travel consultant. "However, you're going to lose another $75, so it depends on how much you've spent for that ticket."

The only way to avoid the restrictions is to buy a fully refundable ticket, usually available for a "non-restricted" full fare.

"A full coach, or 'y' fare ticket, is considered fully refundable, which means you'll pay $800 to fly from Atlanta to Miami and back, but if you want to make a change outbound or coming back, you're going to get all your money back," McGinnis said.

CNN Travel Correspondent Stephanie Oswald contributed to this report.


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