Changing an AAdvantage Award Flight — Reader Mistake Story

Jul 25, 2017

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One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about all the positive ways award travel has affected their lives. That being said, while I love hearing about your successes, I think there’s also a lot we can learn by sharing our mistakes, and I’m calling on readers to send in your most egregious and woeful travel failures.

From time to time I’ll pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy (and commiserate with). If you’re interested, email your story to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Include details of exactly how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Please offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what precautions the rest of us can take to avoid the same pitfalls. If we publish your story, I’ll send you a gift to help jump-start your next adventure (or make up for any blunders from the last one).

Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Jamie, who got hit with fees to rebook an award trip after his honeymoon plans changed. Here’s what he had to say:

Calendar table photo
Jamie didn’t realize his award tickets were only valid for one year. Image courtesy of bee32 via Getty Images.

In January, I booked our honeymoon trip for this November using AAdvantage miles. Our wedding date was uncertain, and we knew there was a chance the wedding (and honeymoon) would end up getting pushed back by a few months, but I also knew that American Airlines would let me change the dates of our award flights with no fee, and we could reschedule as needed without penalty.

Fast forward to the present: we moved the wedding back six months, so we now plan to travel in May of 2018. I called American Airlines to change our award tickets, and to my surprise, I was told I would have to cancel both awards, pay $175 to have the miles redeposited in my account, and book new awards for our revised dates.

What I completely neglected and was unaware of at the time is that AAdvantage award tickets are always valid for one year from the original ticketing date (not the travel date). Since we’re traveling in May of 2018, our trip is more than one year out from our original ticketing date of January, 2017. In the end, I had to suck it up and pay the fees to change our flights.

I would have used the $200 airline credit on my Amex Platinum Card to cover those fees, but my preferred airline is set to United this year. This was a valuable lesson to me, and I hope no one else has to learn it the hard way!

American Airlines has fairly generous award change policies: You can alter your travel dates and routing at no cost so long as your origin, destination and a few other parameters remain the same. You can make as many changes as you need, but as Jamie learned the hard way, all AAdvantage awards have a shelf life of one year from the original ticketing date. Fee or no fee, you won’t be able to reschedule your itinerary to travel beyond that date.

Instead, you can pay an award reinstatement fee of $150, plus $25 for each additional award returned to the same account at the same time. That may seem steep, but based on my most recent valuation for AAdvantage miles, paying the fee is worthwhile for all but the cheapest awards. Your reinstatement fees are waived if you have Executive Platinum status; otherwise they should be eligible for reimbursement by travel credits offered on the Amex Platinum and other premium cards.

Note that you won’t be able to reinstate miles if any portion of your award has been used, or if you’re already beyond one year from the original ticketing date. At that point, your ticket will expire and your miles will be forfeit. However, you should still be able to reinstate miles if you simply miss your flight.

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Travel credits on most premium cards can be used to cover change or cancellation fees.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Jamie for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on future travels.

I’d like to do the same for you! If you’ve ever arrived at the airport without ID, booked a hotel room in the wrong city, missed out on a credit card sign-up bonus or made another memorable travel or rewards mistake, I want to hear about it. Please indulge me and the whole TPG team by sending us your own stories (see instructions above). I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

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