North American Airline Award Flight Change and Cancellation Policies North American Airline Award Flight Change and Cancellation Policies

North American Airline Award Flight Change and Cancellation Policies

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Do you need to change or cancel an award flight? It’s often necessary to book months out to secure availability. But this leaves a huge expanse of time for life to get in the way of the best-laid travel plans. So what happens when you need to change or cancel an award flight? That’s what we cover here in a condensed list of North American carriers — the most common frequent flyer programs used. We spell out when there is a fee if you can change or cancel an award ticket, what the exceptions are, and how having airline elite status can sometimes help.

Southwest tops the list of North American frequent flyer programs for the best award change and cancellation policies
Southwest tops the list of North American frequent flyer programs for the best award change and cancellation policies.

It’s worth noting that holding elite status with an airline is one of the easiest methods of countering change fees for award flights. In short, this is due to most airlines either reducing or waiving change fees for elite flyers. And, if you’re ever tripped up by a life or world event and can’t make your flight, check the travel insurance and protections offered by your credit card provider. Cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offer fantastic travel protections that could cover the cost of your flight under the right conditions. Review the benefits on these cards before you consider purchasing any travel insurance!

Unfortunately, the reality is that change and cancellation fees are here to stay. Also, the policies will only get more restrictive over time as rewards programs continually “enhance” their frequent flyer benefits. This post sticks to the policies for each program, rather than tips for avoiding the fees. In another post, we’ll be covering tips and strategies for avoiding airline award change fees.

Aeromexico Club Premier Award Flight Change & Cancellation Fees

Aeromexico levies some of the heaviest award change and cancellation fees among North American carriers. Like U.S. airlines, the airline does offer free cancellation within 24 hours of booking. After that point, you'll have to pay a fee, unless you're a top-tier Aeromexico elite. Even then, they'll stick it to you close-in.

  • Change fees:
    • Domestic itineraries: $1,070 MXN (~$63 USD)
    • Non-USA international itineraries: $1,930 MXN (~$113 USD)
    • USA itineraries: $4,000 MXN (~$234 USD)
  • Cancellation & redeposit fees:
    • Free within 24 hours of booking
    • Domestic itineraries: $1,930 MXN (~$113 USD)
    • International itineraries: $2,900 MXN (~$170 USD)
  • Exceptions: Change fee waived for Titanium elite members if the change is made 21+ days prior to departure.
  • Close-in fees: No close-in booking fee.
  • Other fees: Ticketing fees of ~$15-30 USD (charged in MXN), depending on the channel used.
  • Full terms available here.

Aeroplan (Air Canada) Award Flight Change & Cancellation Fees

Up until the end of 2016, Aeroplan had one of the most generous change and cancellation policies of any frequent flyer program. In specific, they charged $90 CAD (~$68) to change or cancel/redeposit an award. Changes from 2017 have made that process more expensive, costing you up to $200 CAD (~$151 USD) now for a round-the-world award.

  • Change fees
    • Up to two hours before departure:
      • Standard tickets: $100 CAD plus taxes (~$76 USD) per direction, per ticket
      • Flex and Latitude tickets: Free
    • You must change at least two hours before departure. Otherwise, the ticket is forfeited.
  • Cancellation & redeposit fees:
    • Standard award: $175 CAD plus taxes per ticket via contact center, otherwise $150 CAD plus taxes per ticket when done online (~$132 and ~$114 USD, respectively)
    • Economy Flex award: $125 CAD plus taxes per ticket if done via contact center, otherwise $75 CAD plus taxes per ticket online (~$95 and $75 USD, respectively)
    • You must cancel at least two hours before departure. Otherwise, the ticket is forfeited.
  • Exceptions:
    • Change and cancellation fees are waived for Aeroplan Super Elite members
  • Close-in fees: None
  • Full terms available here (warning: PDF).

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Award Flight Change & Cancellation Fees

Changes to Alaska Airlines award tickets post-COVID-19 are much better than before 2020. Free changes and cancellations were a benefit of holding Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan elite status, but now they're available to everyone.

  • Change fee: Free
    • Saver fares cannot be changed
    • Ticket must be changed prior to departure; otherwise, it is forfeited.
  • Cancellation fee: Free
  • Close-in fees: None
  • Other fees:
    • Nonrefundable $12.50 per one-way itinerary for partner awards.
    • Canceling via the call center will incur a phone booking charge of $15.
  • Full terms available here.

American Airlines AAdvantage – No Fees

Like Alaska, American made award tickets essentially worry-free. Uniquely, you cannot change an AAdvantage award ticket. But you can cancel for free. The flexibility this offers is excellent.

  • Change fee: None; changes are not allowed.
  • Cancellation & redeposit fee: Free; must cancel before the flight departs to get a refund.
  • Close-in fees: None
  • Other fees: Canceling via the call center will incur a phone booking charge.
  • Full terms available here.

Delta SkyMiles – No Fees

You no longer need to shell out serious cash if you need to change or cancel an award fight with Delta. SkyMiles went from one of the worst programs (when it came to airline award change and cancellation fees) to generally flexible. If you avoid booking Basic Economy fares and originate in the U.S., you can book worry-free; changes and cancellations are free.

  • Change fee:
    • Free for domestic itineraries and international itineraries originating in the U.S. and Canada.
    • Basic economy tickets, including awards, are non-changeable.
    • You must change your itinerary before departure to avoid penalties for a “no show.”
  • Cancellation & redeposit fee:
    • Free for domestic itineraries and most international itineraries originating in the U.S.
    • Some Basic Economy tickets can be canceled for a penalty assessed in SkyMiles.
    • You must cancel your itinerary before departure to avoid penalties for a “no show.”
  • Close-in fees: None
  • Full terms available here.
a Delta plane seen coming in for a landing over a beach with tourists on it
Credit: Ramon Kagie/Unsplash

Frontier Airline Award Flight Change & Cancellation Fees

Frontier remains one of few U.S. airlines to levy significant fees on award tickets. The change fee for some tickets could make buying a new ticket the better option. While you can enjoy free changes well ahead of travel, the fees are dreadful close-in.

  • Change fees:
    • 60+ days out: Free
    • 7-59 days before departure: $49
    • Six or fewer days before travel: $99
  • Cancellation and redeposit fees: $75
  • Close-in fees:
    • 180+ days before travel: Free
    • 21-179 days before travel: $15
    • 7-20 days before travel: $50
    • Six or fewer days before travel: $75
  • Exceptions:
  • Full terms available here.

JetBlue TrueBlue Award Flight Change & Cancellation Fees

As TrueBlue is a revenue-based rewards program, award fares are based on the cash price of the ticket. Award tickets used to follow cash fare rules, but now award tickets offer great flexibility.

  • Change fee: Free for all fares except Blue Basic (which have a $100 fee for flights in North America and $200 elsewhere)
  • Cancellation and redeposit fee: Free for all fares except Blue Basic (same fees as above)
  • Close-in fees: None
  • Notes:
    • Blue Basic fares cannot be booked with TrueBlue points.
    • You are required to pay any fare difference when making changes to an award ticket.
  • Full terms available here.

Southwest Rapid Rewards – No Fees

Another revenue-based program, Southwest claims the top spot for award ticket change and cancellation policies. Whether you're flying on an award ticket or a paid cash fare, Southwest doesn’t charge any change or cancellation fees.

In fact, if you book a fare using Rapid Rewards points, and that fare goes down, Southwest will let you cancel the ticket and rebook at the lower rate. In addition, Southwest will refund the points difference during the process. The caveat: If you need to change your award ticket and the price has gone up, you need to pay the difference.

Spirit Airlines Award Flight Change & Cancellation Fees

Like Frontier, another U.S.-based low-cost carrier, Spirit Airlines charges significant fees for changes and cancellations. In many cases, it will not be worth paying to get your miles back. Consider booking an entirely new ticket.

  • Change fee: $110
  • Cancellation and redeposit fee: $110
  • Close-in fee: None
  • Notes: Changes can be made up to one hour before departure. Cancellation must be completed prior to departure.
  • Full terms available here.

United Airlines MileagePlus Award Flight Change & Cancellation Fees

MileagePlus changed its staggered award ticket cancellation policy in 2020. Previously, you paid more the closer you got to departure. Now, you can change and cancel award tickets for free. Just don't no-show for a flight.

  • Change fee: None
  • Cancellation and deposit fee: None
  • Close-in fees: None
  • Notes: If you no-show, you can redeposit miles for a $125 fee. Members with Gold status and below pay a $25 phone reservation fee.
  • Full terms available here.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, North American frequent flyer programs have changed their tune over the past few years. Now, they offer travelers far greater flexibility on award tickets than they did in years past. Among U.S. carriers, Frontier and Spirit seem set on adding expensive fees and unrealistic timeframes to award ticket changes. Aeroplan and Aeromexico Club Premier, the Canadian and Mexican flag carrier loyalty programs, are the other exceptions. You can expect to pay fees on most award tickets booked with them.

It’s essential to understand the fees to change or cancel an award flight with the program you use to book the award, not the airline you fly. The policy is dictated by the redeeming rewards program, not the operating airline. Thus, if you booked a United flight using Air Canada Aeroplan points, then you will follow the award flight change/cancel policies from Aeroplan — the program with which you made your reservation.

If you have any tips, tricks, or hacks to avoid paying award ticket change / cancel fees for an upcoming flight, we’d love to hear from you. Please reach out in the comments.

4.8 / 5 - (13 votes)
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  • Southwest has best Change policies. Whenever possible I try to fly them. Not always good if lots of stops. Other airlines have been hit or miss on getting to waive change fees. I remember when JetBlue was $25 and reasonable with changes

  • I’ve appreciated the fee waiver for status on American for sure!

  • I really needed to read this! So many programs I use. 61 days on a couple?! Wow. I commend people who can book that early! I just cannot book that early but always make sure I do not make changes. Well, at least not unless it’s entirely avoidable. So far I have been extremely lucky, even with kids. I will have to bookmark this so I know and read the change policies with who I book.

  • Southwest is the best – I’ve had to change my ticket multiple times with them, and it’s always a relief hearing that there is no change fee!

  • Lisa Wilkinson says:

    I also Love Southwest Airlines! I had a trip planned to fly to Denver on Southwest Airlines but the day before leaving I got deflty sick and had to cancel and reschedule my trip. I got a complete refund of all my miles and actually re-booked another flight with them at an even lower price. No hassles!

  • I did not know southwest adjusts for RR redemptions when fares drop. That’s a great benefit.

  • Is there any better than “Change & Cancellation Fees: None”? Hope there are no hidden surprises.

  • Good reference to compare all the different change fees.

  • One driver for me wanting to make a change is a better deal opens up when the dates get closer. But then I’m locked in because of these change fees, except for Southwest of course.

  • Whenever possible I try to avoid changing my award flight if I need to pay a fee.
    I find it’s great the possibility offered by American Airlines of changing for free your award flights when the date, the origin and the destination doesn’t change.

  • Cancellation fees are quite annoying for people who genuinely need it. It is unfortunate that they need to implement it to prevent abuse.

    Wish it was more in line with hotels. Or at least free cancellation with more than a 24 hour window.

  • Another page to bookmark for those of us without status (yet). There is so much to consider, even when the ticket is “free”. It’s as if the businnes is no longer selling flights, but selling all the *little things.

    *Invisible item, large charge!

  • This is a good run down. Alaska is one of the best.

  • jason picker says:

    awesome summary. this is so handy to have

  • I like that I can change the date without a fee on AA award tickets more than 21 days out.

  • William DiClemente says:

    Southwest is the easiest to change/cancel award tickets… have the ability online to change or cancel without any penalty.

  • Great summary! It definitely comes in handy when we need to change award tickets.

  • Southwest policies are SO much better that I try to book award flights with them whenever possible.

  • I’d like to go at least one day without a change. Just one folks.

  • And the winner is……(surprise, surprise!) ….American Airlines!