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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – Citi Prestige Card
Nearly all stores accept returns, and you can cancel most services like cable without paying a penalty. But airlines can collect outrageous cancellation fees when your plans change and you have to reschedule a trip.
In today’s post, I’ll explore how you can avoid flight cancellation fees when booking flights with your points or miles. Let’s start off with the hacks to turn to when you need to change your award trip.
Use the 24-Hour Cancellation Policy
DOT regulations require airlines to offer full refunds on tickets sold within 24 hours, with no cancellation fee, so long as the tickets were booked more than seven days before departure. Thankfully, these rules also apply to award tickets.
Most airlines also waive the seven-day advance purchase requirement, although Allegiant and Spirit don’t. Furthermore, Alaska only offers refunds for travel beginning more than 24 hours after purchase.
Don’t Pay the Cancellation Fee Until Absolutely Necessary
The airlines would probably love if you immediately forked over a couple hundred dollars after your plans changed, so they could re-sell your seat to another customer. But when you do that, you give up on the chance that the airline may have to delay or cancel your flight, entitling you to a refund.
Possible reasons that could trigger a refund include schedule changes, weather, mechanical problems, air traffic control, crew availability or late-arriving inbound aircraft. In fact, any significant flight delay can be sufficient grounds to request a refund.
Cite Circumstances Outside of Your Control
Ultimately, airlines have the discretion to waive award cancellation and mileage redeposit fees, and they will often do so when presented with a sufficient excuse, and documentation to prove it. Valid reasons could include a death in the family, jury duty, military deployment, natural disasters or severe illness.
In most cases, the airline will offer to waive the change fee, but not cancel and redeposit the miles. But if you can find a valid reason that would prevent you from traveling in the next year, you might be able to receive a refund of your miles at no cost.
Have Elite Status
Many airlines waive award ticket cancellation and mileage redeposit fees for those with elite status. Here’s a summary of major US airline policies:
- American waives the $150 award reinstatement fee for Executive Platinum members using miles from their account.
- Delta waives its $150 award redeposit fee for Platinum and Diamond Medallion members.
- JetBlue waives award change fees for Mosaic members.
- United waives its $75 -$125 fee for Premier Platinum canceling tickets more than 60 days out and for Premier 1K cancelling at any time. Premier Gold and Silver members have reduced award cancellation fees.
Change, Don’t Cancel
A surefire way to avoid some award cancellation fees is to simply change your award to a later date. For example, American lets you change your awards for free, provided that the origin and destination remain the same. So you could theoretically keep changing your award until you find weather or another circumstance sure to cause a delay, and then have the fee waived when you cancel the flight due to the delay.
Southwest has no award cancellation fees at all, making all of its awards fully refundable at any time before departure. And in practice, I’ve found that Southwest will even refund award tickets after departure if you ask nicely.
Use Your Card’s Trip Cancellation Coverage
Many credit cards include trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage, but only a few cover your award bookings.
For example, the coverage available on several Chase cards including the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Ink Business Preferred Credit Card covers the trip cancellation of award tickets booked with points or miles in a program affiliated with the Ultimate Rewards program (so, British Airways, United or other Chase airline transfer partners). It covers you for 1 cent per point or mile redeemed, which will often exceed the award redeposit fees. You’ll just want to pay any taxes or fees on your award ticket with your eligible card.
The Citi Prestige Card also offers trip cancellation coverage that includes change fees. And like with all of its travel insurance policies, it covers award trips so long as you use the card to pay any taxes or fees, or if you book the ticket with Citi points. Finally, award trips using miles from cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card are booked like normal trips, using your miles for travel statement credits. Therefore, your award travel will be covered by the card’s trip cancellation insurance, just like any other travel purchase would be.
Book Round-Trip Tickets
If you have to cancel a trip booked as two-one way flights, you’ll pay the cancellation fee twice. By booking all your flights in a single reservation, you’ll — worst case — only be on the hook for a single award redeposit fee.
Award Cancellation Policies By Airline
Alaska Airlines — The change and cancellation fee is now $125. For awards booked before June 5, 2018, there isn’t a cancellation fee for changes made more than 60 days before departure. Less than 60 days before departure, the fee is $125 for all paid and award tickets, except refundable first class. Same-day confirmed changes are just $50.
American Airlines — Canceling an award ticket is $150 for the first award, and $25 for each additional award reinstated at the same time for the same account. Award change and reinstatement fees are waived for Executive Platinum members using miles from their account.
Delta Air Lines — Delta charges a $150 reissue or redeposit fee that’s waived for Diamond and Platinum Medallion members. Also, award flights cannot be changed within 72 hours of departure, though Delta has been known to grant exceptions on a case-by-case basis.
Frontier Airlines — Award tickets can be changed with no fee 8 days or more prior to departure; otherwise the $99 change fee applies.
Hawaiian Airlines — The award ticket redeposit fees are $150 for mainland and international flights, and $30 for inter-island award tickets.
JetBlue — Charges a $75 fee for changes or cancellations made more than 60 days prior to departure. Otherwise the fees are:
- $75 per person for fares under $100
- $100 per person for fares between $100-$149
- $150 per person for fares $150 and above
However, cancellation fees are waived for TrueBlue Mosaic elite members.
Southwest Airlines — The airline is famous for charging no change or cancellation fees, and when an award ticket is canceled the points arere-deposited in the member’s account and can later be used by anyone.
Spirit Airlines — Charges a cancellation fee of $110 for award flights. There’s no fee to change or cancel a ticketed flight within 24 hours of booking, so long as the reservation was made at least 7 days prior to departure.
United Airlines — This airline has such a complex fee structure for award cancellations that it’s best to just show you the chart:
Photo by Eva-Katalin/Getty Images.
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