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TPG reader Eric sent me a message on Facebook to ask about airline change and cancellation policies:

“I booked a flight for my friend and I, but he can no longer go. Can I change the name on the ticket and take someone else, or can I cancel the ticket and have the points refunded?”

Changing the name on an airline ticket isn’t easy, but, in some cases, it can be done. For the most part, if a ticket needs to be altered due to a typo or because your legal name has actually changed (after getting married, for example), then you should be able to get it done with a little paperwork.

Otherwise, airlines tend to be unyielding when it comes to name changes (both for paid and award tickets), but you may get a pass in extenuating circumstances like a medical emergency or a death in the family. Also keep in mind that the Department of Transportation enacted a rule in 2012 allowing passengers to cancel non-refundable bookings within 24 hours of purchase, without penalty, so long as the booking is made at least seven days in advance of the flight. Some airlines abide by this rule for award tickets as well, but beyond 24 hours you’ll likely need to cancel. (Note that rather than offer a refund within 24 hours, American Airlines allows you to hold a ticket for one day.)

You can usually reclaim your miles if you do have to cancel an award flight, though you should expect to pay a pretty penny for the privilege. While Southwest Airlines famously doesn’t charge for changes or cancellations, Delta and American both charge $150 per ticket to reinstate miles, and United charges $200. Preserving your miles is worth the cost in many cases, but it still hurts. Fortunately, these fees are reduced or waived altogether for some elite members. Check out Nick Ewen’s Guide to Canceling Award Tickets for more details.

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Southwest is a good bet if you want to avoid change and cancellation fees.

Another strategy for avoiding fees is to keep an eye out for changes made by the airline to your itinerary. Flight schedules are modified all the time, so if you notice a shift in your departure time, or if the aircraft you booked is swapped out for another with different amenities, you’re justified in asking for the airline to waive change or cancellation fees.

If all else fails, you could follow Jordan Axani’s example: just find someone else with your friend’s name and bring him with you instead!

For more info on changing and canceling airline tickets, check out these posts:

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at info@thepointsguy.com.

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