How Do Same-Day Changes Work for Award Tickets?

Apr 30, 2019

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

Sometimes when you’re booking travel, especially award travel, it’s less about finding the perfect flight times and more about finding award availability that you can make work with your schedule. Sometimes this means booking a good flight and hoping a great one will become available closer to departure. TPG reader Brian wants to know if he can change award flights the same way as paid ones …

On a normal United flight, I can do a same day change for $75. Is the same true for award tickets?

TPG READER BRIAN

It’s no secret that many airlines release additional award space in the days and hours before a flight departs to fill unsold seats, so looking for a same-day flight change can help you find an itinerary that better suits your needs. When it comes to changing an award ticket, any fees will be determined by the program through which you book as opposed to the airline actually operating your flight. So how do the three US legacy airlines (United, American and Delta) handle same-day award changes? Let’s take a look

To keep things manageable, I’ll assume that you booked your award directly with the airline (e.g. using United MileagePlus for United flights rather than booking United-operated flights with Aeroplan miles).

A United 757 takes off over an American A321 at LAX (Photo by Alberto Riva/TPG)
You can make same-day changes to award tickets on United, Delta and American, though there are some restrictions. (Photo by Alberto Riva/TPG)

United Airlines

We’ll start with United, as that’s the airline Brian asked about originally. While large corporations often bury pages of fine print when describing a perk like this, United is surprisingly brief with its rules for same-day flight changes. You can start looking for a change 24 hours before your departure, and award tickets are treated the exact same as cash tickets. As long as your ticket is issued by United for travel on United and your same fare class is available, you can change your ticket at the last minute for just $75 (this is waived for United Premier Gold members and above).

So the good news here is that Brian can utilize United’s same-day change policies to adjust his award flights in the same way he’s used to doing for revenue tickets. You can even do this to shorten a trip — while your origin and destination must remain the same, you’re allowed to add or remove a connection. Again though, the biggest restriction applies to the fare class, as you must have the same award class available on the new flight in order to switch.

American Airlines

American Airlines does things a bit differently. On the one hand, the carrier is surprisingly generous in changes leading up to your departure, as you can modify an award ticket for free as long as the following conditions are met:

  • You aren’t changing the award type (e.g. MileSAAver to AAnytime).
  • You aren’t changing the origin or the destination.
  • You aren’t changing the airline(s) in the award ticket.

When it comes to same-day changes with American, you must have award inventory available to modify an award ticket at the last-minute. While the carrier’s “E” fare class is used for same-day changes to paid tickets, award tickets are eligible for these same-day changes only if awards at the same level are available.

Delta Airlines

Delta allows same-day confirmed changes and standby on all domestic award tickets and for travel between the US, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, with the exception of basic economy award tickets (“E” fare). However, just like United, your originally booked award fare class must be available, which may not be the case within 24 hours of departure.

You’re not, however, allowed a same-day change on international Delta award tickets.

Bottom Line

The rules about same day changes vary from airline to airline, and they’re often contingent on how your ticket is issued or what fare class you’ve booked. American Airlines is probably the most generous, allowing free changes on many award tickets in advance. United comes in a close second, especially for Gold and higher elites, while Delta brings up the rear by limiting you to same-day changes for domestic travel only.

Thanks for the question, Brian, 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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