Via MileValue, there’s a trick you can use to avoid paying the close-in booking fee for United Airlines award tickets.
Normally, United Airlines charges an extra $75 for award tickets booked less than 21 days prior to departure (unless you have elite status, in which case the fee is lower or waived). But there’s a way to avoid the fee, although it might not always work.
I’ll explain how to do it!
What’s the Deal?
If you book an award ticket on United Airlines less than 21 days prior to departure, you’ll pay a close-in booking fee which varies depending on your elite status:
- No Status: $75
- Premier Silver: $50
- Premier Gold: $25
- Global Services, Premier 1K, Premier Platinum: NO fee
Note: Chase United MileagePlus Club cardholders do NOT get charged the close-in booking fee, regardless of elite status.
But there’s a loophole you can use to try to avoid the fee! I wrote about a similar loophole on American Airlines, but that trick no longer works.
United Airlines allows folks to change or cancel an award ticket within 24 hours of booking with no fees or penalties. If it’s a cancellation, your miles will be re-deposited into your account, and any taxes and fees paid will be refunded to your credit card.
Suppose you need an award ticket for next week (less than 21 days prior to departure). If you booked it normally, you’d be charged the close-in ticketing fee.
The trick is to book the same flights, but more than 21 days away. You will NOT be charged the $75 fee for booking within 21 days.
Then, after you’ve booked, call United Airlines within 24 hours to ask to change your flights to the ones you really want (next week).
Because United Airlines’ systems do NOT add the close-in fee automatically, the agent has to remember to charge you the fee.
MileValue suggests you call the general reservations number at 800-864-8331 instead of the United MileagePlus service center, because regular agents are less likely to remember to charge you.
You could also try changing it online.
This won’t always work. If the agent remembers to add the fee, you could always politely say you’ve changed your mind, hang up, and call again. Or just pay the close-in charge and at least you tried!
Remember, you can change or cancel any award ticket for no charge within 24 hours of booking.
United Airlines charges a $75 close-in ticketing fee for award tickets booked less than 21 days prior to departure. The fee is less, or waived, for certain elite status members.
MileValue confirms there’s a way around it. If you need to book a flight within 21 days of departure, you could 1st book the same flights well into the future (i.e.: more than 21 days away). Then call United Airlines within 24 hours of booking (to avoid change fees) and change the flight to your desired close-in date.
United Airlines’ computer systems won’t add the close-in fee automatically – the agent has to remember to charge you. And in many cases, they won’t!
Again, this won’t work every time, but it’s worth a try to avoid the $75 fee.
Have you used this United Airlines award booking trick successfully?