Do Change Fee Waivers From Airline Elite Status Extend to Others?

May 28, 2019

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Reader Questions” are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.

Because travelers with airline elite status are the ones flying the most frequently, it goes without saying that they will be the ones most likely to have to change or cancel their plans at some point throughout the year. This is why all three US legacy carriers offer some sort of fee reduction or waiver to their elite members for travel changes. TPG reader Isha wants to know how the fees shake out if a traveler for elite status books a reservation for general members …

If a United 1K elite books award tickets for themselves and someone without elite status and has to change plans, does United charge a change fee for the member without status?

TPG READER ISHA

For the most part, it’s hard to share the benefits of your elite status with someone else, and it can make things awkward if you’re traveling in a group and only one person has access to certain perks or is eligible for an upgrade. While most allow waived checked bag fees for multiple travelers on the same reservation, the same isn’t true for most other perks. Let’s take a look at how each of the three US legacy carriers handles fee waivers, starting with United.

United Airlines

Premier 1K is the highest tier of United elite status one can earn (other than the invite-only Global Services echelon), and it requires either 100,000 Premier Qualifying Miles or 120 Premier Qualifying Segments plus $15,000 Premier Qualifying Dollars to qualify. Premier 1K elites have pretty much all their fees waived when it comes to award travel — they won’t pay any phone booking fee, close-in booking fee, change fee or redeposit fee. The only fee they’d have to pay is $125 to redeposit miles after a no-show. Other Premier levels aren’t as lucrative but still offer discounts on many of these costs that non-status flyers would incur.

Thankfully, these perks aren’t restricted to the individual with the status. United makes it very clear on its website that the fees for award tickets will be assessed based on the MileagePlus status of the account used to book the award. If you’re lucky enough to be traveling with a Premier 1K member or have a Premier 1K member book your award, this means no fees (unless you miss your flight and need to redeposit the miles afterward). Note that these fees are not the same as the taxes you’ll find on most award tickets. While United doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges for partner airlines like some programs do, you can still expect to have a small, added cost depending on where you’re traveling, though the vast majority of these costs fall under $100 per ticket.

American Airlines

American Airlines AAdvantage is stingier, both with the elite benefit and the way it’s awarded. Unlike United, which gradually decreases the fee as your status increases, American only offers an award change/reinstatement fee waiver to its top-tier Executive Platinum members. Here’s what the AAdvantage website has to say about this benefit:

Charges will be waived for Executive Platinum members when:

  • Reinstating a fully unused award ticket that hasn’t expired
  • Changing a date or eligible origin/destination on a MileSAAver or AAnytime award when using miles from your account

Unfortunately, this doesn’t explicitly indicate how this extends to others, but reports from Executive Platinum members indicate that travel companions — whether on the same ticket or a separate one — do still enjoy these fee waivers as long as the miles are redeemed from their account. If the miles come from a lower status member (or one without status), they would still apply.

However, bear in mind that American has one of the most flexible award ticket change policies among the legacy US airlines. As long as you don’t change your origin, destination, award type and general airlines on the award ticket, any member can adjust times or even dates without fees. And if you initially book economy and then find business class award inventory, you should be able to “upgrade” to the higher class of service with no fees — you’d just need to pay the additional miles.

Delta Airlines

Delta takes a hybrid approach, offering fee waivers for award redeposit/reissue to its top two Medallion elite tiers (Platinum and Diamond) but provides no discount at all to the bottom two. You’ll have to dig into the fine print to see how this benefit is applied, but Delta follows United’s approach, where the determining factor is the elite status of the account that redeemed miles for the award ticket:

“Waived for Award Tickets redeemed from a Diamond or Platinum Medallion Member’s account, except when flying on a Basic Economy (E) fare.”

This means that if you book a ticket for a friend, family member or group of travelers from a Diamond or Platinum account, you should be able to have the redeposit/reissue fees waived, even if you’re not traveling with them. Note the restriction that this benefit does not apply if you book a basic economy fare (which is sadly expanding across Delta’s network), though it’s worth noting that those awards book into the N fare class, so it’s not clear how those would be handled. If you do book a basic economy award ticket on Delta, I wouldn’t plan on being able to make fee-free changes as a Platinum or Diamond Medallion member.

RELATED: How to Use Credit Cards to Defeat Basic Economy

Bottom Line

While each airline has its own policy for this specific issue, Isha should rest assured that United will honor the Premier 1K fee waivers for all travelers booked on an award ticket booked from a 1K’s account, even if that elite member isn’t flying. However, the same doesn’t hold true for American, so be sure you know exactly how this will be handled for your upcoming trip.

Thanks for the question, Isha, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

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