I had to pay two cancellation fees — reader mistake story

Mar 6, 2020

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Lisa, who booked herself and her husband on separate reservations for a trip to Europe:

My husband got an opportunity to golf with friends at St. Andrews in Scotland this October, so I started planning an itinerary for us to tour before and after the five-day golf trip. We wanted to fly nonstop from Phoenix to London, so we didn’t have many airline choices. I have been saving points for his retirement years, and while I was searching for flights on my phone, I saw that my husband also had enough miles for him to fly business class one-way on American Airlines.

I called American to ask whether I could/should transfer my AAdvantage miles and our Marriott Bonvoy points into his account in order to book the flight together. The agent said we could do it that way, but there would be a fee for transferring between airline accounts and that it didn’t matter if we booked separately, since “there is no difference in benefits.” I went ahead and booked us separately, paying 135,000 miles each for one-way AAnytime awards.

Well past the 24-hour cancellation period, I found a much cheaper option on the American Airlines website, with saver-level business-class seats for 57,500 miles and economy seats for 30,000 miles per person each way. I called American Airlines to see if we could rebook at the lower rate, and found that they charge a $150 change or cancellation fee for the first passenger, and only $25 for additional passengers on the same reservation. Since we were on separate reservations, however, we would have to pay $300 instead of $175 — that’s a pretty costly difference.

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Some airlines allow you to pool or share miles freely, but American Airlines isn’t one of them. Transferring miles to another AAdvantage member can cost as much as 3.5 cents apiece (for the minimum of 1,000 miles), and while the per-mile rate drops for larger quantities, Lisa overlooked another transfer option that might have served the same purpose at no charge. Marriott Bonvoy members can exchange up to 100,000 points annually with no fee, so she could have transferred points to her husband’s Bonvoy account and then onward to his AAdvantage account at a 3:1 ratio, bypassing the AAdvantage transfer option (and its associated fees) entirely.

That’s a reasonably efficient way to move rewards around if you need to top up for an impending award and can’t earn AAdvantage miles easily. Another solution to get Lisa and her husband on the same itinerary would be to regroup each award segment. If Lisa had enough miles to cover two one-way business class seats, she could have booked their outbound flight, and then her husband could have used his miles to book their return (presumably in a lower class of service). That approach would still yield two distinct itineraries, but they would be booked together on each one.

While the extra $125 may feel like an unnecessary penalty, paying to rebook at the lower rate is clearly worthwhile in this scenario. AAdvantage miles are listed at 1.4 cents apiece in TPG’s latest valuations, so $300 in cancellation fees is equal in value to around 21,428 miles. Any miles saved above that amount are a net gain, and since Lisa and her husband stand to save over 100,000 miles, rebooking is an easy win.

Related: Should I rebook AAdvantage awards when the price drops?

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing us to post it online), I’m sending Lisa a 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. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured photo by jvoisey/Getty Images.

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