Can You Change or Cancel an Award Ticket After a Missed Flight?

May 3, 2017

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

“Reader Questions” are answered three days a week — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — by TPG Senior Writer Julian Mark Kheel.

TPG reader Alicia has a friend… but maybe not any longer after she got stuck holding the bag on an unused mileage ticket, as she tells us in an email…

I booked a ticket using my miles for a friend with American Airlines. He bailed last minute and did not make the flight. Can I either get those points back or change the canceled reservation to another person?

TPG Reader Alicia

One of the great things about frequent flyer miles is that while there are exceptions, in most cases you can use your own miles to book a free ticket for anyone else. It’s a cool way to thank someone for their help, or bring a companion along with you on an awesome trip, or even to just be generous to a friend.

But what happens if that friend no-shows the flight? Well, the first thing to know is that the change and cancellation policies on most airlines don’t differentiate between an award ticket redeemed for yourself and one redeemed for someone else. So the fact that the ticket was booked in another person’s name won’t make any difference — it’s still subject to the same policies.

Most airlines do allow mileage tickets to be changed or canceled and the miles redeposited or reinstated, though in many cases that privilege is accompanied by a hefty fee. American charges $150 to cancel a single ticket and reinstate the miles (the fee is waived for top-tier Executive Platinum elite members). In most cases changes to the date, routing or time of an AA ticket are usually free so long as the origin and destination of the ticket remain the same, but any other changes — such as switching the ticket to another person (by canceling and starting over with a new ticket) — would result in the $150 fee.

Fly transatlantic for AAdvantage bonus miles. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
American will let you reinstate your miles even after the flight has passed, but it’ll cost you. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Depending on how much the ticket cost in miles, that $150 charge might be worth paying to save the value of the miles. And if you’re wondering if you can still redeposit the miles even if the flight wasn’t canceled before your friend bailed, the answer is yes. Just to be confusing, American’s terms and conditions state that “expired tickets will not be reinstated” — but “expired” is not the same as “unused.” AA tickets generally expire one year from the date of issue, so as long as that period hasn’t passed, you should still be eligible to cancel and reinstate your miles by paying the fee.

Not every airline’s policy is the same when it comes to redepositing miles after a flight has already passed. While both United and Southwest will let you redeposit even after you don’t show up for a flight, Delta requires award tickets to be canceled at least 72 hours before departure in order to get the miles back. And if you’ve already flown at least one flight of the itinerary, then you’re probably out of luck in getting miles back on most airlines if you decide not to show up for the rest of the trip.

So, Alicia, if the miles are worth $150, get them back and reuse them and then tell your friend they owe you $150. That seems only fair to me! Thanks for the question, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook  or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured image courtesy of Dave and Les Jacobs/Getty Images.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,650

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.