How to change or cancel a United Airlines flight

Mar 19, 2022

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United Airlines is one of the largest airlines in the U.S., so — especially if you live near one of its hubs — there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself booked on a United Airlines flight at some point in the future. But travel plans can change quickly. So it’s in your best interest to know United’s cancellation policy and how to change or cancel a United flight.

When United Airlines’ CEO Scott Kirby announced that the airline was eliminating many change fees early in the pandemic, he significantly altered the landscape. To help you cover your bases, this guide will go through all of United’s change and cancellation policies, including when you can get a United Airlines refund.

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In This Post

Canceling or changing United tickets during a travel waiver

United often issues travel waivers when it expects to cancel or delay many flights. These travel waivers generally let United passengers change or cancel their flights for free, reducing congestion at the gate or the ticket counter. Specifics vary based on the given situation, so make sure to read up on the specifics of your travel waiver if you find yourself eligible to take advantage of one.

Even with change fees eliminated on virtually all flights, travel waivers can still play a key role in saving you money. When a travel waiver is in place, you can generally change to an alternative flight with the same routing and avoid paying any fare difference as long as you stay in the same cabin as your original ticket. You’ll also find more flexibility on routing and sometimes even alternate destination airports.

United Airlines website travel waiver on homepage screenshot
(Screenshot from united.com)

United usually shows travel waivers at the top of its homepage. Further, United will usually email you if you’re eligible for a travel waiver. So, keep an eye on your inbox if you think a travel waiver could be in effect for your travel dates.

Note that if you booked a United flight through an online travel agency (OTA) like Kayak or Expedia, you might not be able to change or cancel your ticket on United’s website. Instead, you will likely have to call the OTA through which you booked your ticket to request a change or cancellation. Thankfully, all fees covered by the waiver will still be waived — though your call experience may not be ideal.

The exception to this rule are tickets booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, Capital One Travel portal or Amex Travel. You can change United airfare booked through these portals on the United website, which can save you a ton of time compared to changing or canceling over the phone. To do this, find your itinerary on the United website and click the cancel or change buttons at the top of the screen.

Related: Why you should think twice before booking with an obscure online travel agency

Changing or canceling paid United tickets

United aircraft
(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Canceling or changing paid United tickets is much less painful than it used to be. However, one type of paid United ticket isn’t eligible for changes or cancellations: basic economy fares. Unfortunately, you can only adjust these fares under very specific circumstances.

If you’re not eligible for a waiver, you generally won’t be allowed to make any changes at all to your basic economy ticket. For pretty much everything else, the answer is easy. If you’re traveling within the United States (including Alaska and Hawaii), Canada or Mexico, there are no change fees. And, there are no change fees if you book an international flight that originates in the U.S.

Generally, United won’t issue refunds to your original form of payment for canceled tickets. Instead, you’ll be issued a travel certificate that you can use toward a future flight. This certificate will be for the value of your ticket minus the cancellation fee incurred. For example, in the case of a $300 domestic ticket from Newark to Chicago, you’ll receive a $300 voucher. If you rebook that flight a month later for $200, you’ll receive a new voucher for the remaining $100. Note that you still must use the new voucher within one year of your original ticketing date, so you can’t extend the booking time frame by purchasing a cheap ticket with part of your voucher.

Refundable fares can be canceled and refunded to the original form of payment any time before the flight departs. These tickets can be canceled online or by calling the United Reservations desk, though we highly recommend canceling online to save time.

Related: How to refund a nonrefundable airline ticket

Changing or canceling United award tickets

United aircraft
(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

As you’d expect, United award tickets can be changed or canceled too. When United announced the elimination of change fees on paid tickets, they also did away with many of the fees associated with changing award tickets and redepositing miles. If you’re just changing your flight, you won’t pay any fees at all. However, you may have to pay a fee to redeposit miles into your MileagePlus account.

Related: Best credit cards for flying United

The exact amount you’ll pay to redeposit the miles from an award ticket depends on your United Premier elite status and when your flight departs. You’ll pay less to redeposit the miles from a ticket if you cancel further in advance, and those with elite status will receive a discounted (or completely waived) redeposit fee, depending on their elite status tier.

There are currently no fees to cancel and redeposit miles 31 or more days before departure for all customers. But here’s how much you can expect to pay to redeposit miles if you need to cancel within 30 days of departure.

Timing General member Premier Silver Premier Gold Premier Platinum Premier 1K
30 days or less from departure $125. $100. $75. $50. No fee.

Interestingly enough, United is one of the only airlines that will refund your mileage if you don’t show up for a flight. A mileage redeposit after a no-show costs $125 regardless of your flight or status tier. While this is a hefty price to pay, it can be worth it if you forget to cancel an international business-class trip or another high-value award ticket.

You can change or cancel a United award ticket by finding your reservation on the United website and clicking either the cancel or change flight options at the top of the screen. Mileage redeposits from canceling United award tickets will generally appear in your account the same day United processes the cancellation.

Related: How to book multiple trips for the price of one by maximizing United’s routing rules

Changing or canceling United tickets booked with credit card points

United tickets booked through credit card travel portals like the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, Amex Travel or Citi ThankYou Travel portal are treated like revenue tickets. That means they follow the rules above and carry virtually no fees for changing or canceling.

Related: When is it better to use the Chase portal instead of airline transfer partners?

How do you change or cancel your United flight?

United economy seating
(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

United flights booked through United.com can be canceled or changed right on the United website. To do this, head to United’s website and do the following:

  1. Log in to your United account.
  2. Click the “My trips” button on the homepage.
  3. Click the “Manage trip” button to the right of the trip you’d like to change or cancel.
  4. Click the “Change flight or Cancel flight” button at the top of the screen.
  5. Follow the on-screen prompts.

When you cancel a paid ticket, United will send you a voucher to use toward a future United purchase.

If you’re unable to access your reservation online — for example, if you booked with an OTA — you must call the OTA you booked with to cancel or change your ticket.

Finally, United also offers same-day changes for both paid and award tickets. As part of eliminating change fees, United also got rid of the same-day change fees for all MileagePlus Premier members. If the fare bucket you originally booked isn’t available on the flight you want to change to, you will need to pay the fare difference.

In the case of award tickets, there must be a flight available in the same cabin you booked to change your flight. You can make same-day changes at check-in or by pulling up your reservation and selecting the same-day change option.

Related: Going home a day early: A successful use of United’s no change fee policy

When can you get a United Airlines refund?

United economy seating
(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

With change fees a thing of the past (at least for now), purchasing the cheapest paid tickets on United still means that you won’t get your money back. In most cases, you’ll receive a voucher to use for a future flight. But, there are still a couple of instances where you can get a refund back to your original payment method.

Within 24 hours of booking

The U.S. Department of Transportation requires that all airlines give customers a 24-hour window to cancel flights after booking, as long as your reservation is ticketed at least seven days before departure.

During this grace period, you can cancel your ticket on United.com with no penalty and all refunds will be processed to the original form of payment. This is a great way to lock in a price while you finalize other travel arrangements, since your ticket isn’t non-refundable until 24 hours have elapsed.

Do note that group tickets and tickets purchased using an e-certificate are ineligible for a refund during the 24-hour grace period.

Schedule changes

You may be able to cancel a United flight for free if you experience a significant schedule change. This usually happens when you book a flight far in advance, as United doesn’t finalize its flight schedules until the beginning of each season.

United’s refund policy includes a bit of uncertainty about whether a schedule change qualifies for a refund, though. The policy states, in part:

Provided that if such alternate transportation results in a significant change to the originally scheduled departure or arrival times and the Passenger chooses not to accept such alternate transportation, United will (at the Passenger’s request) provide a refund.

Even in this case, the airline will process your refund in the form of a flight credit. If you haven’t used this statement credit within a year, you can ask United for a refund to your original payment method.

Alternatively, you can ask United to accommodate you on a different flight if the new schedule doesn’t work for your travels.

An example of a united schedule change
(Screenshot from united.com)

United will notify you about these changes as soon as they’re made, but you should make a habit of reviewing your itineraries proactively, too. If you’re subject to a flight change, United will ask you to accept the new changes when you pull up your itinerary online.

Flight cancellations

There are times when airlines may cancel your flights outright. There are a few times when this can happen well in advance of your planned travel. One is when an airline anticipates decreased demand on a route, and another is when an airline makes major changes to its route network.

You could also deal with a last-minute cancellation due to weather, mechanical problems or issues with your flight crew. If you’re subject to an outright cancellation on United, you can ask United to accommodate you on a different flight. Likewise, you may have luck asking for a full refund of your ticket.

Related: Why you should wait to change or cancel your flight if you want your money back

Special circumstances

There are several other circumstances where United may waive cancellation fees. For example, the death of a traveler on your itinerary or a change in military orders will generally make you entitled to a full refund of your ticket without penalty. Just make sure to have documentation on hand to prove this special circumstance.

Further, even if your specific reason for canceling or changing a flight isn’t covered by a waiver, there’s no harm in calling United to plea your case. A sympathetic phone representative may offer a one-time exception and cancel your flight without a fee. Just make sure to be friendly to the representative regardless of the outcome.

Bottom line

Canceling a trip is never fun, but knowing United’s cancellation policy and how to avoid fees can help. Make sure to keep these tips in mind the next time you need to cancel a United flight. Doing so could save you hundreds of dollars if you’re subject to a travel waiver, schedule change or another circumstance that could make you eligible for a fee waiver or refund.

Additional reporting by Edward Pizzarello.

Featured photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.

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