The 4 Airlines With The Best Award Ticket Change Policies

Airlines are releasing fewer premium cabin award seats in advance than in the past, so we’re having to work harder for those “premium” award seats.

As a result, I think a good strategy to take towards booking awards is to lock in something you’d ultimately be happy with as early as possible, and then as the departure date approaches you can monitor for better options.

For example, in the past I’ve often suggested locking in Cathay Pacific business class award seats as early as you can, and then closer to departure “upgrading” to first class, given that Cathay Pacific seems to at most make one first class award seat available in advance nowadays.

Award ticket change fees can be expensive

The problem with tweaking itineraries as the departure date approaches is that it can get costly. In some cases, very costly.

For example, Delta charges you $150 for each change you make to an award ticket, whether it’s changing the routing altogether, switching to a flight an hour earlier, or “upgrading” a segment to the class of service you paid for on the rest of the award. If you’re a family of four traveling, that’s a huge amount of money for each change.

Similarly, United charges $200 per person to redeposit an award ticket, which is a substantial amount.

How to avoid award ticket change fees

In general there are two ways to avoid paying change/redeposit fees on award tickets:

  • Have elite status. Most airlines allow their top tier elites to make free award changes and redeposits, which can save you lots of money. For example, sometimes I’ll make a handful of changes before actually flying an itinerary.
  • Hope for a schedule change. Airlines often change their schedules on flights, and when they do, you’re typically allowed to change or redeposit your award ticket for free. If you’re planning a trip a year out and/or a routing which is somewhat complicated, there’s a good chance you’ll experience a schedule change.

Which airlines have the best policies for changing awards?

It’s worth noting that some airlines are better than others when it comes to change and redeposit fees on award tickets. And in particular I think there are four programs worth calling out for their generous rules.

Now, all four programs are generous in different ways. So which has rules that suit your award travel best depends on the type of traveler you are.

In no particular order, here are my four favorite airline loyalty programs when it comes to their change policies:

Alaska Mileage Plan

Alaska is in a league of its own as far as US airlines go, as it’s the only airline to charge no award change or cancellation fees… assuming you make those changes at least 60 days before departure.

So if you book a ticket 11 months out, you can make a dozen changes and then redeposit the award for free 61 days out without paying a dime. Within 60 days of departure, Alaska charges $125 for each change or for redepositing your miles.

Mileage-Plan-Fees

Emirates-A380-Cabin

American AAdvantage

As far as the “big three” US carriers go, I think American has the most generous policy for changing awards. American’s policy is as follows:

  • Assuming the origin, destination, and airlines remain the same, you can change the date, routing, and flight at no cost, all the way up until departure
  • If you do change the origin, destination, or airline combination, you’ll incur a $150 per person change fee
  • To redeposit your award, you’ll pay $150 for the first passenger, and $25 for each additional passenger on the same reservation

It is sort of interesting that American actually charges less to redeposit awards than they do to change the origin, destination, or airline combination, assuming multiple people are traveling. While you only pay $25 for redepositing additional passengers’ awards, the $150 per person change fee applies to each person on the reservation.

Still, you can change the routing, flight, date, time, etc., at no cost all the way up to the departure date, which is quite generous. Furthermore, American will let you “upgrade” the class of service on an award at no cost.

AAdvantage-Fees-2

AAdvantage-Fees-1

Cathay-Pacific-First-Class-777-39

Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

While I love all four of the airlines listed here, I especially love Singapore KrisFlyer, given that they’re transfer partners with all four major transferrable points currencies (American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and Starwood Preferred Guest). This makes the points quite easy to accrue.

The great news is that they also have very reasonable fees for changing or redepositing awards.

Specifically, KrisFlyer charges:

  • No fee for changing the date or time of a Singapore Airlines award
  • $12 to change an award type online
  • $20 change an award type by phone
  • $30 to redeposit an award ticket

Those are extremely low fees, and make it easy to lock in an award when the schedule opens and then later cancel in case you change your mind.

KrisFlyer-Fees

Singapore-Suites-1

Korean Air SkyPass

As far as award change and cancellation fees go, Korean takes the cake. They don’t have any. There are no fees to change your award, and also no fees to redeposit your award. Period.

While the SkyPass program in general is quite generous, do keep in mind that the process of booking an award with them can be a pain. You can only redeem miles for immediate family members, and you need to provide proof of your relationship with them.

Still, if you can book a Korean Air award, it’s pretty awesome that you won’t pay if you need to make any changes.

Korean-Air-A380

Bottom line

With awards being tougher than ever before to “perfect” at the time of booking, I generally recommend looking beyond award rates to decide which program to book through. In other words, if you plan to modify an award, it makes sense to look at an airline’s change and redeposit fees before booking an award. There’s a big difference between paying $0 to cancel an award and paying $200 to cancel an award. That difference becomes even more apparent when multiple people are traveling.

In the past I’ve locked in Korean Air awards 11 months out when I knew I wanted to take a trip, and then closer to departure cancelled it when something I liked more opened up. But it’s great to have a backup, so you’re not left without any options in the event something doesn’t open up.

Do you factor in change and cancellation fees when deciding which programs to book through? Are there any other programs with reasonable award ticket change/cancellation fees?

Comments

  1. @ David — Grrr, brain fart on my part. Totally forgot about Southwest. You’re right, they have the best policy of any US airline.

  2. British Airways Avios charges only $5.60 to cancel US domestic tickets as this amount is the taxes and is lower than the cancellation fee.

    Southwest charged nothing as long as you cancel more than 10 minutes before departure.

  3. Have airlines ever commented as to why they charge so much, especially when hotels don’t, as long as it’s within 24 hours or even 6 pm same day?

  4. Does changing the carrier on an AAdvantage award really incur a change fee? My understanding is that as log as you keep the same origin and destination you can change dates and carriers / routing for free.

  5. Ben, I have an US Airways issues award ticket leaving for Europe next weekend. If I wanted to change the date or routing, does ticket change policy follow new American Airlines rules? Or does it still go by US Airways rules?

  6. @ Todd — Agreed, but the ability to change dates, routings, and flights with no fee is much cheaper than what Delta and United charge.

  7. @ Raymond — You’d pay American’s fees. As far as the routing goes, it really depends on the agent you get. Minor changes shouldn’t be an issue, while I wouldn’t expect to be able to get away with anything too “creative.”

  8. @ Stevie G — I think the simple answer is “because they can.” Airlines generate so much revenue off ancillary fees, and they know they can get away with it. I actually think Alaska has the right approach. They basically say that within 60 days of departure the chances of them selling seats at a similar price decreases, which is why they don’t charge if you cancel before that, but do charge within that window.

  9. @ FMF — Yes and no. There are no change fees if you’re changing a oneworld partner to another oneworld partner, or changing a non-oneworld partner to a non-oneworld partner, or changing American metal to American metal. But if you change American metal to Cathay, Cathay metal to Etihad, etc., you would incur the fee. Hope that makes sense.

  10. Big caution changing American award – change your low-season award to regular season and you’ll pay their entrapment fee. Trapped me.

  11. Lucky — I’m considering SQ for an award redemption next year using Chase UR points. The low fees are the icing on the cake. I’m just wondering… what’s the approximate transfer time from UR to SQ? I’ve heard it’s not instant, and would be worried the seats I want might be snatched up before the points show up in my SQ account.

  12. regarding AA award change fee, I originally booked on that JAL first class deal from LAX to NRT and I was originally booked on US airways or AA from SEA to LAX on same record and later F saver opened up (4 of these 3 month after booking!!!) on AS so I called and switched. First agent said there will be change fee because I am switch airline combination.. HUCA and second agent.. sure NP.

    did I get lucky on the second agent?

    “If you do change the origin, destination, or airline combination”

  13. on other hand, I have a booking, SEA to SFO on united and SFO to ICN on asiana… only reason to route through SFO was to get on a flat bed J (Smartrum?) on 777-200L as SEA to ICN non stop was an A330 old angled flat. Well, equipment changed and SEA to ICN is now flat bed as well. To make this change, it would be $75 per person x 4. but since doing so would free up seats on SEA to SFO for the benefit of United, do you think an agent will be sympathetic and wave the change fee? After all, it will free up 3 F and 1 Economy seat on that flight. That’s gotta be a good thing for United right?

  14. Ben in my – limited by your standards – experience with AAdvantage I was never charged to change airline combination (JAL for Cathay for instance) is this new?

    I had also mixed experiences changing airports in a same Metropolitan Area, last year I was charged a fee to change LGA to JFK, but later I was not charged (was expecting and willing to pay for a much better routing), what’s up with that? Do agents have freedom to waive the change fee in such conditions?

  15. @ PH — The fee only applies if you’re switching between oneworld partners, non-oneworld partners, and/or American metal flights. Swapping Cathay for JAL is fine. Swapping Cathay for American or Etihad isn’t.

  16. @ tjp74 — It is ultimately a good thing about United, but ultimately fees aren’t based on whether something is good for the airline or not. If you want to make the change, they’re counting on you being willing to pay the fee to make the change, since they know it’s considerably more convenient. So without a schedule change I wouldn’t count on getting any fees waived there, unfortunately.

  17. @ Kirby — Typically it takes under 24 hours. Unfortunately there is indeed no way to hold that space. 🙁 Fortunately I find KrisFlyer award space isn’t *too* fluid, so hopefully it’s still there by the time the transfer goes through.

  18. @ tjp74 — Regarding the Alaska situation, that is sort of tricky, and I agree it’s about 50/50 as to what you get agents to say there. Technically you’re keeping a oneworld airline as the primary carrier, but you’re adding another one into the mix.

  19. About Kris Flyer

    Would the re-deposit of miles reset the clock on the 3 years expiration time?

    If so, then this is a cheap way to preserve the miles if one could not make the trip.

    Does anyone know the answer?

  20. @PH, Co-terminal changes are NOT free with AA miles. The agent simply forgot to charge you on that on your second experience so you got lucky.

  21. @ AARON — Yep, I’d say they have pretty reasonable fees, though not really the best in the industry.

  22. @ FLL — Nope, unfortunately it’s based on when the miles were earned and there’s no activity which can reset them.

  23. What you didn’t mention is that Alaska MVP Golds do NOT pay to change or cancel award tickets *anytime*, including redpositing miles. The wonderful thing about Mileage Plan – I was booked Juneau to Bangkok using miles – was able to snag Premium Economy on Cathay Pacific across the pond…. I checked *1 day prior* and noticed Emirates First Class was available for the ENTIRE trip – so I changed my ticket and it cost me nada.

    You should look and see if the others above allow you to change partner awards that close to travel… but on Alaska it is VERY important because Korean Air and Emirates do not typically release First Class award seats until a few days prior to travel.

  24. Lucky I have a question sort of related to the topic. I have an award ticket reserved for my brother from CHA to AKL roundtrip and there was a schedule change. I had him in coach all the way from CHA-AKL and then on the return 2 of the 4 segments were in 1st/biz class. The schedule change had him leaving 3 hours earlier and getting back over an hour later. I already called and got him a little longer layover on the outbound in HNL seeing as how he already had an overnight layover there. I was wondering about the return though. How much can I realistically expect them to do to make the return better? There are 4 segments with AKL-HNL in biz then HNL-SEA in coach, SEA-DFW in 1st and then DFW-CHA in econ. I would like to ask for HNL-DFW in 1st and then DFW-CHA in coach. They made a very long layover in SEA and he doesn’t want to spend the night there if possible. What do I say when they say there’s no saver seats available? By the way, the itinerary they gave him has “anytime” segments included, it’s just a crap itinerary in my opinion. Thanks!

  25. @lucky

    Under American change fees you mention British airways charging less to redeposit than change. Is this a typo or are you comparing the two?

  26. I made 3 reservations using Kriss miles through an independent award service. When I told him that I wanted to change to earlier date, he told me the fee (charged by Kriss) is $75/person plus his fee. Is there anyway that I can make the changes myself? How do I go about that? just call KrissFlyer? Thanks!

  27. Virgin Atlantic is one to mention. £25 to change and £30 to cancel up to 24 hours before departure. That’s per person but still good for being flexibile

  28. Useful post!
    What about situations where the award was booked under the old US Airways rules. Does the new AA or US change policy apply?

  29. You should do a follow up on the worst change policies of any major airline. Even as a somewhat reluctant Delta fan I have to say their change policies are terrible. It’s not just the fees, but the fact that you can’t change (even for a fee) a Delta award less than 72 hours from departure (even, as my dad found out the hard way, if you are a Diamond!). If you want to change the ticket you have to forfeit the miles and start again.

    One of the main reasons I book frequent flyer tickets is their relative flexibility compared to revenue tickets (mostly, even if there is a change fee, at least you don’t have to pay the difference in fare) but Delta’s policy is absurd.

  30. @Lucky, could you please answer my question above. I need to know asap as I have to change the date while its still available. Thanks!

  31. @ Renny Chavez — Without looking at your reservations it’s hard to know what exactly is involved (i.e. if you have multiple sets of tickets then you’d need to pay a change fee for each record, which could be the reason for the increased price). But you can certainly change the award yourself either online or over the phone. Good luck!

  32. @Tiffany It’s MCO-NRT one way for 3 people. So I can make the changes myself even though someone else made the reservation for me? Thank you!

  33. @ Renny Chavez — Well, if we had booked it you would definitely be able to. If everything is above-board with your reservation (like you’re using your own miles, etc.) then it shouldn’t be an issue for you to contact KrisFlyer directly.

  34. Hi Ben

    I wanted to clear some of my doubts about using Etihad guest miles on AA within the U.S. Called both AA and EY. They said I could only use the guest miles on AA metal, not American Eagle or Envoy Air subsidiary flights to smaller airports.

    Also, when I avail an AA economy award for 25k miles using AAdvantage miles, the charges are around $11.20 in taxes.
    But when using EY guest miles, they’re charging about $48.
    Is this correct? Or do I need to call again and confirm?

  35. Would AA’s class of service upgrade exception work if you had originally booked into an AAnytime coach ticket to a sAAver first ticket where the miles required are actually less for the First sAAver (say 30k one-way for coach vs 25k one-way for first)?

  36. So I have a flight in Business from JFK-AUH, but I added the connection from my local airport when making the original booking. Now I want to change the date for the JFK-AUH leg, but there is no connection available from my local airport to JFK. I called AA, and they’re telling me that the connection is part of the award and so the date for JFK-AUH cannot be changed, unless there is availability on the connection also. Any advice in this matter would be really appreciated.

  37. Is the $20 change fee with Krisflyer for a Star Alliance award per ticket or per reservation? IOW if there are 5 people on the same award reservation, is it $20 to change them all to another award itinerary, or is it $100?

  38. I need to change a Singapore booking. I saw something on their website that indicated that if you made a change over the phone you would lose the 15% booking on line discount. I don’t see a way to change my booking on line and I don’t want to lose that 15% value. Any suggestion?
    Is it easier to cancel my current award, have the points re-deposited and then book a new one, rather than make a change?
    Current reservation is from LAX to Singapore. We rethought out trip and now want Singapore to LAX.

    thanks for any advice

  39. Do you know if it’s possible to redeposit a partially used award on Korean Air? If so, how is the award refund calculated?

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