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You already know how easy it is to get free flights to just about anywhere by earning airline miles from the best airline credit cards. But there are more reasons than that to collect miles and points.
A pot of airline miles can be important for travelers whose plans aren’t set in stone. Flight-change or cancellation policies for award bookings are often more generous than policies for a paid flight. In some cases, you may not have to pay anything to change your award flight, while changing the exact same paid flight would cost you $700+.
I’ll compare the change fees of paid and award flights for the most popular airlines in the miles-and-points hobby.
How much does it cost for flight changes?
Most airlines charge varying prices for changing and canceling tickets based on the type of fare you buy, but I’m only focusing on the cheapest fares possible, because those are the only ones I’d book in real life.
Here are the rules for the most popular airlines when you buy the cheapest tickets.
|Airline||Award Change Fees||Refund / Redeposit Fee||Paid Change Fees||Exclusions|
|Air Canada||- $100 per direction per ticket (plus difference in miles)||$125 per ticket||Per Air Canada:|
"One fully unused non-refundable ticket may be applied as a credit towards the purchase of one new ticket in the same passenger's name. Travel must start within 1 year of the date the original ticket was issued. If the fare for the new journey is lower, any residual amount will be forfeited. Additional fare amount and change fees may apply
|Aeroplan Diamond Status
- $75 change fee per direction per ticket (plus difference in miles)
- $30 cancellation fee per ticket
Altitude Super Elite Status
- Free changes (plus difference in miles)
- Free cancellations
|Alaska Airlines||$125 (plus difference in miles)||No charge after you pay the $125 cancellation fee. Taxes paid on your award flight will be refunded||$125, plus difference in fare.||- MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members are exempt from change and cancellation fees
- If you fly exclusively within Alaska, you are exempt from change fees
|American Airlines||-$150 for origin or destination change|
- FREE date changes
|- $150 for the first passenger|
- $25 for each additional passenger on the same reservation
|- $200 for domestic Travel|
- Up to $750 for international travel
|Executive Platinum members are exempt from all award change fees|
|British Airways||$55 (each change incurs an additional $25 fee)||$55||- Free to change|
- $25 to cancel
|Gold Priority members are exempt from change fees|
|Delta||$150 (changes must be made 72+ hours before departure)||$150||- $200 for domestic flights|
- Up to $500 for international flights
If canceling your ticket, you'll pay the cancellation fee and receive the remaining ticket value as an eCredit for a future flight:
- Re-issued tickets for domestic travel must be completed within one year of original ticket date
- International travel must begin within one year of original ticket date
|Platinum and Diamond elites are exempt from award change fees|
|Etihad||$27 (you cannot change the destination)||10% of the miles spent||Based on data points, Etihad charges wildly different change fees based on your ticket. Per Etihad:|
"The refund amount will be calculated based on the fare rules applicable to your ticket at the time of booking. While we will refund the entire amount shown to you upon cancellation, there may be additional processing fees collected by your card issuer/bank."
|Iberia||$40||$40||Between $200 and $275|
|JetBlue||See "Paid Change Fees"||See "Paid Change Fees"||You must pay the difference in airfare in addition to the below fees:|
Blue and Blue Plus
- Fares $99 and below: $75
- Fares between $100 and $149: $100
- Fares $200 and above: $200
|Mosaic members exempt from all fees|
|Singapore Airlines||- $25 for Singapore Airlines flights|
- $50 for Partner airline flights
|$75||You'll only be refunded taxes & fees|
|Southwest||Difference in miles||None||Difference in price|
|United Airlines||- $75 for changes made 61+ days in advance|
- $125 for changes made within 60 days
|$125 if no-show||- $200 for domestic flights|
- Up to $1,000 for international flights
|United Airlines elite status offers varying discounts on change fees.
Price when booking 60 days of departure:
- $100 with Premier Silver
- $75 with Premier Gold
- $50 with Premier Platinum
Price when booking 61+ days from departure:
- $50 with Premier Silver
- $25 with Premier Gold
- Free with Premier Platinum
Premier 1K is exempt of all change fees
As you can see, there are quite a few airline award-flight policies that are far less harsh than paid-flight policies. Here are some of the best ones.
American Airlines: As long as your origin and destination stay the same, you can change the dates of your award flight for absolutely free. If your plans fall through, you can postpone your trip for zero dollars.
Also, if you need to cancel your award flight, you’ll only pay $150 for the first passenger and $25 for everyone else on the reservation. That’s huge, especially if you travel with a family. Remember, it can otherwise cost up to $750 per person to change an international paid flight.
Delta: You’ll pay a maximum of $150 to change an award flight. Changing a paid flight can cost as much as $500.
Etihad: It’s not clear in Etihad’s terms what they’ll charge for changing a paid flight, but the indication is that it can cost as much as the ticket itself.
At least you’ll know that you won’t pay more than $27 to change your flight when using Etihad miles, although you should note that you cannot change your destination. If you want to change your destination, you’ll have to have the miles redeposited to your account, which will cost you 10% of the miles you spent. Still, that’s better than forfeiting your paid ticket.
Iberia: You’ll pay a $40 fee per ticket if you want to change your dates or your origin and destination on an award flight. That’s very low.
I booked two transatlantic tickets with Iberia Avios points last year for a trip this September, but I’ve got to postpone it. I’ll gladly pay the $40 per person to push those tickets to another date.
I thought paid tickets also cost $40 to change, but upon examining the website and making a few test bookings, it looks like you’ll pay up to $275 to change your paid tickets. Using Iberia points for this trip saved my bacon.
Singapore Airlines: If you pay for your Singapore Airlines ticket outright, you’ll only be refunded the taxes and fees. If you use Singapore Airlines miles, you can change your date and route for just $25. And you can cancel your flight and have your miles redeposited for $75. Huge difference.
Note: Again, you can buy flexible tickets with these airlines that can be reimbursed, but they’re much more expensive.
Elite status can save you gobs of money
I lack even an ounce of loyalty when it comes to airlines. I just book whichever is cheapest. But if you’re in the air constantly, it could be worth your while to attain status. Following sites like MMS are a great way to learn the secrets to earn status quickly.
You can earn status faster with various airlines by:
- Spending money on airline credit cards
- Opening certain airline credit card welcome bonuses
- Take elite status challenges when they’re available
- Jumping on airline elite status match opportunities
When you’ve earned status, the change policies make it worth the effort. If you have United Premier 1K elite status, for example, you won’t ever be charged to change your ticket. So every non-flexible ticket you buy turns into a flexible ticket. For folks who don’t have elite status, the difference in price between an economy and a flexible economy ticket can be insane ($1,796 in the example below).
At the very least, you won’t have to worry about change fees, which cost between $75 and $1,000 per person.
Award flights are good for more than just free flights. They can come in handy when your plans change.
Many airlines charge far less to change or cancel an award flight than they do for paid flights — hundreds and hundreds of dollars less, in some cases. If you’re the kind of traveler who finds it hard to set plans in stone, all the more reason for you to collect airline miles.
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