Is it worth booking an award flight as soon as it becomes available? You might get the cheapest redemption or a hard-to-find first class seat on a popular flight, but your reservation will be about a year out. A lot can change in that time. Knowing how much you’ll have to pay to change or cancel that flight can determine if it’s worth taking the chance.
Every year it gets harder to find reasonably priced award flights, particularly to popular destinations during the high season. Airlines keep cutting back on the number of seats available at the lowest redemption rates and there are more miles in the hands of travelers than ever before.
As the summer high season approaches, you should try to book your award flights now. And if you’re really on top of your game, you’re probably already thinking about a winter getaway or even travel next summer.
Booking as soon as airlines release award space means that you’ll have a lot of time between making your reservation and traveling. There could be any number of reasons why you’ll have to change or cancel the flight. Maybe you won’t have as much cash on hand as you thought you would for hotels and other travel costs, or perhaps you can’t get the time off of work. Who knows, you or someone you know could get ill.
The chances that you’ll need to alter your travel plans increase the further out you book your flight. But if you want to use your miles and get the best value, you often don’t have a choice but to book well in advance.
Nearly every airline charges a fee to change award flights. We’ve done a roundup of the rules for award changes and cancellations. If you only have to pay a few bucks to reschedule your flight, it’s probably worth booking it as soon as possible. If you have to pay a lot, it might be better to wait.
Below is a brief rundown of the change and redeposit fees for award flights on the major domestic carriers:
|Change Fee||Cancellation/Redeposit Fee|
These are the fees for some of the major international airlines:
|Change Fee||Cancellation/Redeposit Fee|
|Air France KLM||€45||€45|
Some carriers charge up to $150 to make changes or to get miles redeposited after cancelling, while others offer that service for free. It can be important to consider which carrier to use if you plan to book your award flights far in advance of your trip.
Many of the airlines have very specific conditions and rules for changing or cancelling an award flight. Those details are covered below.
While changes to award flights on Alaska are free up to 61 days in advance of the flight, you’ll be charged $125 if changes are made closer to the departure date. You can buy refundable award tickets on some routes. They cost more, but change and cancellation fees are waived.
On first glance, American seems to have a generous policy, allowing AAdvantage members to change their awards for free. Unfortunately it’s only free if the origin, destination and award type remains the same. You’ll have to pay the $150 redeposit fee if you change any of those details.
Another important caveat to American’s rules: the first passenger on an itinerary pays $150 to redeposit miles, but each additional passenger has to pay only $25.
Award flights must be changed or cancelled at least 72 hours before departure.
Last Seat Available awards are not charged a redeposit or change fee. The change fee is also waived for Classic Plus fares and for any changes made to any fare class more than eight days before the flight. Economy seats are charged a $75 fee if changes are made within seven days of departure.
Redeposit fees for interisland award flights are notably cheaper than mainland and international routes at just $30.
The cost to change or cancel an award flight depends on its cash value. Cheap fares that are under $100 cost $75 to change or cancel; fares between $100 and $150 cost $100; and fares that are $150 or more cost $150.
United charges $25 less if you change only the date of your flight more than 21 days out.
Here is what you are facing in the way of cancellation fees on foreign carriers:
While cancelling any award ticket results in a $90 fee, your miles will be deposited back into your account only if the flight is cancelled more than 21 days before departure. If it’s cancelled closer to the departure date, you’re only option is to reschedule your award flight within the next year.
Change and cancellation fees are waived for more expensive Flex Awards.
Date and time changes are free, but other changes incur a €55 (about $60) fee. Alitalia allows you to pay 5,000 miles instead of cash, which can be a great option.
In an unusual move, the airline charges more for changing a flight than for cancelling it. Why would you ever pay an extra $100 to make a change when you could just cancel for $50 and book a new reservation?
You can either pay a flat fee of $55 for changes or cancellations, or forfeit the cost of the taxes. Depending on the flight, that can be a cheaper option. Changes and cancellations cannot be made within 24 hours of the flight.
Changes can only be made within the same travel season and cabin class. That doesn’t matter, though, since there’s no fee to get miles deposited back into your account. Just cancel and rebook.
All of Singapore’s fees are very reasonable. The date of travel can be changed for free, but all other changes on Singapore flights cost $12. Changes to flights on partner airlines cost $20.
Changes and cancellations must be made more than 24 hours before the flight.
How to Get Around the Fees
The first bit of advice is obvious: book with an airline that charges minimal fees.
Southwest and Korean Air are no-brainers since they charge for nothing. Hawaiian gives passengers free changes, while American, Alaska and Frontier offer a little wiggle room, waiving some change fees, depending on the timing and the changes you want to make. Alitalia, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Air France KLM and Singapore charge fairly reasonable fees.
I’d think twice before booking the other airlines on the list if I wasn’t sure of my travel plans. You’ll be shelling out over $100 if you need to change or cancel your flight, which can bring down the value you’ll get for your miles.
However, $100 can be a drop in the bucket compared to what you’ll save if you’re booking a business class long-haul international flight at the best redemption rate. It might just be worth the risk.
Many airlines, including United and Alaska, offer discounts or waived fees for elite status holders. If you have status, check with the airline to see if change and cancellation fees are waived for award tickets.
If you do need to cancel or change a flight, it’s best to wait as long as possible. That’s because most airlines will waive the fee if they make a change to the flight, such as shifting the schedule or route. Sometimes a carrier will waive the fees for even the smallest changes.
Flight cancellations for any reason, such as weather or mechanical issues, may also get you a free miles refund. And many airlines will waive the fees if you have extraordinary circumstances, such as a death or major illness. Be sure to call and plead your case before accepting the fees.
One last option would be to get a travel credit card that offers statement credits toward airline fees and travel expenses. The Platinum Card® from American Express offers a $200 credit, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ comes with a $300 credit.
While those credits can count towards all sorts of purchases, there’s no reason you shouldn’t use them to get miles deposited back into your account if you have to cancel an award flight.