Category

United Mileage Plus

Avoiding Close-In Ticketing Fees

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.

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!

"30,047 Points!"

“30,047 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.

“Talk About A Steal!”

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!

Customer Details

“25,000 For The Same Flight!”

Similar deal with United where it would have cost me 20,000 miles and $80!

United Airlinesasdf1

“United”

To put it in perspective, had I actually bought the exact same Avios award flight as a revenue ticket, it would  have cost $668!

"Talk About Expensive"

“Talk About Expensive”

Recap

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.

-Parag

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How To Keep Track Of Credit Cards

Keeping Track Of Your Miles

If you are reading this blog, it is probably safe to assume that you are somewhat obsessed with miles and points…

Over the years, from talking to readers, I have also come to realize that in addition to signing up and managing credit cards and miles for themselves, most readers are also doing the same for friends, family, significant others, etc.

For example on AwardWallet, under my personal profile, I have 4 other users who I manage. In total I am managing 65 separate frequent flyer accounts that have a total balance of 712,249 miles and points (not including free nights, Ultimate Rewards, United, Southwest, or my latest round of credit card applications)!

Needless to say, if I didn’t have AwardWallet, I am not sure what I would do because it is invaluable in keeping track of all the balances as well as reminding me when miles are set to expire. It is kind of a no brainer, but if you don’t have AwardWallet, I HIGHLY recommend signing up!

Link To Award Wallet

That being said, while AwardWallet is great for keeping track of account balances, it doesn’t do anything to help keep track of credit cards.

Keeping Track of Credit Cards

While keeping track of miles is extremely important, it is equally as important to keep track of your credit cards!

For example, I currently have 21 open credit cards!

All of these cards have different annual fee dates, benefits, earning structures, minimum spend, etc.

Not to mention, these are just MY cards, and not my Parents or Brothers cards.

In the past, when I was only applying for 1 card at a time, it was pretty easy to keep track of my card information because I had in total maybe 5 cards. When I would close a card, I would simply write it on the back to remember.

These days, since I have substantially more cards and many are variations of the same card (US Airways), it is extremely important that I know which card is which and verify that I actually completed the minimum spend requirements to earn all my points.

Credit Card Spreadsheet

My friend Eric sent me a Excel spreadsheet that he uses to keep track of all his cards, and I liked it so much that I want to share it with the world.

A link to the spreadsheet is below and I left in some of the cards since I suspect many people have the same cards.

If you go to File menu in the document, you can actually download a copy for yourself.

I personally would recommend downloading a copy, and then if you have Gmail, uploading it into Google Docs. This way if your computer ever crashes, you will have a copy in the Cloud.

Link To Spreadsheet

With Eric’s spreadsheet, you can track:

  • Credit Card Issuer
  • Credit Card Type (Visa, AMEX, Mastercard)
  • Opening Date
  • Closing Date
  • Sign Up Bonus
  • Category Bonus
  • Annual Fee Due Date
  • Minimum Spend Completion Date

If you haven’t been keeping track of your credit cards (like me), it will take 30 minutes or so to get everything set up (great task if you are currently reading at work and bored), but once it is set, you will be extremely grateful.

The reason why a spreadsheet like this is EXTREMELY useful is because it allows you to know if you are eligible for another sign up bonus!

Example 1 – Time Since Last Application

While some cards restrict the sign up bonus to “once in a lifetime”, other cards are a bit flexible and you can get multiple cards with multiple bonuses without issue. US Airways is a prime example. By getting 2 US Airways Cards, I now have 75,000 US Airways miles that will hopefully soon become AA miles!

Chase Cards typically have the most stringent restrictions for getting the sign up bonus again. The general consensus is that after your card has been closed for 2 years, you might be able to get the bonus again. This is NOT a hard and fast rule, so don’t blame me if you sign up for a Chase Card and don’t get the bonus again because it might vary for each different type of card.

That being said, my Friends and I originally got in on the first British Airways 100,000 miles offer way back in 2009. We got the 100,000 miles and ended up closing the card in 2010.

Well fast forward to 2012 and the British Airways 100,000 Avios offer appeared again. My friend was interested in getting the card again, but I was not sure if Chase would give him the bonus again. After doing some research, I found that if you had the card closed for 2 years, some people were reporting that you could get the bonus again. Luckily, my friend kept track of his applications and closures, and he was over the 2 year closed mark so he applied again. He was approved without issue and got the 100,000 Avios again!

Example 2 – Same Name But Different Cards

One of the first Chase cards I got way back in 2009 was the Continental OnePass Card. This was obviously before the UA /CO merger, but the reason I got it was because Chase also had a 25,000 mile Continental checking account offer. Basically you could open 2 checking accounts and get 50,000 miles and also open the Continental OnePass Card and get another 50,000 miles. It was an easy 100,000 miles for 1 online credit card application and 2 trips into Chase to open the checking accounts! Those were the days…

Well fast forward to the merger between United and Continental, and all the Chase Continental OnePass cardholders had their Continental cards converted over to United MileagePlus cards.

Whenever I write about the United 50,000 MileagePlus Explorer Card bonus being offered again, I always get emails from Readers saying they once had the Continental OnePass Card but it was converted to a United Mileage Plus Select, so are they eligible for this new offer?

This is where a spreadsheet would be useful because although the Continental Cards had the same name as the United MileagePlus Select cards, the Continental / United card was actually issued by Mastercard and the MileagePlus Select was issued by Visa! So not only would they be able to get the MileagePlus Explorer Visa without issue but they probably would have also been able to get the MileagePlus Select Visa (before it was discontinued) and gotten the bonus on that card too!

While the United / Continental merger happened a few years ago and the names and details of the old MileagePlus cards are still somewhat fresh, imagine if in a few years United offers a new MileagePlus Explorer card or brings back the Chase Sapphire Preferred Mastercard. Are you really going to remember what flavor (Visa, Mastercard, etc.), your last card was? Probably not!

Recap

While the above examples may seem really trivial (like if a old card was issued by Visa or Mastercard), it can honestly be the difference between getting 50,000 miles for a free award ticket, or shelling out $1,000 for a paid ticket.

With the United example, when the new MileagePlus Select Visa came out, I honestly thought I wasn’t eligible since I had the old Continental MileagePlus Select and had closed it. It wasn’t until after reading about the new MileagePlus Select Visa, that I read the old one was actually a Mastercard, thus I was eligible.

In getting the Continental OnePass (aka MileagePlus Select Mastercard), MileagePlus Select Visa, and the latest MileagePlus Explorer, I have been able to get over 155,000 miles from signing up for those cards!

Although there is some work involved in setting up the spreadsheet and keeping it updated, over the long run, it is definitely worth it and I highly suggest everyone set one up.

-Parag

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United 55,000 Mile Offer Back

United 55,000 Mile Offer

Yesterday, I was logged into my United Mileage Plus account and noticed that the United 55,000 targeted offer has once again returned!

For those of you not familiar, every couple months United will run a targeted promotion of the MileagePlus Explorer Card. I believe the last time it was live was in December.

The normal offer is typically 30,000 miles, however if you are logged into your United.com account and have some miles in your account, you will see an offer for 50,000.

For both offers, if you add an “authorized” user (which is free) and use that other card once, you will get an additional 5,000 miles! You can add anybody for the “authorized user” since they don’t ask for a Social Security Number.

There is a $2,000 minimum spend required in 3 months, but that is fairly easy to do!

How To Sign Up For The Offer

1. Log Into Your United.com Account

Once you are logged in, if you have miles in your account, you should see a banner for the 50,000 Explorer Card. However some readers are reporting below that even with miles in their account, they still can’t see the higher offer.

If you can’t see the banner, after you are logged in, you can go to TheExplorerCard.com and you should hopefully see the higher offer.

If you don’t have any United miles in your account, you might not see the 50,000 offer, so I’d recommend transferring in at least 5,000 from Chase Ultimate Rewards.

If You Already Signed Up For The Lower Offer

If in the last 90 days, you signed up for a United Mileage Plus Explorer Card and either got the lower 30,000 offer or didn’t get the additional 5,000 miles for adding an additional user, feel free to send a secure message to Chase and take a screenshot of this higher offer.

Quite a few readers have emailed me and said that this tactic has worked and they were bumped to the higher offer. Spending 5 minutes sending Chase a message for an additional 25,000 miles seems like a great deal in my book!

Recap

United miles are easily one of the best frequent flyer miles out there!

While United still engages in starnet blocking and it can be a pain to get Premium Awards on Asian Carriers, overall the program is pretty great and can be used to basically get you anywhere in the world fairly cheap (which is definitely not true of AA and Delta).

Not to mention that because United is a partner with Chase, you can easily earn 150,000 United miles in the span on a few months by getting the United MileagePlus Explorer, Chase Sapphire Preferred, and a Chase INK Card!

55,000 United miles is a fairly spectacular deal because after completing the $2,000 minimum spend requirement, you are at 57,000 miles, which is just 3,000 miles short of a free economy ticket to Europe (60,000 miles)!

I already got this card with the 55,000 bonus a while ago, so I won’t be getting it again, but I will probably have my parents sign up for it!

-Parag

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