How To Avoid Airline Change and Cancellation Fees

How To Avoid Airline Change and Cancellation Fees

How To Avoid Airline Change and Cancellation Fees

How To Avoid Airline Change and Cancellation Fees

The two largest factors for most travellers when they book a flight are flight times and cost. Sometimes, last-minute changes to our personal schedule happen and we need to alter our flight itinerary. Most carriers will usually charge a fee for the inconvenience. These tips can help you avoid airline change and cancellation fees the next time life throws a curveball.

How To Avoid Airline Change and Cancellation Fees


Cancel Within the First 24 Hours

Federal law states that you have 24 hours to cancel your flight from the time you book your flight if you book it at least seven days before the departure date without having to pay a fee.

If you book a non-refundable ticket from a 3rd-party travel portal, you still might be required to pay the portal’s cancellation fee during the 24-hour window but you will not have to pay any carrier fees.

Family Bereavement or Jury Duty

Airlines might also let you cancel at the last minute if you have a death in the family or summoned for jury duty. Be prepared to send a copy of the obituary or summons to avoid being charged the fee.

When it comes to family deaths, each airline has a different bereavement policy. Some will only waive the fee if an immediate family member passes away.

Flight Schedule Changes

If an airline changes their departure or arrival times, you might be able to change to a different flight for free. Each airline has a different policy and they might only offer the complimentary changes when flight time is adjusted by at least 61 minutes or when your connection is jeopardized.

Buy a More Expensive Ticket

Airlines offer different ticket classes for the same seat. Buying a Class Y ticket, or the airline’s closest equivalent can include complimentary change and cancellation provisions. These tickets will cost more than your discount fares and non-refundable tickets. And, you might have to get a first-class or business class seat to enjoy the complimentary flexibility.

As always, read the fine print before booking a more expensive ticket. Every airline has a different change fee and cancellation fee policy that might not be applicable to your situation, even if you pay the more expensive fee.

Fly Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines doesn’t charge a change fee or cancellation fee. You will still be responsible for the fare difference if you upgrade to a more expensive flight. This is standard policy for all airlines even if you don’t have to pay a change fee.

Flying Southwest can be a great deal if you want to avoid fees.

Be a Loyal Patron

Some airlines will waive the change and cancellation fees for their most loyal members. JetBlue Mosaic waives these fees for you and any companions listed on the same itinerary if the ticket was booked directly from JetBlue.

Delta waives the same-day change fee for Gold, Platinum, and Gold Medallion members except when flying basic economy fare. Plus, you can get your baggage fees waived.

Fly on Standby

To avoid the change fees, some airlines will allow you to fly on standby for the same day for free. Your best option is if you are a JetBlue Mosaic member. Other airlines might also allow you to fly standby at a reduced rate compared to a change fee.

Did You Book an Award Ticket? Change Your Travel Dates

Most award tickets will charge up to $150 per person for cancelling a ticket. This means if you booked your award ticket and want to redeposit your miles and get back the dollars you spent on taxes and fees, the airline will charge you $150 per person on your confirmation number.  If you booked one-way tickets for you and your partner for a trip, that could cost as much at $600 to get all your miles back. There is a way around cancelling your trip entirely. Consider postponing it to a future date or even changing your trip.

The difference between a cancellation fee and change fee can be hundreds of dollars when travelling with more than one person. Below shows the difference between several major frequent flier programs and the cost of changing or cancelling a ticket:

Alaska Airlines – Mileage Plan                                     No Fee up to $125 Change or Cancellation Fee

American Airlines – AAdvantage                                No Fee up to $150 Change or Cancellation Fee

British Airways – Executive Club                                 $55 Change or Cancellation Fee

Delta Airlines – SkyMiles                                               $150 Change or Cancellation Fee

United Airlines – United Mileage Plus                      $75 – $125 Change or Cancellation Fee (tickets issued after October 5, 2016)

The two best frequent flier programs when it comes to flexibility of making changes to an award ticket, behind Southwest Airlines, are American Airlines AAdvantage and Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.

American Airlines AAdvantage will allow changes to an award ticket at no cost, so long as the origin and destination remain the same. For example, you have a trip booked to Sydney, Australia next summer. Your cousin announces her wedding date is during your trip. You can change your trip to leave two weeks later and make your cousin’s wedding. Fortunately, you used award miles through American Airlines AAdvantage to book your ticket. You don’t need to cancel your trip and pay the $150 change fee plus $25 for each additional passenger per ticket number. You can change the dates of your ticket, even the times and airlines at no cost.

If you had booked your trip to Sydney, Australia for next summer and just got word that you would need to change your departure to two weeks later, using Alaska Mileage Plan to book your award ticket will also allow changes at no cost.  Unfortunately, if your travel is set to commence within two months, Alaska Mileage Plan will charge a cancellation penalty of $125 per ticket. If your travel is approaching and you are more than 2 months out, consider changing your ticket to a future date to avoid the fee.

United Mileage Plus recently made a change to their award change and cancellation fees. For tickets issued on or before October 5, 2016, United charged $200 per ticket to cancel and redeposit the miles to your account. They also charged $100 for any changes made to the award within 21 days of departure and $75 for changes made more than 21 days prior to departure. For tickets issued on or after October 6, 2016, they have reduced the fee for making a change or cancelling an award ticket to $75 within 61 or more days of departure up to $125 for 60 days or less of departure.  This is per traveller on a reservation. Although making changes in the right direction, a family of 4 cancelling a trip would be a disappointment in itself plus $600.

Use a Credit Card With Trip Cancellation Coverage

Another option is to book your flight with a travel rewards card with trip cancellation coverage. In many instances, they will reimburse you for any cancellation fee, change fee, and non-refundable travel for family emergencies and extreme weather conditions.

You will still need to exhaust all options with the airline first to see if they will switch your itinerary for free. If not, your credit card might pay the bill. Also, no credit card policy provides “cancel for any reason coverage” unless you pay for an additional add-on policy.

Before making any changes to your travel itinerary, it can be well worth the phone call to your credit card to see if they have a recommendation. This can save a future headache, and, it can start the paperwork filing prices to be reimbursed sooner for any fees you might be charged by the airline.

Here are some of the best travel cards to choose from:

Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred will refund you up to $10,000 in non-refundable travel expenses when your trip is cut short by unexpected events like sickness and severe weather. Chase will also cover any additional travel-related change and cancellation fees for non-air travel too

You will also be reimbursed up to $500 for essential purchases when your trip is delayed as well.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

The Chase Sapphire Reserve will also reimburse up to $10,000 in non-refundable travel after your additional travel insurance and carrier have reimbursed you for any applicable fees.

It’s also worthy of noting that family members are covered even if they are not travelling with the primary cardholder. This is another way you can save money.

United Mileage Plus

Since the United MileagePlus is also issued by Chase, it shares the same $10,000 reimbursement policy as the CSP and Reserve. Your first checked bag flies free for you and one companion. And, you will also enjoy priority boarding and two annual United Club passes too.

Citi Prestige

The Citi Prestige reimburses trip cancellation and change fees for most family emergencies and acts of nature. They will reimburse up to $5,000 for non-refundable travel per person and $500 in essential expenses when your travel is delayed three hours.

You will also like this card as Citi will only make you pay the taxes and fees on a free 4th hotel night when you book a stay of at least four nights.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus will reimburse your cancellation and change fees when you use the Arrival Plus to book your plane ticket(s). Barclaycard will also reimburse you for any nonrefundable travel when your travel plans are interrupted because of a covered reason like a medical emergency to you or your immediate family or if the airline carrier becomes financially insolvent.

Barclaycard may have one of the stricter fee reimbursement policies due to fewer covered reasons, but, like a medical emergency to you or your family member might be the most predictable reason you will have to cancel or change your flight, this still might be a good option.

In addition to the reimbursing your cancellation and change fees, Barclaycard will also pay you two miles per $1 on every purchase. These miles can be redeemed for travel statement credits where you will receive a 5% redemption bonus.

Summary: How To Avoid Airline Change and Cancellation Fees

To avoid airline change and cancellation fees, your best bet is to book your tickets directly from the airline and try to choose a flexible ticket. Cancelling or changing your flight itinerary as soon as possible can also help as airline might charge a higher fee as you approach your departure date. As an added safeguard, booking your travel with a travel rewards card that offers trip cancellation benefits can also reimburse any fees when all else fails.


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