How to Avoid an Airline Award Milage Cancellation Fee

Last fall I booked tickets to fly from Denver to Tokyo for 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles.

I knew when I booked that American Airlines charges $150 to cancel a reservation.  Unfortunately, after I was detained in Papua New Guinea for an extra week this February I decided that I didn’t actually want to go to Japan April 2013.  I’d been away from my family for more than my agreed about of time in the winter/spring season.

I could have done what most folks would do – call American, cancel the flight, and pay the $150.

Instead I decided to delay and hopefully avoid the inevitable.

Instead of canceling my tickets I change my flight to a future date (in my case it was a date in October 2013).  I made sure to make the changes more than 21 days in advance because American allow free date changes 21 days prior to your departure.

Why change your dates instead of canceling the reservation?

If an airline changes their flight schedules they’ll often give you the opportunity to cancel the flight without a fee.  They recognize that they have made a change and won’t put the financial burden on you since they initiated the change.

I decided that by extending my travel date which also allowed me to extend the possibility that there would be a schedule change.

This weekend I got an email saying that my flight from DFW – NRT would be departing 2 hours later than my existing reservation.  I was on the phone within minutes.

Here’s how the phone call to American Airlines went:

Me “Hi, I just had a schedule change on an existing reservation and I was wondering if there are any better flight connection options.”  Clearly if they can get you a better flight option then they should be given the right to do that.

AA “Sure.  Let me look into it. [typing noise, pause]  I can get you an earlier flight from DFW – NRT, but you’d need to leave Denver at 6:00 a.m. instead of 7:10 a.m.”

Me “Actually thats not very convenient because I live 2 hours from the Denver airport and that hour plus earlier flight is just too early.  Is it possible for me to just cancel this itinerary?”

AA “Sure.  We could do that and refund the miles to your account and refund the charge to your credit card.”

Me “Would there be a charge to cancel the reservation?”

AA “No.  Since the cancellation is the result of a schedule change we won’t charge you anything.”

And there you have it.  A strategy to avoid paying the cancellation fee on an award ticket.

Note: This typically only works when you have a schedule change that is great than an hour.  If you have a five minute change it might be hard to make it work!  Also, this only works on airlines that allow free date changes.  Obvioiulsy, if you have to pay $150 to change your date (e.g. US Airways) you’re better off simply canceling the reservation outright.

Have you ever had a similar experience?

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