Complete guide to changing and canceling award tickets

Mar 26, 2020

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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.

Stay up-to-date on the outbreak by visiting our hub page for coronavirus coverage and signing up for our daily newsletter.

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.

Best ways to avoid award ticket change and cancellation fees

  • Look for a travel waiver.
  • Keep an eye out for schedule changes.
  • Remember the 24-hour rule.
  • Have a good reason.
  • Consider your credit card coverage.
  • Earn elite status.
  • Use a credit card travel credit to cover your fees.
  • Don’t pay cancellation or change fees until you have to.

In This Post

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 that are charged 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

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 or switching to a different airline. 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 American’s Web Special Awards — can’t be changed except under very special circumstances.

Award ticket change fees vary greatly from airline to airline and can even differ on a single carrier. For example, changing your flight date or time on an American Airlines award ticket is free, while changing your origin, destination or airline(s) on the ticket would set you back $150.

Note that some airlines let you make same-day changes to award tickets too. These are often less expensive than advance changes and can be a good option for travelers that want to depart earlier or later in the day instead of a different date altogether. United Airlines, for example, charges just $75 to make a same-day change as long as there are flights in the same fare class available. This is $50 cheaper than what you’d pay if you were to change in advance.

READ MORE: Making same-day changes with American, Delta and United

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 paid tickets covered by points. Refer to our article on changing and canceling paid tickets for more info on these tickets.

Cancellation fees

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.

RELATED: Best award chart sweet spots

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 offers discounts that increase as you climb the MileagePlus Premier status ladder. If you have elite status with a given airline, be sure to investigate any perks this can provide when you need to change or cancel an award ticket.

Airlines will usually refund your miles instantly, but some may take a few days to process the mileage redeposit. American even makes this a manual process, requiring a customer service agent to manually redeposit your AAdvantage miles. 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.

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 various 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.

RELATED: Can I change or cancel my award ticket due to coronavirus travel waivers?

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

(COVID-19 updates)

$100 per direction $75 when canceled online; $150 over the phone Discounted for Aeroplan diamond members; waived for Altitude Super Elite 100K
Alaska Airlines

(COVID-19 updates)

$125 $125 Waived for MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members
All Nippon Airways (ANA)

(COVID-19 updates)

$0 3,000 miles Waived for Diamond members
American Airlines

(COVID-19 updates)

$0 for date/time change (keeping same award type)

$150 for origin/destination change

NOTE: Web Special awards can’t be changed

$150 Waived for Executive Platinum members
Avianca LifeMiles

(COVID-19 updates)

$150 (date change only) $50 — $200, depending on your destination None
British Airways

(COVID-19 updates)

$55 $55* Waived for Gold members
Delta Air Lines

(COVID-19 updates)

$150 $150 Waived for Platinum and Diamond Medallion members
Flying Blue (Air France/KLM)

(COVID-19 updates)

€45 (~$50) €45 (~$50) None
Frontier

(COVID-19 updates)

$0 if changes made eight or more days from departure

$99 for changes within seven days of travel

$75 None
Hawaiian Airlines

(COVID-19 updates)

$30 — $150 depending on the route $30 — $150 depending on the route None
JetBlue

(COVID-19 updates)

$75 — $200 depending on the cash value of the ticket $75 — $200 depending on the cash value of the ticket Waived for Mosaic members
Miles & More (Lufthansa, Swiss, LOT, etc)

(COVID-19 updates)

€50 (~$57) €50 (~$57) None
Singapore Airlines

(COVID-19 updates)

$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

None
Southwest Airlines

(COVID-19 updates)

$0 $0 N/A
United Airlines

(COVID-19 updates)

$75 when changing 61+ days from departure

$125 within 60 days of departure

$75 when canceling 61+ days from departure

$125 within 60 days of departure

Waived or discounted for all Premier Elite members
Virgin Atlantic

(COVID-19 updates)

$50 $50* None

*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, but 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

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 jet at DFW
American Airlines waives change and cancellation fees for Executive Platinum elite members. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

American Airlines

As mentioned earlier, American Airlines will let you make date changes for free on almost all of its award tickets. Just note that the passenger name, award type, airline(s), origin and destination must stay the same. Further, 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).

RELATED: Beginner’s guide to award searches on ExpertFlyer

On the other hand, origin and destination changes are subject to a $150 fee, and the same goes for cancellations. Regardless of your class of travel, you’ll be subject to a $150 fee if you cancel an award ticket and request a mileage refund.

Note that the destination change and mileage redeposit fees are waived for American’s top-tier Executive Platinum elite members. This is one of our favorite perks of Executive Platinum status as it lets you speculatively book award tickets, even if you’re not 100% sure that you’ll actually take the flight.

A major exception to these rules is American’s Web Special awards. These tickets are cheaper than regular saver-level awards and are often found on domestic routes throughout the year. However, we’ve also seen some pretty incredible international first and business class award tickets using Web Special pricing since it rolled out across the carrier’s entire route network.

That being said, one of the major downsides of Web Special awards is that they cannot be changed. Instead, you can only cancel the ticket in exchange for a mileage refund. Unfortunately, you’ll be subject to the standard $150 mileage redeposit fee if you choose to do this. Executive Platinum members are exempt from this fee on Web Special awards.

RELATED: How to redeem American AAdvantage miles

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 has one of the most restrictive change and cancellation policies of all the U.S. airlines. Changing the date or destination of a Delta award ticket costs $150. Likewise, the same $150 fee is charged for completely canceling an award ticket and redepositing the miles into your SkyMiles account. Also, all changes must be made at least 72 hours prior to departure — flights cannot be changed after this, and canceled flights within 72 hours are not eligible for a mileage refund.

READ MORE: Maximizing Delta award tickets

If you opt to change a Delta award ticket, you will be responsible for paying any additional mileage required to book on the new date. For example, if you book a flight from New York-JFK to Paris (CDG) for 30,000 SkyMiles and the new flight is 40,000 SkyMiles, you’ll have to pay the $150 change fee and the 10,000 additional SkyMiles.

Like American, the airline does waive these fees for some elite travelers. Delta Platinum and Diamond Medallion members can cancel or change flights for free up to 72 hours prior to departure. Just note that elite members must still pay the mileage difference if switching to a flight that costs more miles.

JetBlue

JetBlue has one of the more confusing change and cancellation policies for award tickets. The airline charges variable fees based on the cash cost of a ticket, meaning that the more expensive a ticket is, the more expensive it is to cancel or change. Also, the carrier’s Blue Basic fares can’t be changed or canceled at all.

Here’s a look at how much it costs to change or cancel a JetBlue award ticket booked as a Blue or Blue Plus fare:

  • You’ll pay $75 per person to change or cancel fares under $100.
  • You’ll pay $100 per person to change or cancel fares between $100 and $149.99.
  • You’ll pay $150 per person to change or cancel fares between $150 and $199.99.
  • You’ll pay $200 per person to change or cancel fares over $200 and for all JetBlue Mint tickets.

As you can see, changing or canceling JetBlue award tickets can be pretty expensive — especially if you booked a cheap award. For example, I found an award ticket from New York-JFK to Los Angeles (LAX) for 13,600 TrueBlue points one-way, this same ticket costs $169, so it’d cost $150 to cancel or change.

As you might expect, these fees are waived for JetBlue Mosaic elite members, except for Blue Basic award tickets.

Southwest Airlines

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.

RELATED: How to redeem points with Southwest Rapid Rewards

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 Airlines

United has a comparatively inexpensive approach to change and cancellation fees for award tickets when compared to its legacy counterparts. You can change or cancel a flight for $75 if it’s 61 days or more before departure or for $125 if you make your change or cancellation 60 or fewer days before departure.

However, these fees are discounted for lower-tier Premier elite members and completely waived for top-tier Premier 1K travelers. Here’s a chart that shows how much it costs to cancel or change a United award flight.

Timing No status Premier Silver Premier Gold Premier Platinum Premier 1K
Fee to make a change or cancel 61 days or more before departure $75 $50 $25 Waived Waived
Fee to make a change or cancel within 60 days before departure $125 $100 $75 $50 Waived

Interestingly enough, United even lets you redeposit miles if you don’t show up for a flight. This costs $125 and isn’t waived for elite members. 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 for advance changes
  • American Airlines: Best for date/time changes
  • 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.

Southwest Airlines

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.

Frontier Airlines

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.

American Airlines

American Airlines also has a lenient change and cancellation policy for date changes. You’ll pay nothing out of pocket for simple date changes, but note that your origin, destination and airline(s) on the ticket must stay the same. Unfortunately, though, the airline does charge for destination changes and to completely cancel your ticket. Remember too that Web Special awards can’t be changed at all.

Singapore Airlines

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 an award ticket on partner airlines. 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.

Alaska Airlines travel waiver screens shot

Travel waivers are usually posted right on the airlines’ website. Generally, these will show at the top of the website and on-screen when check-in for your flight. 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.

RELATED: Can I cancel or change my award ticket due to coronavirus travel waivers?

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 you book 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.

RELATED: How to refund a nonrefundable airline ticket

Schedule changes happen more often than you think, and they’re especially common on international flights booked far out from the date of travel. This is because airlines usually finalize schedules at the beginning of each season, so flights booked before a schedule is finalized are usually based on the airline’s current and historical flight schedule.

Many U.S. 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. However, schedule policies vary from carrier to carrier, so check out our full guide to maximizing schedule changes for specific information for your airline.

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 a couple of 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 that covers expenses paid for with the card. In certain scenarios, this protection will reimburse you for nonrefundable expenses like prepaid hotels and car rentals, but 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.

In order 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 was able to use the coverage on my Chase Sapphire Reserve 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 throughout the article, 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 credit 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 credit 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.

The information for the Venture Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.          

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 $200 annual airline fee credit. 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 (and are not) eligible for the credit. Read our full guide to the Platinum card’s airline credit for more information on what charges are reimbursable.

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 your credit, charge the change or cancellation fee to your Sapphire Reserve and you’ll be automatically reimbursed for your fee.

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 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 date of departure that would make you eligible to change or cancel your award ticket without paying a fee. Rules from the U.S. Department of Transportation require airlines to provide a full refund — including on award tickets — if the airline cancels your flight.

Bottom line

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.

But now it’s your turn — how do you avoid cancellation and change fees when you travel? Let us know in the comments.

Additional reporting by Jason Steele

Feature photo courtesy of Denver International Airport

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