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Update: United no longer charges a close-in booking fee, but they have increased the number of miles you'll need for bookings made within 30 days of travel.
In an ideal world, we would have our travel plans nailed down months in advance and book award travel as soon as the booking window opens. But, the reality for most folks is, it’s just not possible. Between work, kids, last minute plans and general life commitments, we don’t all have the luxury of booking travel a year in advance, and no one wants to pay the exorbitant change and cancellation fees dished out when life gets in the way or travel.
If you fly American or United, however, and leave your award booking too close to your departure date, you run the risk of getting slapped with a close-in booking fee.
What's a close-in booking fee? If you book an award flight with AAdvantage or MileagePlus within 21 days of departure, you’ll be charged an additional $75 fee on top of the regular award fees and taxes, increasing your out of pocket expense and often making it not worth the hassle of hunting down award space.
Strategies to Avoid Close-In Booking Fees with AAdvantage and MileagePlus
If you want to avoid the close-in booking fees charged by American and United, and you need to book within 21 days of departure, we’ve put together a list of methods you can use to keep your out of pocket expense to a minimum.
Both AAdvantage and MileagePlus waive or reduce close-in booking fees for members that hold elite status. Close-in booking fees are waived for Executive Platinum, Platinum Pro, Platinum, and Gold AAdvantage members, while MileagePlus reduces close-in fees to $50 for Premier Silver, $25 for Premier Gold, and charges are waived for Premier Platinum and 1K members.
Book with a Partner Program
Provided there is saver-level award space available, you can typically book the same award flights with partner programs that don’t charge a close-in booking fee. If you want to avoid the fees on American, you can book the same flights using British Airways Avios, which doesn’t charge close-in booking fees and is a transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest.
To avoid close-in booking fees on United, our favorite option is Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, which charges no close-in fees and is one of only three programs you can transfer points to from all four major flexible rewards currencies. Alternatively, you can also book with Avianca LifeMiles (charges a $25 booking fee across the board) or Aeroplan (provided you only book segments on United as they charge fuel surcharges on many carriers).
Book Through the Chase Travel Portal
Adding $75 to an award ticket can easily drop the cent per mile value of an award below what we would consider an acceptable value for redeeming miles. An alternative if you hold Ultimate Rewards points is to compare the cost of paid fares, and book through the Chase Travel Portal. Bookings are treated as revenue tickets, and you won’t pay any close-in fee. If you hold a Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you can redeem points at 1.5¢ per point, or if you hold a Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card, you can redeem points at 1.25¢ each towards travel.
Travel with a Different Airline
Check if there are alternatives to flying American or United. If you have miles with Alaska, Delta, JetBlue, or Southwest, you can book within the 21-day window and pay no close-in booking fee. From an Award booking perspective, it’s hard to look past Southwest Rapid Rewards as the best program anywhere in the world when it comes to award fees. They charge no close-in fee, no change fee, no redeposit or cancellation fee, and award rates are competitive (tied to the cash cost of a ticket) across the board for domestic travel. One of the reasons we encourage folks to diversify their points and miles collecting efforts is that it gives you choice and flexibility when it comes time to redeem rewards for travel.
Utilize Airline and Travel Credits
If you can’t avoid paying the close-in booking fee on American or United, at the very least, you can try and minimize the out of pocket expense by paying with a card that provides annual statement credits for travel or airline incidentals. This is a great use-case for the travel credits on the Sapphire Reserve, the U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card, and the Citi Prestige® Card, which all provide annual statement credits for airline award fees, as do most of the cards featured in our list of top rewards cards for travel and airline credits.
There are plenty of ways to avoid paying close-in booking fees with American and United, but they typically involve additional research and, in some cases, a bit of extra legwork. Whether you look at alternative frequent flyer programs, travel on a different airline, or utilize elite status or credit card travel credits, avoiding additional fees or reducing the out of pocket expense of award travel is worth putting in some extra effort.
Have any tips or tricks to avoid close-in booking fees? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.
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