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Sometimes unexpected scheduling conflicts and emergencies arise, forcing you to cancel or change award or revenue tickets. Without elite status, these changes can be downright costly, ranging from $150-$200 on most airlines.
In these kinds of situations, there are a few strategies that I employ in order to avoid the change or cancellation fees:
Leveraging your loyalty with the airline
If you have flown on revenue tickets in the past, you might be able to avoid a fee. A friend of mine holds Silver status on United MileagePlus, which discounts the change fee by a nominal amount. He was able to avoid the fee entirely because he had flown 30,000 miles this year and was booked for another 10,000.
Even if you don’t have airline status, try to pull the loyal customer card.
Knowing recent events or weather forecasts that can impact travel plans
For example, the government shutdown has forced popular tourist sites to be closed. If you had a ticket to San Francisco booked, you can ask the phone agent to waive the cancellation fee because your plans to visit Yosemite were disrupted by the government shutdown.
Pushing back the departure date on award tickets
American Airlines has one of the most liberal change policies in the industry, allowing customers to change the departure date as long as the origin and destination cities are the same. United use to have the same policy for all members of MileagePlus, but now it’s reserved for only elite members.
If a conflict comes up, just push back the departure to a more convenient time. One trick I use when booking to avoid close-in ticketing fees is to book the same exact flight a few months down the line, then call American to change it to the actual departure date that you want. Just make sure that the award type is the same!
For example, I’ve picked an October 23rd departure for JFK to LHR on AA. But because I’m leaving so soon, AA.com tacks on a $75 close-in ticketing fee. To circumvent this fee, book a later flight. In this example, I’ve booked a December 25th departure for JFK to LHR on AA. Follow up by calling AA to change the departure date to October 23rd to avoid the close-in ticketing fee.
Schedule changes or aircraft machinery swaps
Airlines will often notify you about impending schedule changes or aircraft swaps. Even a 10-minute change in the schedule is enough to convince most agents that you need to cancel the itinerary.
For example, one of my award tickets was booked to depart at 7am, but a schedule change pushed it to 8am. I simply called up United and told them that 8am was too late and that I wouldn’t be able to avoid rush hour traffic on the way to the airport.
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