The beauty of redeeming frequent flyer miles is that often the change and cancellation fees are low to none. Redeeming miles is an “award” and therefore the costs associated with that award should be limited (which is why I believe all airlines should not charge you fuel surcharges on award tickets).
Sometimes something unexpected happens and you need to change or cancel a trip – the first thing that you will probably be thinking of is “how much will this cost me?” and after you figure that out, you will then probably be asking yourself and checking if there is award availability on your new dates of travel.
I wrote an article earlier where I explained the Award Ticket Service Fees of some of the most popular frequent flyer programs and how they are structured. The information included aspects such as if you have a 24-hour free cancellation policy, what the change fees are, what the cancellation fee is, etc. Every frequent flyer program has their own rules and fees for changes and cancellations. For example, American Airlines allows you to change the date on your award ticket for FREE as long as the origin and destination remain the same.
While the fees to modify award tickets are generally not as high as on revenue tickets, they still can add up – especially if you have a few travellers in your itinerary. Here are some ways you can try which might help you avoid those Award Ticket Service Fees.
Cancellation and Change Fee
The cancellation fee of a mileage ticket is often more than the change fee, this is because the airline must cancel the entire ticket, refund the taxes, and redeposit the miles to your account. Some airlines charge the cancellation fee in miles while others in money – you should always pay in money and never let your miles go for a cancellation fee.
If you want to cancel your award ticket, there are a few ways you can approach the situation and you may not have to pay anything.
- Change your trip to a later date
- some mileage programs like AA’s allow you to change the date on your flights for free as long as the origin and destination remain the same, you can change your flights to a future date for no cost instead of cancelling the ticket, and simply fly in the future
- Look for a schedule change
- a schedule change is a change in the departure and/or arrival time/date of your flight
- if there is a schedule change of at least two hours, most airlines let you change or cancel for free
- some airlines even allow you free changes/cancellations if the schedule change is 5 minutes!
- Look for an aircraft change
- airlines often swap aircraft on routes and this may allow you to change/cancel for free
- this is especially true if you are in a premium cabin – sometimes the new aircraft does not have flatbed seats, for example, and this alone should entitle you for a free change/cancellation
- Look for a routing change
- routing changes involve a change in how you fly from point A to point B
- if your original route was Seattle – San Francisco – Honolulu and you were changed to Seattle – Chicago – Honolulu, you should be able to change/cancel for free as this is a significant change in the routing and even though you are flying between the same cities, the travel time would be increased and no one would want to fly in Economy on such a long domestic flight
Close-In Booking Fee
American Airlines and United Airlines charge you a $75 USD fee if you book award travel less than 21 days before departure. This fee is insane and ridiculous and the only reason it exists is because they love to make extra money. It does not cost an airline more money to issue a ticket less than 21 days prior to departure.
The best way to avoid this fee is to book with a partner airline… and it might cost you less miles. For example, if you want to fly from Seattle t0 Los Angeles on American Airlines, the normal price would be 12.5k AA miles. However, if you were to book that same flight using British Airways Avios, it would cost just 7.5k BA miles and there would be no close-in booking fee since British Airways does not charge that.
For United, you can use any of their Star Alliance partners to book flights on United. For example, say you have Chase Ultimate Rewards and want to book a United flight but don’t want to pay the close-in fee. Instead of transferring from Chase to United, transfer from Chase to another Star Alliance airline and book through that airline for the same United Airlines flight.
Phone Booking Fee
Can you believe some airlines still have phone booking fees? It’s crazy. More often than not, these fees can be waived if you cannot book a certain airline partner of that airline online. For example, AA will waive their phone booking fee when you ring them to book Etihad Airways awards since you cannot book EY flights on AA’s website.
Other frequent flyer programs, such as Aeroplan, rarely waive their phone booking fee and the only way they do is if you can prove their website gives you an error while trying to book a certain airline. Aeroplan’s website is super glitchy and often errors out on the most basic booking such as New York to Chicago – in this case call Aeroplan and tell them the issue and they should waive the phone booking fee. If the agent doesn’t, ask for a manager or supervisor.
No one wants to pay more than necessary for their “free” mileage trip. Therefore there should be limited costs to change or cancel your “free” trip. Remember that you must understand the rules of each frequent flyer program and their fee structure to understand how you can actually avoid those fees. There are many rules, exceptions, and conditions that must be followed and they are unique to each airline – understanding them is the first step to avoiding them.