Comparing change policies and fees on award tickets by airline

Over the weekend I summarized the stopover and open jaw policies of the four major US carriers. I figured I’d provide a similar quick rundown of the award ticket change policies of those airlines, along with the corresponding fees for non-elites to make those changes.

American

American will let you make changes to your itinerary even after travel commences. As long as your award type and origin and destination remain the same there’s no fee for making the change. However, if the origin or destination change, there’s a fee of $150 per passenger for making the change.

In order to change the type of award (either regions, saver vs. standard, or class of service) you have to redeposit the current award and book a new one, which costs $150 for the first passenger and $25 for each additional passenger. It’s a bit odd that it’s more expensive to change an award than it is to redeposit an award, if you ask me.

The exception to this is American’s distance based awards, where no routing changes are allowed once the reservation is ticketed.

Delta

Delta won’t allow any changes to award tickets within 72 hours of departure. You can make a change to the return of the itinerary once travel commences, as long as it’s more than 72 hours from your travel date.

Delta also charges a $150 per person fee for any changes outside of 72 hours, be it a date, flight, routing, or airline change. If you change the award type (regions or class of service) you need to redeposit the award and start from scratch, which also comes with a $150 per person change fee.

United

United will let you make changes to your itinerary even after travel commences. If you make a routing change (meaning origin, destination, and type of award remain the same) more than 21 days before departure there’s no fee for making the change. However, for any changes made within 21 days of departure there’s a $75 per person change fee. That fee also applies for changes made to the origin, destination, airline, class of service, etc., more than 21 days before departure.

It’s worth noting, however, that making class of service and zone changes on a United award is much easier than with any other program. If you wanted to switch from a business to first class award with American and US Airways, for example, you’d have to redeposit your existing ticket and book a new one. Meanwhile United is able to “reprice” itineraries and deduct the difference in miles, which is very useful for complex itineraries.

US Airways

US Airways allows absolutely no changes once travel commences, and charges $150 per person for any date, routing, or flight change prior to departure. In the past if you had booked a business class award and were in coach on one segment, you could call US Airways if business class opened up and they’d let you “upgrade” to the cabin you paid for for free. Nowadays 99% of agents even charge for that change.

Summary

I’d say United has the most generous policy for changes thanks to their low fees and liberal change policies both before or after departure. I’d say American ranks second, given the free changes they allow to routings, while it’s frustrating that if you change regions or class of service you have to start from scratch and redeposit your award. Next is Delta, I’d say, which is fine in that they allow changes after departure, though the 72 hour rule is quite frustrating. And last is US Airways, in my opinion, given that they allow no changes once travel commences.

Comments

  1. Again, please add Air Canada Aeroplan if it’s not too much trouble

    Some (probably very little) Americans may book Aeroplan still, despite its crazy YQ 🙂

    Thanks Lucky, from a Canadian

  2. Aeroplan. $90 for change or cancel per passenger. Within 22 days of dept you must pay $90 to have your miles on hold for one year. At that point you can’t bank them. You must use them within 1 year from first booking day.
    Very strict. 🙁

  3. Let’s remember where these FF programs came from and note that most are far older than you. At this late date, no airline really wants them, but they have become a part of doing business. The programs cost the airlines a LOT of money and no, they really don’t want you. Save the odd pair of coach seats on an empty airplane, the Do Not Want You. Down to the individual airline, not a one would keep their FF program if the other carrier’s dropped their own. Don’t expect them to make the process easy; they won’t. In your case, it may be beneficial that they are so difficult; getting through that maze is how you make a good chunk of your living. In nearly all cases, most major carriers would like to migrate to a status-only reward program (if that) and toss the mileage-base award tickets in full. It is an expensive headache for all of them.

  4. “At this late date, no airline really wants them, but they have become a part of doing business. The programs cost the airlines a LOT of money and no, they really don’t want you.”

    LOLOLOL. FF programs are one of the most profitable parts of an airline’s operation. They make it difficult to redeem the miles so that people let them expire (at that point they were already in the books counted as revenue).

  5. Somehow I thought there was no change fee to change an AA award, or even a regular ticket, to an higher class of service, when the date/origin/destination stay the same? Maybe that was BA?

  6. @ Bgiagg — If you already paid for the higher class of service there isn’t a fee (for example, if you’re on a business class award and one segment is in coach, and business class space opens up on it), but if you want to upgrade to first class you have to redeposit the ticket and start over.

  7. @ Cook — Seriously? As Miguel notes, frequent flyer programs are the most profitable part of the airlines. I’d say the reality is the opposite — in the past they were just a cost center, while they’re now a HUGE profit center.

  8. airlines are also making money with FF program, as they are able to sell their miles to banks and others. They are basically printing money that they have full control over. that is pretty good deal if you ask me.

  9. For United, if I change the Carrier and flight info at least 21 days in advance, would there be a charge? For Example, LAX to BKK for stopover. Originally booked on UA and Thai, then change to NH and Singapore to get from LAX to BKK.

  10. American also has a $75 fee for changes within 21 days:

    “Changes to your outbound travel date, resulting in a departure within 21 days –

    A $75 USD award processing charge will apply for a confirmed change to the date on an AAdvantage MileSAAver® and AAnytime® award ticket if the change results in a new outbound travel date that is within 21 days of the original booking date (waived for AAdvantage Executive Platinum®, AAdvantage Platinum® and AAdvantage Gold® members using miles from their account).”

  11. @ sil — Per the rules you should be charged the fee, though in my experience it’s not actually charged in those instances.

  12. Note that United is also more generous with low and mid level elites than other programs. The $75 fee becomes $50 for Silver/$25 for Gold/waived for Plat and higher. The others charge full fee for low and mid level elites.

  13. It is because of all of these fees that I fly Southwest every time I can. My schedule is so unpredictable that it is great to be able to book a Southwest award ticket and not worry about losing any money or miles if I have to change or cancel it at any time.

  14. @Lucky Once your travel commences including a portion of your return what is united’s policy on changing the ticket class or destination but with in the same region? Say for example I already flew LAX-FRA-LAX in J and I have a LAX-HNL segment as part of the above award coming up in couple of months in economy, 1) can i change it to domestic J/F with out additional fee? 2) can i change it to LAX-OGG or LAX-SJD with out additional fee if I change it now. Thanks.

  15. What about change in stopover city, is that considered “origin or destination change” for change fee?
    Change From WAS-> PAR(stopover)-> FRA -> WAS
    To WAS-> FXO(stopover)-> FRA -> WAS

  16. For United’s “21 days before departure” rule,
    Does departure date refer to the date of my outbound?
    Any fee to change a inbound segment more than 21 days away if my outbound is within 21 days?

  17. IME, AA is willing to waive the redeposit fee if you are changing to a *higher* award level (i.e. using more miles on the ticket). I don’t think it’s officially published, but I’ve never had trouble with that.

  18. These charges are particularly nefarious with Delta, given that there’s no way of redeeming one way awards for half the round trip price (not to mention a broken online award calendar and booking system).

    As everyone knows, there is rarely availability on the exact dates you want, so you end up booking a round trip just to get the ticket issued, and which will probably have to change at least once. It’s pretty hard to avoid the $150 fee at some point in an itinerary.

    This would be significantly less of problem if we were allowed one ways, and could truly “mix and match”, as the airline claims it allows.

    In any case, it’s another reason that I am drawing down my remaining 200K Delta miles, dumping my DL AMEX Card, and find myself choosing AA more and more often. Skymiles is an entirely un-competitive program in 2013.

  19. @MileageUpdate – They are cheap to earn, but comparatively expensive to burn… not only because of the inability to redeem one ways, but also the fact that it’s pretty hard to find “low awards” at any time, especially online. I rarely find an award with DL that I can book that doesn’t cost significantly more than the equivalent on another carrier / program.

  20. Lucky – what if you want to add a stopover to an award ticket? Would Delta still charge $150 per ticket?

  21. A couple caveats on your AA info: to make free changes>21 days out you also have to keep the airlines the same. Example: you’re flying on AS metal using AA miles and want to make changes you can’t switch to AA metal for free.

    Second, you mentioned $150 & $25 for redeposit fees for 2 tickets. This is only true, IIRC, if BOTH tix were booked with one person’s miles.

  22. @Samuel: Read the whole text. It’s only if you book a ticket for, say, 60 days from now and then change it to have a departure within 21 days of the original booking date. In other words, you can’t avoid the quick ticketing fee by booking far out and then changing it. If you book six months out, you’re able to change for free a day or two before departure without issue.

    @Joe: It’s hard to learn how to redeem DL miles, but once you do, you can redeem for only low with some work. There’s little reason to ever redeem at medium or high prices.

    @phil: You don’t have to keep the airlines the same, you have to keep the award type the same. Thus, changing from an award with AS on it to an all-AA award would be charged, since you’ve changed from a partner award to an AA award. However, if you book JL and then want to change to CX, that’s fine, as you’ve still got a oneworld award.

  23. @Sheila: Delta always charges for changes unless there’s been a schedule change or you have platinum/diamond status. Unfortunately, I can’t see a good way to leverage a schedule change into a stopover.

  24. There’s a bit of a flaw in the Delta section regarding the 72-hour rule. It’s only imposed for changes within 72 hours of the initial departure. Once you make it to your first stop of over four hours domestically or 24 hours internationally, you can change right up to departure day. It’s not well communicated online, but that’s what everyone on FlyerTalk has reported in the past few months. Thus, if you were doing IAD-CDG(stopover)-TXL//PRG-AMS-JFK-WAS, you could change the CDG-TXL segment anytime after you got to Paris, regardless of if it’s with 72 hours of departure for TXL. Similarly, the PRG departure can be changed up to day of departure.

  25. @Lucky: I booked a one way ticket using AA miles from HNL to LHR with a stopover in SFO. Travel commenced this past December as I flew the SFO-LHR segment on AA. I called AA to try to reschedule the HNL-SFO segment on AS to a later date this year & they wouldn’t allow me do so. Their reasoning was that I shouldn’t have been allowed to fly the SFO-LHR segment before flying the HNL-SFO therefore the unflown segment was lost already. Is this valid? Thanks!

  26. @John Was the ticketed travel date of SFO-LHR segment prior to the travel date of HNL-SFO segment? If so it probably is a bug in AA ticketing system that allowed that booking, and if it is not then you were lucky to get to use the SFO-LHR segment. Typically any unused segment will void the rest of your award ticket.

  27. @ John — You do have to fly your trip in the correct order. So if you’re booking a ticket from Honolulu to San Francisco to London, the Honolulu to San Francisco portion does have to be used before the San Francisco to London portion. Unless you were somehow able to ticket the Honolulu to San Francisco segment for travel AFTER the San Francisco to London segment?

  28. @ Pan — It’s 21 days from when you plan to travel that portion of the trip. So you can make the changes to the return for free even after outbound departure as long as it’s more than 21 days from the return.

    @ Sheila — As Mitch notes, there’s a $150 per person change fee for any change.

  29. @ ikonos — That’s a real toughie and to be honest it’s not a situation I’ve faced. I know you can change the dates for travel at that point, but don’t think you can change the destination.

    @ Pan — Changing the stopover city shouldn’t count as a change of origin and destination.

  30. Thanks Lucky! It’s valuable topics like this that keep keep me coming back to your site when I do my app-o-rama links.

  31. Are these fees and policies the same for awards on partner airlines?

    For example, let’s say that I have an award ticket booked on AA on a BA or CX flight. Would changes still require redepositing the miles and rebooking, and would it still cost $150 for the first passenger and $25 for each additional passenger to redeposit?

  32. When I change the type of AAdvantage award (which requires redeposit) is it possible to hang on to original segments in order not to loose availability?
    Say my itinerary consists of HNL-LAX, which is no longer available at saver level, is it possible to turn in into HNL-LAX(stop)-NRT?
    Thanks!

  33. @ Vita — In theory you should be able to preserve the segments and have them added to a new itinerary. That being said, HNL-LAX-NRT probably wouldn’t be legal.

  34. @lucky – AA. I’m assuming you get hit with the fee or else anyone can just book 21+ days out avoid it and change last minute to the date they want when good space opens up right?

    My friend recently had hkt-hkg-lax booked via AA on KA/CX. A day before the flight, he moved up the CX leg 12 hours earlier (which made it a day earlier) with no fee. Was it because he changed the 2nd leg and not the 1st?

    Thanks

  35. @ E — You would get hit with the fee if you change to a date within 21 days of the original ticketing date, so that “trick” wouldn’t work unfortunately.

    So like your friend you can make changes for free within 21 days, just not if it’s for travel within 21 days of the original ticketing date.

  36. @lucky – he made the change that was for travel the very next day. I guess he just got lucky?

    hkt-hkg 8/31
    hkg-lax 9/1 (changed to 8/31)

    changes made on 8/30 (tickets were in J/F if that matters)

  37. @ E — But did he ticket the reservation prior to 8/10 (meaning more than 21 days prior to departure)? If so there’s not supposed to be any fee — policy was followed.

  38. Never mind, I think I misread your statement. So it’s based on “original ticketing date” if it was over 21 days ago, then changes anytime would be no fee?

  39. Ok got it, thanks.

    Essentially, that “trick” to wait/get an open seat still works then if I were to book today (9/12):

    10/15 lax-hkg
    on 10/12, change the date ticket to 10/12

  40. @ E — Correct. You can make changes for free up until departure. The only exception is when you’re trying to “game” the system by booking an award more than 21 days from departure and then switching it to an award closer in. So you’d be good with your example.

  41. @ E — A carrier change wouldn’t unless the origin and destination change. Changing the class of service would require you to redeposit your award and book a new one, so that does typically incur a fee as far as I know.

  42. What about change of cabin class for Delta; would there be a fee? I want to book an international itinerary in business and one segment is in Korean Air coach right now. Say a week prior to departure, if a business seat opens up on Korean Air, can I change that coach segment to business without a fee?

  43. Hi Lucky, I booked an award travel with US miles before it merged into AA. For US award rules, they don’t allow to make a change after trip commence. How about AA? If I want to change the return ticket after trip starting, will AA allow me to do that?

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