What Are Close-In Ticketing Fees?
This past weekend my girlfriend, who lives in Baltimore, decided to plan an impromptu trip to Chicago.
This is fairly normal for us since we are both currently in school, thus depending on what our schedules look like for the week, we will typically decide on a Monday whether or not to book a flight departing on the following Friday.
Obviously from a financial standpoint, if we were to buy a revenue ticket 4 days out, flying back and forth from Chicago to Baltimore would get EXTREMELY expensive since the price of revenue tickets typically go up the closer you get to departure.
Thankfully we both have a stockpile of miles, so as long as there is availability, booking 4 days out isn’t too big of a deal.
If you are booking an award ticket close to departure, the thing you really have to worry about it close-in ticketing fees.
The two biggest US carriers (United & American) both impose a silly “close-in ticketing fee” if you book an award ticket less than 21 days prior to departure. The close-in ticking fee normally starts at $75 a ticket!
As I have stated many times before, things like close-in ticketing fees and baggage fees are probably the reason why airlines score so low in customer satisfaction. Imagine if your bank charged you $75 because you wanted to withdraw money but didn’t give them 21 days advanced notice…
Options To Avoid Close-In Ticketing Fees
The options for avoiding close-in ticketing fees are fairly straight forward.
1) Book 21+ Days Out
Obviously, the easiest way to avoid close-in ticketing fees is to simply plan your travel 21 days out. Easier said than done!
2) Become An Elite
Typically Airlines will lessen or waive close-in ticketing fees for their Elite. For example with United, if you are 1K, you don’t pay close-in ticket fees but if you are Premier Silver (25,000 EQM flown), then instead of the normal $75, you only have to pay $50…
What a deal!
3) Fly On Airlines That Don’t Charge Close-In Ticketing Fees
Thankfully for customers, there are still a few airlines that surprisingly haven’t imposed any close-in ticketing fees on award redemptions.
They might not be airlines you fly often but doing so can save you $75 if it is less than 21 days to departure.
Links below go to each airline’s respective fee chart.
- British Airways (to fly domestically on American Airlines)
- Jet Blue
- Virgin America
Outside of not charging close-in ticketing fees, what is great about this list is that every single airline is a member of one of the big rewards programs like Ultimate Rewards, AMEX Membership Rewards, or SPG!
So while you may not have any Southwest or British Airways points, with a few clicks, you can quickly transfer in some points from Ultimate Rewards!
Best Airline For Close-In Ticketing
While it is great that all of the above airlines don’t charge close-in ticketing fees, there definitely is a hierarchy of which airlines are the best for ticketing a close-in award.
While Southwest is normally extremely reliable for having cheap point options, the prices normally shoot up close to departure since the award pricing is variable and tied to the actual price of the ticket.
For example, if I wanted to go to Baltimore this weekend, on Southwest a one-way ticket it would be 30,047 points! If I was going round-trip, it would be over 60,000 points!
I can’t comment on Virgin or Jet Blue because I have never flown either and have no idea how their frequent flyer programs work but I do know they have a much smaller footprint than Southwest, Alaska, and British Airways, so they might not fly from your home airport or where you need to go.
In the case of Delta, while they don’t charge close-in ticketing fees, there is a reason why they are called SkyPesos. So while you may save $75 in fees, Delta might try and charge you 100,000 miles for an round-trip domestic economy flight…
While Alaska is pretty good thanks to their wide partner network with AA & Delta, my favorite airline for close-in awards has to be British Airways!
There are a few reasons why British Airways Avios are great for close-in domestic awards:
- Transfer From Ultimate Rewards
- No Close-In Ticketing Fee
- Distance Based Awards
- Redeem For Flights On American Airlines
- “Free” Cancelations
While saving money on close-in ticketing and being able to transfer from Ultimate Rewards is great, the real gem of British Airways is the distance based award chart.
For example, for me to get a round-trip ticket from Chicago to Baltimore this weekend on American Airlines, redeeming Avios it would only cost 9,000 Avios (4,500 Avios each way)!
While this is certainly great for me when I need to get to the East Coast, if you are redeeming Avios for transcontinental flights, the price will be closer to 25,000 roundtrip.
Had I redeemed American Airline miles for the exact same seat on the exact same American Airlines flight, it would have cost me 25,000 miles AND $80 in fees!
Similar deal with United where it would have cost me 20,000 miles and $80!
To put it in perspective, had I actually bought the exact same Avios award flight as a revenue ticket, it would have cost $668!
Close-in ticketing fees are unfortunately just one of those things that will never go away, much like checked bag fees.
Given that there is no oversight of frequent flyer programs, these type of made up fees like “close-in ticketing” will most likely only continue to rise in the future.
That being said, if you are a savvy consumer there are certainly ways to avoid having to pay the silly $75 close-in ticketing fee. All you need to have is a diverse portfolio of miles that you can transfer and also be flexible in who you are willing to fly.
As demonstrated above, if are booking less than 21 days out and you know where to look, you can save serious money and miles by simply redeeming from one airline program like British Airways over American Airlines, all while booking the exact same seat!
That being said, while no one likes to pay made up airline fees like close-in ticketing, unfortunately there are certain times where it makes sense to pay it. For example, this past December when I went to Asia, there was no availability 21+ days out, so we had no choice but to wait until 10 days out to book our ticket because no award seats were open.
Was it annoying to have to pay $75 because the airlines were blocking award inventory? Yes but in the end we were flying in business class on a ticket that easily would have cost $15,000+, so $75 was a small price to pay.
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