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Award flights. It’s often necessary to book months out to secure availability, leaving 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. When you can change or cancel an award ticket, if there’s a financial penalty for doing so, and how having airline elite status affects the fees.

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, with most airlines either reducing or waiving change fees for elite status flyers. And if you’re ever caught out by a life or world event and can’t make your flight, check the travel insurance and protections offered by your credit card provider, as cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® (See Terms) offer fantastic travel protections that could cover the cost of your flight under the right conditions. Seriously review the benefits on these cards before you consider purchasing any travel insurance!

The reality is, change and cancellation fees are here to stay, and 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, as we’ll be covering tips and strategies for avoiding airline award change fees in another post.

Delta SkyMiles Award Flight Change & Cancellation Fees

You can change or cancel SkyMiles award tickets up to 72 hours before departure for a $150 fee which is waived if you’re Platinum or Diamond Medallion. If you need to change flights on the day of your flight, Same-Day Confirmed and Standby changes for Award Tickets will cost Silver Medallion and below $75, while the fee is waived for Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Medallion members. Inside the 72 hour mark, miles cannot be redeposited for award fares. Tip: Delta is known to make exceptions for Diamond Medallions.

  • Change Fee: $150 up to 72 hours from scheduled departure – waived for Platinum and Diamond Medallion members
  • Same-Day Confirmed: $75 – waived for Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Medallion members
  • Same-Day Standby: $75 – waived for Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Medallion members
  • Redeposit Fee: $150 up to 72 hours from scheduled departure – waived for Platinum and Diamond Medallion members

American Airlines AAdvantage Award Flight Change & Cancellation Fees

American doesn’t charge a fee for date changes 21+ from departure, inside 21 days of departure, it is a $75 fee (waived for elites). Origin and destination change fees are waived for Executive Platinum members or for AAnytime Award fares, but cost $150 for MileSAAver Awards and all partner awards. Any change to award type requires redeposit and new award ticket issued.

  • Change Origin or Destination Fee: Waived for AAnytime Award if retaining award type, $150 for MileSAAver Award if retaining award type, $150 on all partner awards – waived for Executive Platinum members using miles from their account
  • Change Date Fee: $75 fee to change outbound award travel date to within 21 days of the original booking date – waived for Elite members using miles from their account
  • Change Award Type: Change to award type originally ticketed require miles to be redeposited, fees paid, and new award ticket issued
  • Redeposit Fee: $150 for the first ticket, $25 for each additional ticket redeposited to the same account at the same time – waived for Executive Platinum members using miles from their account. Tip: If you have multiple awards spanning multiple tickets/people and you cancel them all at the same time, you'll only pay $25 for each additional ticket after the first, even if they are for separate trips.

United Airlines MileagePlus Award Flight Change & Cancellation Fees

MileagePlus changed award policies back in October 2016. United’s fees are based on your elite tier, with current change and cancellation fees staggered from $0 for Premier 1K members to $200 for General members. Fees are per ticket, and changes to awards that include Star Alliance partners must be made 24 hours out.

  • Premier 1K: 61+ days out $0 – 60 days and under $0
  • Premier Platinum: 61+ days out $0 – 60 days and under $50
  • Premier Gold: 61+ days out $25 – 60 days and under $75
  • Premier Silver: 61+ days out $50 – 60 days and under $100
  • General members: 61+ days out $75 – 60 days and under $125
  • Exclusions: Changes to tickets for flights within Japan (with no international connections) operated by ANA (All Nippon Airways) must be made at least four days prior to departure.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Award Flight Change & Cancellation Fees

Changes to Alaska Air award tickets follow the same pattern as American and United, with the cost of making changes or canceling an award fare waived for top-tier elites.

  • Change & Cancellation Fees: $125 change/cancellation fee applies – waived for MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K.

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. This is also reflected in the award change and cancellation fees which match cash change and cancellation rules.

Change & Cancellation Fee (Plus any fare difference):

  • Blue & Blue Plus Fare
    • $75 (fares up to $99.99)
    • $100 (fares up to $149.99)
    • $150 (fares up to $199.99)
    • $200 (fares $200+)
  • Blue Flex Fare – No charge
  • Mint Fare
    • $200

Southwest Rapid Rewards Award Flight Change & Cancellation 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 help cancel the ticket and rebook you at the lower rate, refunding you 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.

  • Change & Cancellation Fees: None

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, charging just C$90 to change or cancel/redeposit an award. Changes that kicked in for 2017 have made that process much more expensive, costing up to C$200 now for a round-trip award.

  • Change Fees (up to 2 hours before departure): C$100 (plus taxes) per direction, per ticket – Aeroplan Diamond members pay C$75 (plus taxes) per direction, per ticket
  • Redeposit Fees (up to 22 days before departure): C$150 (plus taxes) per ticket – Aeroplan Diamond members pay C$30 (plus taxes) per ticket via Aeroplan.com, and $100 (plus taxes) per ticket via the Aeroplan Contact Centre.
  • Exceptions: C$200 (plus taxes) per ticket flat fee for changes to round-the-world awards

Final Thoughts

North American frequent flyer programs seem set on adding expensive fees and unrealistic time-frames to award fare changes, with the only exception to this rule being Southwest Rapid Rewards. It’s essential to understand the change and cancellation fees of the program you use to book the award, not the airline you fly as the policy is dictated by the redeeming rewards program, not the airline.

If you have any tips, tricks, or hacks to avoid paying award change and cancellation fees we’d love to hear from you, so please reach out in the comments.

For rates and fees of the cards mentioned in this post, please visit the following links: Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® (See Terms)

North American Airline Award Ticket Change and Cancellation Policies
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Comments

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

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

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

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

  • William DiClemente says:

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

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

  • jason picker says:

    awesome summary. this is so handy to have
    thanks

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

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Good reference to compare all the different change fees.

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

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

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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.

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

  • 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

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