I mentioned earlier in the week that I needed to make a last minute award booking for emergency travel to attend my grandpa’s funeral.
In response to that experience, I thought I’d put together a guide about things you’ll need to know and be prepared for if you ever need to book last minute award tickets for emergency travel.
As you probably already know, last minute award travel can be very expensive. As a result, using award miles for last minute travel can be a wise use of miles.
Last Minute Award Booking Policies by Airline
Airlines and Programs With Last Minute / Emergency Booking Fee
American Airlines - $75 charge for booking within 21 days. This fee is waived for members with status (Gold, Platinum, and Executive Platinum). Read more about last minute American award booking fees.
United Airlines – If you don’t have status, there is a $75 fee for booking within 21 days. The fee staggers from there according to status. Silver costs $50, and Gold members incur a $25 fee. Other members with status pay no last minute fee. You can access United last minute fees here.
US Airways - The cost of an emergency or last minute booking made within 21 days will cost you a $75 booking fee.
Airlines and Programs Without Last Minute Booking Fees
British Airways does not charge anything for a last minute booking.
Delta does not charge anything extra for a last minute booking.
If you use the Ultimate Rewards booking portal or Thank You Rewards booking portal, you won’t pay anything extra for last minute bookings.*
Southwest Airlines doesn’t charge anything to use points close to departure date.*
* While none of these programs charge extra for booking days or moments before travel, the last minute booking will be reflected in the price. Booking in advance is cheaper, and since each of these methods charge you in relationship to the cost of the ticket, you will indirectly pay more for a last minute booking.
For example, when I was looking at last minute flights to Detroit, I would need to use 33,800 Thank You points. However, if that trip was a few months out (October 2012, for example), I could get tickets to Detroit for 17,000 points.
Which Airlines Should I Use for a Last Minute or Emergency Award Trip?
Clearly, the best place to start with is Delta or British Airways. These are the two programs that won’t charge you anything extra for a last minute booking.
Along the same lines, these are both good programs to have miles waiting (in case of emergency) or access to a program that allows you to transfer miles. Both American Express Rewards and Ultimate Rewards allow transfers to British Airways. Delta is a transfer partner of American Express Rewards.