Tips

Close-In Ticketing Fees & How To Avoid Them

By July 17, 2012 December 10th, 2013 No Comments

Reader Question:

Parag, I have a quick question. I am trying to book a Domestic Economy ticket on United for the first week of August. Although the taxes are only $5, there is a service fee of $75 on the ticket. Any idea what this fee is and is there a way to avoid it?

Thanks for your help,

Jessica

Jessica, great question!

You have unfortunately uncovered one of the dirty little secrets that Airlines use to get more money out of their Customers!

Below is an example I just pulled from United for a flight that departs next week:

As you can see, the taxes and fees are in fact only $5.00, however there is a mysterious “service fee” of $75.00 tacked on.

To the average Consumer because it is labeled as a “service fee”, they would most likely pay it without thinking anything of it.

However at Frequent Flyer University, I am not a fan of fees for any types of services including Banking, Credit Cards, or even Award Tickets, so I do my best to avoid these “service fees” at any cost. 

Clicking on the “service fee” link at the bottom of United’s page, it is easy to find out that this “service fee” is in fact a Close-In Ticketing Fee.

Unfortunately United does not have the decency to flat out say that it is a Close-In Ticketing Fee, instead they just cleverly disguise it as a generic “service fee” and hope you won’t notice.

What Is A Close-In Ticketing Fee?

Depending on the Airline, a Close-In Ticketing Fee is typically charged for the “convenience” of being able to book and Award Ticket with less than 3 weeks until departure.

Although I have no idea why 3 weeks was chosen as the arbitrary deadline, the fee is really just another way for Airlines to nickel and dime their Customers.

At a time when the Internet didn’t exist, I can understand the justification for this fee.

Back then it may have taken 3 weeks to print and mail you a ticket. So in the event you booked an Award ticket less than 3 weeks from departure, they may have had to rush the process and there was an additional cost to the Airlines which they passed on to you. 

Flash forward to 2012 when there is this beautiful thing called the Internet and you don’t even have call in to book your Award ticket.

Instead you do it all online and your ticket can be processed and emailed to you in a matter of seconds.

To the untrained eye, it would thus make these “Close-In Ticketing Fees” look like they are really just a blatant money making scheme since the Airlines don’t have to do anything extra if you book your ticket less than 3 weeks out besides charge you the fee.

Can you imagine if you tried to withdraw your money from a Bank ATM and the Bank decided to charge you a Close-In Withdrawal Fee because you didn’t give them 3 weeks notice that you wanted to use your money.

Although that analogy may sound ridiculous, it is basically the same thing because the Airlines are holding your miles similar to how a Bank hold yours money. 

The worst part is that these Close-In Ticketing Fees have nothing to do with availability or anything like that.

I’d honestly be happy to pay a $75 Close-In Ticketing Fee if in return the Airline would release a Saver Award to me.

Instead with the current Close-In Ticketing Fees, you have to pay the same fee regardless if you are getting a One Way Domestic Saver Ticket for 12,500 miles or a First Class trip to Hong Kong for 320,000 miles.

How To Avoid These Types Of Fees

Unfortunately if you are a normal Customer, it is more or less impossible to avoid these fees if you have to book an Award Ticket with less than 21 days until departure on United or American.

If you fly on Delta or British Airways, to my knowledge they do not impose these Close-In Ticketing Fees anymore.

The only other way to avoid these Close-In Ticketing Fees is by using a trick I outlined a while ago.

Basically you actually buy the ticket with a Chase Credit Card that earns Ultimate Rewards, and then you get reimbursed by Chase after you fly. 

Although this technique is not practical to use in all situations, if the ticket price is right, it can be an effective way to avoid Close-In Ticketing Fees and earn some miles at the same time!

Link On How To Get Reimbursed For Tickets With Your Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

If you have Elite Status, depending on your Status Level and Airline, sometimes the Close-In Ticketing Fees are waived.

Ultimately the best way to avoid Close-In Ticketing Fees is also the simplest one.

Just book your Award Tickets more than 21 days out!

Close-In Ticketing Fees By Airline

American Airlines

  • Close-In Ticketing Fee: Yes
  • Close-In Ticketing Fee Effective: Less than 21 days to departure
  • Close-In Ticketing Fee Cost: $75
  • Close-In Ticketing Fee Waived For: 
    • Advantage Executive Platinum
    • AAdvantage Platinum
    • AAdvantage Gold
  • Link To American Airlines Fee Schedule

 British Airways

  • Close-In Ticketing Fee: No
  • Close-In Ticketing Fee Effective: N/A
  • Close-In Ticketing Fee Cost: N/A
  • Close-In Ticketing Fee Waived For: N/A 
  • Link To British Airways Fee Schedule

Delta

  • Close-In Ticketing Fee: No
  • Close-In Ticketing Fee Effective: N/A
  • Close-In Ticketing Fee Cost: N/A
  • Close-In Ticketing Fee Waived For: N/A 
  • Link to Delta Fee Schedule

United Airlines

  • Close-In Ticketing Fee: Yes
  • Close-In Ticketing Fee Effective: Less than 21 days to departure
  • Close-In Ticketing Fee Cost: Variable
    • $75 – No Status
    • $50 – Premier Silver
    • $25 – Premier Gold 
  • Close-In Ticketing Fee Waived For: 
    • Global Services
    • Premier 1K
    • Premier Platinum
  • Link To United Fee Schedule

Recap

Hopefully this post has given you a better understanding of Close-In Ticketing Fees and how to avoid them in the future.

My hope is that everyone now knows to either fly on an Airline that doesn’t have Close-In Ticketing Fees or book your Award flights more than 21 days out to avoid fees.

If you have any questions about this topic or anything else, feel free to email me at FrequentFlyerUniversity@gmail.com

-Parag

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