How to Avoid Close-in Booking Fees on American & United

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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.

American Airlines Takeoff Featured
American charges a $75 close-in booking fee on awards if you book within 21 days of departure.

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.

Elite Status

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

How to Avoid Close-in Booking Fees on American & United
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Comments

  • charles j says:

    Someone told me you can change a flight on American booked with miles, without a fee. I never had to look into it, but do you know if that’s accurate?

  • “Avoid” is a strong term, unless you have certain status, but this is still a good reminder. Thanks.

  • Thanks for the tips!

  • Thanks for another helpful article. I especially like that book through a travel partner idea.

  • Thanks for this. Is the “book far out then change date” tactic on United still working?

  • You forgot the best trick:
    UA award booking: book the same route but way in advance (like a month) on a date you don’t need it.
    Call and ask the agent to change the booking to the date you actually need. Most of UA agents forget to charge the close in booking fee (they have to do it manually).
    If you get one who doesn’t forget it, hand up and call again (HACA)
    No risk whatsoever cause you can cancel any UA booking for 24h anyways.

    • This used to be widely possible — now it is completely YMMV. We were going to mention it, but pulled it. For most people, this just isn’t something they can or would be comfortable doing.

  • I recently booked two AA tickets with miles. The earlier one takes 30,000 miles with a $5.6 fee. The later one takes 65,000 miles with a $52 fee. Why is a later mile award ticket charges much more than an earlier one? These are actually round tickets from PHL to Europe .

  • So I guess there’s actually no way of avoiding the close in booking fee if a non-status pax is going to book a last-minute award ticket with UA.

  • There are so many fees tacked on travel situations that over the years I’ve just gotten immune to them. I pay them, grumble, and then go about my business. Of course, I try to avoid them whenever I can, but sometimes I fall victim.

  • How does the AA reduced awards play into this? 7500 miles make up for the fee?

  • Great comments. I’m trying to book AA award tickets with my wife and her miles. These comments are helpful.

  • In recent times more and more card schemes have pulled various perks like cancellation protection, good to read another way round them.

  • For American Airlines, I think if one of your family member have status, one can try to book a ticket via that account and avoid the booking fee. Maybe someone can confirm if this is accurate.

  • miskocina says:

    This booking fee sucks. If I remember rightly, they didn’t use to charge this.

  • Luciano Stinchi says:

    On United, what I do in this case is redeem with a future date a few months ahead on the calendar, after that ticket was issued I called teh customer service number and change to the correct date. They never charge the 75 dollar fee on this case.

    • Glad it has worked for you, however, there have been many reported cases of this working fewer and fewer times.

    • they dont but they gonna charge you a change fee though says:

      reservation using miles if this is within 21 days of travel the close in booking fee will always apply no matter what. That’s UA policy.
      For last minute booking there is no way to avoid that fee ONLY IF YOU HAVE A STATUS with UA, but if not then no choice but to pay for it

  • Nice tips and comments! It will be very useful in these situations. Some work to do, but good reward.

  • beppoello81 says:

    Looks like ‘working around’ rather than ‘avoiding’ those fees but thanks for writing this useful reminder.

  • good to be prepared – but usually the seats we want are gone by close-in.

  • Luciano Stinchi says:

    Yeah, last time I did it was last october

  • My kids are AA gold and they’ve had to pay the fee for close in booking. Am I missing something?

  • No risk whatsoever to the UA trick. And I have had good results as well.

  • ugh I would figure that since most do not charge this they would have gotten rid of it by now.
    I guess I have been lucky and always was able to book early.
    I wonder why the 21 days? I guess it encompasses when most people actually know when they can travel to get the extra money.
    I can see why you wouldn’t want to pay it that far out but if you had to wait and the fares have only been going up and up and the mileage amount is low, I would do it.

  • @beppoello81 says: Looks like ‘working around’ rather than ‘avoiding’ those fees but thanks for writing this useful reminder.

    I suppose, but the “working” here directly results in the “avoiding.” And, that’s usually the best you can hope for these days.

  • Thank you for the clarifications.

  • Luciano Stinchi says:

    I always spread the word about the UA trick. This 21 days fee its a shame.
    Its a double punishment, because 3 weeks before the flight the passenger is already spending a huge amount of miles comparing with a early bird redeem.

  • leticia correa says:

    Thanks for the tips. I`m in love with this page!!!

  • Tommy Goodwin says:

    I don’t know if I would consider choosing another airline a workaround for avoiding the fee for that flight, at that point you could just say drive instead. The other tips were useful though.

  • Wan Fang Wang says:

    I wish I knew this before booking my trip to Italy! Had to pay $75 to book it within 10 days.

  • Thanks for the very useful information provided by your blog. Much appreciated! My mileage expires tomorrow. 🙁

  • As mentioned by others, booking for a date in the far future and then change the date back (sometimes with upgrades) could work. YMMV

  • Great information, it’s good to know. This blog is very helpful. Thank you!

  • Thanks for the info. Don’t think I ever knew about this.

  • reservation using miles if this is within 21 days of travel the close in booking fee will always apply no matter what. That’s UA policy.
    For last minute booking there is no way to avoid that fee ONLY IF YOU HAVE A STATUS with UA, but if not then no choice but to pay for it

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