Complete guide to changing and canceling award tickets
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One of the joys of award travel is that you can cross the globe for close to free. That being said, these nearly free tickets aren’t without their various fees. One of the biggest examples of these fees is when you need to change or cancel an award ticket booked with your miles. Like paid tickets, you’ll usually be hit with a substantial charge if you decide not to travel on your original date of departure — just like you would with paid tickets.
Some airline loyalty programs are better about charging these fees than others. Even airlines in the same alliance can charge wildly different change and cancellation fees for the same flights, so you should be aware of these fees before you book a ticket that you may need to adjust. Thankfully, there are ways to avoid these fees when you need to change or cancel existing airfare — like the travel waivers in place during the current coronavirus outbreak.
Thankfully, many U.S. carriers have removed change and cancellation fees permanently, even on award tickets. This means that travel waivers are less important and that your points and miles are more flexible than ever. This may save frequent travelers hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars over the coming years.
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In this article, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about changing and canceling your award tickets. We’ll start by looking at some typical fees on these tickets, consider the change and cancellation fees imposed by the major airlines, and then give you an in-depth look at how to avoid paying them.
Before doing that, let’s start with a quick list of the best ways to avoid these fees.
Overview of award ticket fees
The three most common types of fees you may run into when traveling on award tickets are change fees, cancellation fees, and taxes and surcharges at the time of booking. These fees vary from airline to airline, and some airlines charge lower fees than others.
Here’s a rundown of each fee so that you know what to expect when you’re booking award tickets.
Change fees are pretty self-explanatory: They are charged when you need to adjust your award itinerary — which can include moving to a new date, changing your destination, switching to a different airline or some combination. These changes are usually (but not always) accompanied by a pretty hefty fee. Sometimes you may only be able to change your flight by a certain number of days, and some types of award tickets — like Delta basic economy awards — can’t be changed except under extraordinary circumstances.
Award ticket change fees vary greatly from airline to airline and can even differ on a single carrier. Some airlines let you make same-day changes to award tickets too. These used to be less expensive than advanced changes, but this is no longer the case as U.S. airlines move to allow free flight changes before the day of departure.
Don’t worry — we’ll take you through how much each airline charges to change flights in the next section of this article. We’ll also take a look at all of the airlines that don’t charge change fees.
Note that tickets booked through Amex Travel, the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal and the Citi ThankYou Travel Center are subject to the same change fees that you’d find on a paid ticket. This is because tickets booked through these portals are essentially paid tickets covered by points. Refer to our article on changing and canceling paid tickets for more info on these tickets.
Commonly referred to as “mileage redeposit” fees, cancellation fees are charged when you choose to cancel an award ticket and have the points or miles redeposited back into your airline account. These fees can get pricey but may be worth it if you absolutely can’t take a flight and would rather use your miles to book another high-value award ticket.
Better yet, some airlines waive or discount award ticket cancellation fees for elite members or don’t charge them at all. For example, Southwest lets you cancel award tickets for free, while United recently eliminated cancellation fees on award tickets — as long as you’re traveling from or within the U.S.
Airlines will usually refund your miles instantly, but some may take a few days to process the mileage redeposit. For example, this used to be a manual process with American Airlines and required a customer service agent to manually redeposit your AAdvantage miles. However, it has been making strides in improving this functionality in recent months.
With this in mind, ask about processing times if you plan on booking a new ticket right after you cancel your award — in some cases, it may make more sense to change the destination, so you don’t lose out on available award space.
Related: Best award chart sweet spots
Other taxes, fees and surcharges
All award tickets have some sort of taxes and fees attached to them. This includes government-imposed taxes, fuel surcharges and other fees. Some airlines charge more surcharges than others, even on the same route. For example, United charges $5.60 in taxes and fees on a business class flight from Newark (EWR) to London-Heathrow (LHR), while British Airways charges several hundred dollars.
The amount you pay will typically depend on three things:
- The airline you’re flying
- The program through which you’re booking
- Your origin and/or destination
The total amount due will be displayed during the booking process, but check out our full guide to avoiding high fuel surcharges for more information.
Change and cancellation fees during coronavirus
It’s important to note that, in light of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, many airlines are offering more flexible change and cancellation policies for both paid and award tickets. These travel waivers vary by airline and are being updated regularly as the outbreak continues, so the details that follow may not apply to certain award tickets. Be sure to bookmark our complete guide to these policies, as we will continually update that page when waivers are added, extended or modified in any way.
We’ve also made sure to include links to each airline’s coronavirus-specific page below, as they will provide complete, up-to-date information.
Award ticket fees by airline
As discussed earlier, each airline charges its own set of award ticket fees, with some airlines being more lenient than others. Here’s a look at how much all of the major airlines charge for change and cancellation fees, as well as a quick look at exceptions for elite travelers.
Note that this chart doesn’t factor in travel waivers, the 24-hour grace period or other exceptions we’ll discuss in the next section.
|Airline/program||Change Fee||Cancellation/Mileage Redeposit Fee||Elite status exceptions
|Air Canada Aeroplan||$75 for changes made 60 days or more before departure, $25 for Flex economy tickets
$100 for changes within 60 days of departure, $75 for Flex economy tickets
|$150 when canceled online; $175 over the phone
For Flex economy tickets: $175 when canceled online; $125 over the phone
|Discounted for Aeroplan diamond members; waived for Altitude Super Elite 100K
Waived on Latitude tickets
|Alaska Airlines||$0 for Alaska tickets, $125 for partner tickets||$0 for Alaska tickets, $125 for partner tickets||Waived for MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members|
|All Nippon Airways (ANA)||$0||3,000 miles||Waived for Diamond members|
|American Airlines*||$0, Web Special tickets can only be canceled||All tickets can be canceled and reinstated for free.||None|
|Avianca LifeMiles||$150 (date change only)||$25 — $200, depending on your destination||None|
|British Airways||$55||$55**||Waived for Gold members|
|Delta Air Lines||No change fees on all domestic tickets and international tickets departing the U.S.
Basic economy tickets cannot be changed.
All other tickets subject to a $150 change fee.
|No award redeposit fees on all domestic tickets and international tickets departing the U.S.
Basic economy tickets cannot be canceled for a refund.
All other tickets subject to a $150 cancellation fee.
|Waived for Platinum and Diamond Medallion members|
|Flying Blue (Air France/KLM)||Reward tickets can be changed for free until further notice||€45 (~$55)
Free through Dec. 31, 2021
|Frontier||$0 if changes made eight or more days from departure
$99 for changes within seven days of travel
|Hawaiian Airlines||$0, except Main Cabin Basic fares, which can’t be changed||$30 — $150 depending on the route||None|
|JetBlue||$0||All award tickets can be canceled and reinstated for free||None|
|Miles & More (Lufthansa, Swiss, LOT, etc.)||€50 (~$60)||€50 (~$60), reduced flight awards cannot be refunded||None|
|Singapore Airlines||$0 — $25 for Advantage fares
$25 for Saver fares on Singapore Airlines or SilkAir
$50 for Saver fares on partner airlines
$50 for Advantage fares
$75 for Saver fares
|United Airlines||No change fees on domestic flights and international flights departing the U.S.||$0 when canceling more than 30 days before departure
$125 when canceling within 30 days of departure
|Waived or discounted for all Premier Elite members|
*NOTE: American’s new change fee policy only applies to tickets issued on or after Sept. 9, 2020 for travel on or after Jan. 1, 2021.
**NOTE: Reports indicate that when the taxes and fees are less than these fees, you just forfeit that amount when you change/cancel.
You should keep these fees in mind when booking travel on dates that could change, or if you’re tentatively booking a flight for a meeting that may or may not happen.
U.S. airline change and cancellation fees
The chart above shows you a quick overview of change and cancellation fees for the major airlines and loyalty programs. As you’d expect, there are some special restrictions, fee waivers and other things you should keep in mind when changing or canceling tickets on major U.S. airlines.
Here’s a look at everything you need to know about changing or canceling an award ticket booked with U.S. carriers.
Alaska Airlines has one of the most straightforward cancellations and change policies of all the U.S. airlines. In June 2018, the airline added a $125 change or cancellation fee for all tickets booked with Mileage Plan miles. This fee is waived for the airline’s MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members.
American Airlines now allows all AAdvantage members to change or cancel award tickets for free. Note that American’s Web Specials, which can price below the standard “saver-level” pricing of the carrier’s award chart, are ineligible for any changes. However, you can cancel them and have your miles reinstated for free.
To switch to a different flight, there must be open award space on the new flight too — you can find this by running a search on American’s website and looking for MileSAAver space or using ExpertFlyer (which is owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures).
Finally, it’s worth noting that upgrading a saver-level economy award to a saver-level business-class award will not require a change fee. However, you will need to redeem additional miles and cover the difference in mandatory taxes, fees and surcharges.
Delta Air Lines
Delta Air Lines recently removed most award change and cancellation fees. Almost all award tickets can be changed or canceled for free — here’s a look at the airline’s recent changes:
- Booked on or after Aug. 31, 2020, for travel within the U.S. (including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands).
- Booked on or after Dec. 9, 2020, for travel originating from North America to anywhere in the world.
- Booked on or after Dec. 9, 2020, for travel between the U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean.
All other tickets are subject to a $150 change or cancellation fee. This includes international flights departing abroad — for example, a one-way flight from Paris (CDG) to New York-JFK. That said, you may be able to cancel these for free during the airline’s COVID-19 travel waiver.
Related: Maximizing Delta award tickets
JetBlue has one of the more confusing change and cancellation policies for award tickets. The airline permanently removed change and cancellation fees for most fares in 2021, with the only exclusion being paid basic economy tickets. JetBlue does not offer basic economy award tickets at this time.
Effective April 1, basic economy flyers — including Mosaic elites — can change or cancel their ticket for:
- $100 for domestic, Caribbean, Mexico and Central America routes
- $200 for all other routes
Southwest is by far the best U.S. airline when it comes to canceling and changing tickets. All changes and cancellations are free for both award and paid tickets. If you opt to change a ticket, you can switch the destination and date, and you’ll only be liable for paying the mileage and tax difference if applicable. Canceling tickets will simply redeposit the miles back to your Rapid Rewards account.
This flexible cancellation policy is great for times when award prices drop after you book. If you see that an award ticket is cheaper after you book it, just rebook it online. The extra miles will be refunded to your account and can be used for a future booking.
United recently made a handful of changes to its change and cancellation policy. Let’s start with changing an award ticket. As of Aug. 30, 2020, United no longer charges change fees on any tickets within the United States. The airline extended free changes to international tickets departing the U.S. later in the year.,
Here’s a chart that summarized United’s new change-fee policies for award tickets:
|Type of ticket||No status||Premier Silver||Premier Gold||Premier Platinum||Premier 1K|
|Domestic award travel (including Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands).||Waived||Waived||Waived||Waived||Waived|
|International award travel departing the U.S.||Waived||Waived||Waived||Waived||Waived|
Canceling award tickets works a bit differently under the newly-announced policy change. Any ticket — whether domestic or international — can be canceled and the mileage redeposited for free at least 30 days in advance of departure. Within that window, you’ll incur a fee (that’s also discounted or waived for Premier travelers).
Here’s a table that breaks down United’s new cancellation fees for award tickets:
|Timing||No status||Premier Silver||Premier Gold||Premier Platinum||Premier 1K|
|Fee for canceling 30+ days before departure||Waived||Waived||Waived||Waived||Waived|
|Fee for canceling within 30 days of departure||$125||$100||$75||$50||Waived|
Interestingly enough, United even lets you redeposit miles if you don’t show up for a flight, though it’ll cost $125 for all members, regardless of elite status tier. While expensive, it’s a nice option to have if you have a last-minute emergency and simply forget to actually cancel your flight — especially if you spent lots of miles on a first- or business-class award ticket.
Best loyalty programs for change and cancellation fees
As you saw earlier, some airlines are better than others when it comes to changing or canceling award tickets. Here’s a quick list of some of the best loyalty programs for these fees:
- Southwest Airlines: Best for changing/canceling at any time
- Frontier Airlines: Best budget carrier for advance changes
- American Airlines: Best for canceling and refunding award tickets
- Singapore Airlines: Best for inexpensive changes on luxury trips
- British Airways and Virgin Atlantic: Best for canceling trips with low taxes and fees
Let’s dive deeper into these programs to see just why they’re so great if you’re looking for flexibility in your award ticket.
On the domestic travel side, Southwest is by far the best airline to deal with when it comes to award ticket changes and cancellations. You can change or cancel a Southwest award ticket by simply loading the booking on Southwest’s website and selecting the change or cancel button.
When you elect to change a Southwest flight, you only have to pay the fare difference between the old and new flights. Canceling a Southwest award ticket will simply redeposit the miles back into your Rapid Rewards account.
All American award tickets can be changed or canceled free of charge without restriction. This makes AAdvantage one of the most flexible and straightforward programs on the market.
United’s surprising announcement has vaulted it near the top of the pack in terms of flexibility for award travelers. There are no longer any change fees for domestic award flights, and you can cancel all award tickets at least 30 days before departure and get your miles redeposited without any fees.
This may come as a surprise to some U.S. travelers, but Frontier Airlines actually has one of the more lenient change policies for domestic carriers. The airline doesn’t charge for changes made 8+ days from departure, so you can change dates and destinations for free so long as you have advance notice.
Singapore Airlines is world-renowned as one of the best carriers in the sky thanks to its luxurious premium-class products, and its cancellation policy isn’t too bad either. It costs just $25 to change a Saver ticket on Singapore or $50 for a partner award ticket. You can also pay just $75 to cancel a saver ticket and have your miles reinstated.
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic
The two major carriers in the U.K. — British Airways and Virgin Atlantic — are also worth mentioning here. Not only are their change and cancellation fees reasonable ($55 and $50, respectively), but reports indicate that canceling award tickets with taxes and fees below these amounts will just result in forfeiting what you already paid. This would be especially applicable for domestic flights — like using British Airways Avios for American flights or redeeming Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles for Delta flights.
The best ways to avoid award ticket change and cancellation fees
Thankfully, you’re not always tied into paying award ticket cancellation and change fees. At the outset of this guide, we included a list of different strategies you can use to avoid paying these fees, but here’s a deeper dive into each one of them.
Look for a travel waiver
Travel waivers are usually issued when an airline believes they’ll cancel many flights in a short period. For example, airlines often adjust their flight schedules during natural disasters, bad weather or — more recently — global pandemics. During these times, airlines would rather give customers more flexibility ahead of time than try and deal with mass rebookings at the airport. Travel waivers vary by airline and the specific reason for the waiver, but they usually let you change or even cancel your flight(s) without incurring fees during a set period.
Travel waivers are usually posted right on the airlines’ website. Generally, these will show at the top of the website and on-screen during check-in. Further, your airline may email you if you’re eligible for a travel waiver, so keep an eye on your inbox if you think your travel is eligible for a travel waiver.
As noted earlier, many airlines have been offering travel waivers related to the coronavirus outbreak. Most of these policies let customers change flights for free through the end of May, but check with your airline for the specific details of its coronavirus travel waiver.
Keep an eye out for schedule changes
You can also get out of paying change and cancellation fees if your flight schedule changes after booking a ticket. Generally, you’ll be eligible for this waiver if your flight is scheduled to depart or arrive at a significantly different time than when you booked the ticket. For example, if you booked a flight that was set to depart at 9 a.m. but now departs at 1:30 p.m., you’ll likely be able to cancel or change your flight for free. Airlines will usually send an email when it changes a schedule, but you should make a habit of frequently reviewing your tickets to identify schedule changes on your own.
Schedule changes are especially common on international flights booked far in advance. Airlines generally finalize their schedules once per season, and any reservation booked before a schedule is finalized is generally based on the airline’s predictions for the following season. The airline may change your flights closer after its schedule is confirmed.
Many airlines will give you a full refund of your miles if your flight’s departure or arrival time is changed by 90 minutes or more. Schedule policies vary by airline, so check out our full guide to maximizing schedule changes for specific information on your carrier.
Remember the 24-hour rule
By law, U.S. airlines are required to let you cancel airfare within 24 hours of booking as long as your reservation is made at least one week before departure. This includes award tickets, so if you need a bit of time to finalize plans after you book, you can always cancel for a full refund.
Note that most international airlines do not offer this for award tickets, but there are few exceptions.
For example, Aeroplan — Air Canada’s loyalty program — recently started to let its members cancel flights for free within 24 hours of booking. Avianca LifeMiles lets customers cancel award tickets on the day of booking for a full mileage refund — though you must cancel your award ticket by midnight.
Have a good reason
Many airlines will waive award ticket change and cancellation fees in the event of a death in the family, an illness or other extraordinary circumstances. The airline may ask for supporting documentation — like a doctor’s note or death certificate — so have these documents on hand when you call to cancel your ticket.
Consider your credit card coverage
Many premium travel rewards and airline credit cards include trip cancellation and interruption insurance covering expenses paid for with the card. In certain scenarios, this protection will reimburse you for nonrefundable expenses like prepaid hotels and car rentals. However, it may also cover fees incurred when you need to cancel or change airfare booked with points and miles.
For example, if you have a covered reason (like a serious illness) for needing to cancel or change your trip and you booked the trip with a Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’re eligible for up to $10,000 in reimbursement per trip.
To be eligible for these protections, you must pay for at least a portion of your trip with the card that offers trip cancellation and interruption insurance. In the case of award tickets, paying for award taxes and fees with the card will often make you eligible for coverage.
I recently used my Chase Sapphire Reserve’s trip insurance coverage when I got the flu ahead of a United award ticket to Europe. Since all trip expenses were paid with the Sapphire Reserve, I was able to get the mileage redeposit fee and a nonrefundable hotel booking reimbursed by the card’s coverage.
Earn elite status
As noted, many airlines let their top-tier elite members cancel or change award tickets for free. This is one of the greatest advantages of having airline elite status and can save you a lot of money if you speculatively book award space or if your travel plans change frequently.
Use a card travel credit to cover your fees
If you can’t get out of paying an award change or cancellation fee, you may choose to use travel credits from a premium travel card like The Platinum Card® from American Express or the Chase Sapphire Reserve or redeem miles from a card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to cover the fee. When you do this, you’ll still be subject to paying these fees, but you may be able to cover them with a statement credit or your miles.
In regards to the Amex Platinum’s airline credit, you can only cover the change or cancellation fee for the airline that you’ve selected to use for your up to $200 annual airline fee credit (enrollment required). You can choose this airline when you first get your Platinum card and once per year thereafter. Amex’s system will determine which purchases are eligible for the credit.
The Sapphire Reserve has a general travel credit that’s automatically applied to the first $300 you spend on a variety of travel purchases in a cardmember year. This credit resets once per calendar year, so if you have yet to use it, charge the change or cancellation fee to your Sapphire Reserve and you’ll automatically be reimbursed.
Finally, if you’re required to pay a change or cancellation fee out of pocket, you can charge it to a card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and then use your miles at a fixed value to cover the cost using the purchase eraser tool. Just note that this isn’t the best way to redeem your Capital One Miles — transferring your Capital One miles to travel partners will likely yield a much higher redemption value.
Don’t pay cancellation or change fees until you have to
If you book a flight and need to cancel the trip, don’t pay the cancellation fee any earlier than you need to. This is because the airline may announce a schedule change or travel waiver close to the departure date that would make you eligible to change or cancel your award ticket without paying a fee.
Changing or canceling an award ticket is never fun, especially if you’re set to go on a family vacation or a weekend getaway with your partner. Regardless, it’s important to know what fees each airline charges and how to avoid them. This can help when making reservations for trips with dates and destinations that aren’t set in stone and can save you a good chunk of change if you need to cancel a trip out of the blue.
Additional reporting by Jason Steele
Feature image courtesy of Alaska Airlines
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