How to change or cancel a United Airlines flight
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United Airlines is one of the largest airlines in the U.S., so if you live near one of its hubs, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself booked on a United flight at some point in the future. But as you know, travel plans can change in a moment’s notice, so it’s in your best interest to know what it takes to change or cancel your United trip — especially what it’ll cost you and how you can avoid those charges.
This is especially important during the coronavirus outbreak, when it can be unsafe to fly. If you have airfare booked during the outbreak, it may be in your best interest to cancel it — and thankfully, you might be able to adjust your trip for free.
To help you cover your bases, this guide will go through all of United’s change and cancellation fees. First, we’ll start by taking a look at United’s coronavirus travel waiver. Then, we’ll take a look at the airline’s standard change and cancellation fees and discuss all of the ways you can avoid paying them — something that can save you a good sum if you’ve booked a trip for multiple people.
Canceling or changing United tickets during a travel waiver
United often issues travel waivers when it expects to cancel or delay a large number of 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.
Travel waivers are usually shown at the top of the United 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 will be in effect for your travel dates.
By far the broadest travel waiver we’ve seen in recent years is related to the global coronavirus outbreak. As of the time of writing this article, United’s blanket travel waiver lets all customers booked to travel on or before May 31, 2020 change or cancel their tickets without fees. You can view the full policy on United’s website, but these are the waiver’s specifics:
- You must rebook canceled tickets by December 31, 2020, or 12 months from the original ticket date, whichever is earlier.
- You must pay any difference in fare, though if you’re rebooked on a cheaper flight, no residual value will be given.
Note that the change fee also applies to award tickets. However, if you want to cancel your award ticket, you are still subject to the corresponding mileage redeposit fee, which varies based on your United Premier elite status.
Again, be sure to check United’s coronavirus travel waiver for up-to-date information, as this policy is being updated regularly while the coronavirus outbreak continues to develop worldwide.
Note that if you booked a United flight through an Online Travel Agency (OTA) like Kayak or Expedia, you can’t change or cancel your ticket on United’s website. Instead, you 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 leave a bit to be desired.
The one exception to this rule is tickets booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal or Amex Travel. United airfare booked through these bank portals can be changed on the United website — this can save you a ton of time when compared to changing or canceling over the phone. To do this, just find your itinerary on the United website and click the cancel or change buttons at the top of the screen.
Changing or canceling paid United tickets
Canceling or changing paid United tickets that aren’t covered by a travel waiver or another special circumstance is subject to certain fees imposed by the airline. However, there is one type of paid United ticket that isn’t eligible for changes or cancellations: Basic Economy fares. Unfortunately, these can only be adjusted under very specific circumstances.
If you’re not eligible for a waiver, you’ll be subject to one of the following fees if you choose to cancel or change your United flight.
|Ticket Type||Change/Cancellation Fee|
|Basic Economy||N/A (not allowed)|
$200 for domestic tickets
$200 — $400 for international tickets
As you can see, international United flights can cost up to $400 to change or cancel depending on your ticket’s fare class. United doesn’t publish how much each fare class costs to change, so call United or start the cancellation process on the carrier’s website to see the fee for your flight.
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 towards 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 (EWR) to Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), you’ll receive a $100 voucher — the $300 from the original flight less the $200 cancellation fee. Note that these vouchers must be used within one year of your original ticketing date.
READ MORE: How to refund a nonrefundable airline ticket
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.
Changing or canceling United award tickets
As you’d expect, United award tickets can be changed or canceled too. When you cancel an award ticket, the mileage value of your ticket will be redeposited to your United MileagePlus account. The fee to cancel and redeposit an award ticket is lower than canceling a paid ticket, and the fee will be subtracted from any taxes and fees that you paid for your ticket. If the cancellation fee is higher than the taxes you paid, you have to pay the remainder.
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The exact amount you’ll pay to cancel or change an award ticket depends on your United Premier elite status and when your flight departs. You’ll pay less to cancel or change a ticket if you book in advance, and those with elite status will receive a discounted (or completely waived) cancellation fee, depending on their elite status tier.
Here’s how much you can expect to pay to cancel or change a United award ticket.
|Timing||General Member||Premier Silver||Premier Gold||Premier Platinum||Premier 1K|
|61 days or more from departure||$75||$50||$25||No fee||No fee|
|60 days or fewer 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 refund 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 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 that the cancellation is processed.
Changing or canceling tickets booked with credit card points
United tickets that are booked through credit card travel portals like the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, Amex Travel or Citi ThankYou Travel Portal are subject to the same cancellation fees discussed earlier. This includes tickets covered by travel waivers as discussed earlier.
Both the Chase travel portal and Amex Travel are letting customers covered by the coronavirus travel waiver change or cancel tickets through United’s website. The same restrictions apply, so make sure to read the travel waiver on United’s website so you know what to expect if canceling during the waiver.
How do you change or cancel your United flight?
United flights that were 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:
- Log in to your United account.
- Click the My trips button on the homepage.
- Click the Manage trip button to the right of the trip you’d like to change or cancel.
- Click the Change flight or Cancel flight button at the top of the screen.
- Follow the on-screen prompts.
When you cancel a paid ticket, United will send you a voucher that can be used towards 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. These changes cost $75 (and are waived for Premier Gold and higher members) and let you move to another flight on the same route earlier or later in the day. In the case of award tickets, there must be a flight available in the same fare class you booked in order 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.
How can you avoid change and cancellation fees on United?
Beyond travel waivers, there are a few other ways you can avoid paying cancellation and change fees on United flights. Here are some other scenarios that would let you change or cancel your flight for free.
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 and then finalize your other travel arrangements, since your ticket isn’t considered nonrefundable 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.
You may be able to cancel or change 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 will usually finalize its flight schedules at the beginning of every season. All flights booked before the flight schedule is finalized are based on the airline’s current and historic schedules.
After making changes to its schedule change policy in March 2020, United now has one of the most restrictive schedule change policies of all the major U.S. airlines. United now requires that a flight’s schedule must change by six hours or more in order to be eligible for 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 then 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.
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.
There are times when airlines may cancel your flights outright too. There are a few times when this can happen. 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 also could 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 be asked to be accommodated on a different flight. Likewise, you may have luck asking for a full refund of your ticket.
This is a key reason why you shouldn’t rush to cancel your itinerary and pay the fee, since you may be eligible for a refund if you wait.
Certain United elite status tiers include free same-day changes on all tickets for Premier Gold and higher members. In addition, Premier Platinum or higher members can cancel award tickets for free 61 days or more from departure, and Premier 1K members can cancel award tickets for free any time before departure. Award ticket change and cancellation fees are also discounted for all United elites — though these do not extend to paid tickets.
There are a number of other circumstances where United may waive change or cancellation fees too. 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 change or cancel your flight without a fee. Just make sure to be friendly to the representative regardless of the outcome.
Canceling a trip is never fun, but knowing what to expect and how to avoid fees in the process can help mightily. 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.
Feature photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy
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