Trouble With a 24-Hour Cancellation — Reader Mistake Story

Oct 8, 2018

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Tiffany, whose miles ended up in limbo while she tried to book a premium international award. Here’s what she had to say:

I received an email from United alerting me about an award sale on flights to Australia. I was already planning on making a trip to Australia, and thought I needed to immediately jump on the opportunity while there was still plenty of availability. I knew I wanted to fly to Sydney in business class and take advantage of the Excursionist Perk, but still needed to coordinate with a friend where the stopover would be.

Afraid that availability would disappear, I figured I could work out the details later, so I went ahead and booked a one-way award from Sydney back to Houston for 80,000 miles. That was the first mistake, as I failed to remember that the Excursionist Perk only applies to round-trip flights, and not to one-ways. I realized that mistake hours later after finalizing the stopover and wanting to book the rest of the flight.

Figuring I could just take advantage of the 24-hour cancellation policy and get all my fees and miles back, I decided the best recourse was to cancel and then rebook the entire trip. That was my second mistake, because it was only after I canceled the itinerary that I realized it would take up to seven business days for my miles to be redeposited.

With 80,000 fewer miles in my account, I didn’t have enough for a round-trip business class flight. Now I can only hope that there will still be flights available after my miles are redeposited. Next time I need to fully understand how to utilize all the tools available and how the system works before making any rash bookings.

24-hour cancellation policies give you flexibility to jump on flight deals even if your plans are uncertain. These policies extend to award tickets, so you can get your miles back (along with any taxes and fees) when you cancel before the deadline. Refunds aren’t instantaneous, but I think Tiffany received bad information about how long she should expect to wait

According to United, redeposited miles should show up in your account within 24 hours of a cancellation — for the sake of comparison, American also says 24 hours, while Delta says 48 hours. In my experience, the wait is generally much shorter, and you may be able to get a sympathetic agent to expedite a redeposit if you have elite status or just an urgent need. I imagine the confusion in Tiffany’s case stems from the fact that refunds for the cash portion of an award (taxes and fees) can take up to seven business days, just like they would for a paid ticket.

One lesson here is that customer service agents don’t know everything, and information published elsewhere may be inaccurate or outdated. If something seems off, seek a second opinion by employing the time-tested approach of hanging up and calling again. The other lesson is that you should be able to change a flight (rather than just cancel it) within 24 hours. I think Tiffany’s best option would have been to book a round-trip itinerary including an Excursionist segment she thought might work, and then alter the existing reservation as needed. If her plans didn’t come together within 24 hours, she could still have canceled.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Tiffany for sharing her experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending her a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured photo by Bernard Spragg/Flickr 

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