There are many times when you’ll want to put your travel plans on pause before you book. Maybe you hope to find something better or you need to check with a companion. Whatever the reason, it can be helpful to be familiar with the award change and hold policies before you book your ticket. If you fail to book or hold your award, there’s no guarantee that it will still be available when you check back later.
Change and hold policies vary widely, and sometimes a good policy can lead you to book your award with a particular loyalty program. On the other hand, each loyalty program usually charges different amounts to book the same flight, perhaps more miles but the chance of additional carrier surcharges. You might decide that the ability to place an award on hold isn’t worth spending more when you eventually confirm your reservation. This article discusses the details of several airline change and hold policies so you can make an informed decision.
Should You Hold, Change, or Cancel?
In general, a hold policy is important when your plans are still undecided. You may need to transfer points from another program, such as a bank-operated rewards program like Ultimate Rewards or a hotel partner like Starwood Preferred Guest. Or you may need to confirm other reservations, like a hotel stay, before booking a flight. Hold policies are uncommon, so be thankful if one is available.
All airlines offer change policies. In some cases, the fees are so low that you can treat them like a hold — lock in the ticket and pay a small penalty if you change your mind. Elite status may even provide a fee waiver. A few programs, however, charge $100 or more. Such fees will add up quickly, so changes make the most sense when you find a much better itinerary, or you need to make significant changes to the destination or dates of your trip. This article discusses a few inexpensive policies, but you can also read a detailed explanation of more airline change and cancellation policies.
Best Airline Hold Policies
American Airlines offers the most generous hold policy for awards booked through its American AAdvantage program, including award travel on American, its oneworld Alliance partners, and several non-alliance partners such as Alaska Airlines and Air Tahiti Nui. The duration of the hold will depend on how far in advance you plan your trip.
- Five-day hold if booking 330 days to 15 days before departure.
- One-day hold if booking 14 days or less before departure.
- Up to two hours if booking within 24 hours before departure.
Other major U.S. loyalty programs — including United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and Alaska Airlines — do not allow holds on award tickets. However, Alaska Airlines has a particularly generous change and cancellation policy mentioned below.
A few non-U.S. loyalty programs allow holds similar to American Airlines. If you haven’t booked with them before, remember that they may be partners with bank loyalty programs such as Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards, or ThankYou Rewards, and they often have access to the same award space that you might book with U.S. carriers. For example, Delta may not offer the opportunity to hold a ticket, but you could transfer Ultimate Rewards points to Korean Air SkyPass or transfer Membership Rewards points to Alitalia Millemiglia and then book an award with either of their programs on SkyTeam partners.
Korean Air SKYPASS
Korean Air allows holds on all award tickets booked through SKYPASS, but their policies differ if you will be booking travel on Korean Air or on one of their partner airlines. Partner awards may be held for up to five days. Awards on Korean Air may be held for weeks or even months, up until two days before departure. The SKYPASS award chart has some sweet spots, but keep in mind that it also has very restrictive policies that make it difficult to book travel for anyone other than immediate family.
Lufthansa Miles & More
Miles & More is a loyalty program shared by several carriers in the Lufthansa Group. You can only place holds on award travel with these members as well as select partners, including Lufthansa, SWISS, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Asiana, Ethiopian Airlines, and Jet Airways. Lufthansa is a well-known loyalty program, and they even have a credit card available to U.S. customers that could make it easier to earn miles faster.
Alitalia allows a very long hold of 14 days for travel only on Alitalia, but some cooperative agents may permit a hold on partner airlines, as well. If you plan on traveling to Italy, this could be a very good option.
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
Virgin Atlantic has a straightforward policy that allows 24-hour holds on all award travel. This might give you enough time to confirm other plans or check with your companions. However, it is also the shortest hold policy of any carrier.
Free Airline Change Policies
Alaska Mileage Plan
Alaska Airlines officially charges $125 per ticket to cancel or change each award ticket. However, all travelers can take advantage of free changes or cancellations made more than 60 days before departure. This means you could redeem miles and pay any taxes or carrier fees as soon as you find the award space and then cancel the award for free later.
This plan doesn’t work so well if you are trying to make last-minute reservations. For example, some carriers release much more award space during the last few weeks or days before departure, and it won’t be possible to cancel for free at that point. Keep in mind that Alaska Mileage Plan also collects a separate $12.50 charge for each direction of travel when you book travel on a partner airline. This partner booking fee applies to all customer (even those with elite status) and is never refunded.
Korean Air SKYPASS
As if Korean Air’s flexible hold policy wasn’t good enough, changes and cancellations can be made without paying any fees. However, changing an award requires that you stay within the same cabin class and the same season (award prices vary with season). It may be easier to just cancel the award and rebook.
Other Change Policies
If you didn’t see your favorite carrier listed, that’s because many loyalty programs do not provide a hold policy. These include United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Alaska Airlines, British Airways, Air France/KLM, and Singapore Airlines, among others. However, a few do have modest fees to change or cancel an award. Anything under $50 per person is usually a small price to pay for the ability to stay flexible. Remember that for international business or first class awards, you’ll be avoiding the cost of a ticket that could cost thousands of dollars. Paying a change fee could be worthwhile if it helps you get the flight you want.
In additional, you may be entitled to a free change or cancellation when the airline makes an involuntary change to your itinerary, such as substituting a new connecting airport, discontinuing a flight, or adjusting the arrival or departure times. These changes are rarely advertised, so check your reservation often! If you don’t have an immediate need to get your miles returned, you could wait to see if the airline makes a schedule change and use that as your excuse.