a screenshot of a travel plan

How To Change An Award Ticket Without Any Additional Fees

So in my previous post, I talked about what to do when an Airline changes your flight unexpectedly on the day of departure.

Although it sounds rare, it has happened to me on 2 out of my last 3 flights on United…

That being said, sometimes your travel plans change and you need to make changes to your Award Tickets.

The reasons for this can vary, however one thing I have noticed is that as you get closer to departure date, it seems there is much better availability.

Now this is not always true, and I would not suggest waiting until the last second to book, but it is just a small trend I have noticed.

Instead what I suggest doing is booking your Award Ticket (even if it isn’t in the exact class or time that you want), and then wait to see if anything opens up closer to departure.

So for example on my France trip, because there was zero availability, I had to piece together a segment by segment itinerary and the best option I could find was having 3 connections.

While it wasn’t ideal, it was something and the worst case was that I’d have to connect 3 times but at least I would still get there.

Best case was that something better would open up and I could switch to it, which is what ended up happening.

When You Can Change Your Flights For Free

While it depends on the Airline, I know for AA and United, you can change the dates on an Award Ticket up to 21 days out, for free.

So if you originally were supposed to leave on a Thursday, and found a better flight on a Friday, as long as it was more than 21 days prior to Departure, you could make that change for free.

If you tried to change your flight less than 21 days prior to Departure, you would incur a $75 Close-In Ticketing Fee. 

While you can change the Dates on Award Tickets up to 21 days out for free, you cannot change the Departure and Arrival Cities without incurring a $150 fee.

So if you had a ticket booked from Chicago to LA, and decided instead that you wanted to go Chicago to San Diego, you would have to pay $150 to do that.

It is annoying and again I am not sure why they have such a dumb rule, but it is what it is.

How To Get Your Flights Changed For Free With Less Than 21 Days To Departure

That being said, as I pointed out above, many times the availability for Award Tickets opens up substantially the closer you get to departure.

The reason for this is primarily because closer to departure, Airlines have a better estimate of how many actual “Paying Customers” they are going to have on the plane.

Therefore if there are open seats, they feel comfortable releasing them because they know they would be empty anyways.

The problem with this is that if you try and change your flight 21 days prior to departure, the Airlines will hit you with a $75 Close-in Ticketing Fee.

So really it is a Catch 22.

Availability can be substantially better closer to departure, but it will cost you $75 per a ticket…

The only exception to this rule is if the Airline changes the Flight Schedule.

In that event, because the Airline changed the schedule of the flight, if you choose to, you are entitled to change to another flight that is more convenient for no additional cost.

What is advantageous to Customers is that the definition of “Schedule Change” is fairly loose.

If a flight changes from a departure time of 6:00AM to 6:01AM, most people would not even know the difference, however technically that 1 minute change is enough to warrant a free Award Ticket change.

How To Know If There Has Been A Schedule Change

For anyone that has AwardWallet, you probably have seen an email like this.

This particular email is for my Parent’s India trip in December.

As you can see the flight now departs 15 minutes earlier.

a screenshot of a travel plan

Is this a huge deal?

Absolutely not!

However in the event anything better opens up from today until their departure date in December, I will definitely be using this Schedule Change as an excuse to get the flight changed for free.

While everyone should have AwardWallet because it is both awesome and free, another way to see if there has been a Schedule Change is to simply “fish around”.

When I was coming back from France, my original itinerary I had designed went from Nice->Munich-Dusseldorf->Toronto->Chicago because at the time I booked it, there was literally no other availability.

I wasn’t really keen on flying that ridiculous itinerary back, so 2 days before I was scheduled to fly home, I checked United.com and saw that there was Business Class Availability on a Nice->Munich->Chicago flight.

I wasn’t in the mood to pay $75 to United, so when I called to make the change, I simply told them there was a schedule change and that is why I was changing the flight.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure if there even was one but I figured it was worth a shot.

The Phone Agent told me she would check, and lo and behold, there in fact was a Schedule Change a few months ago. 

So basically if you aren’t sure if there was a Schedule Change, simply assume that there was one (a while ago), and let the Phone Agents verify that for you. 

Worst case is that they will say no there wasn’t a Schedule Change. 

One time the Phone Agent checked and told there wasn’t a Schedule Change and that only the Flight Numbers had changed, but she said that was enough to waive the fee.

From my experiences, especially for upgrading Economy Award Tickets to Premium Award Tickets, even if there isn’t a Schedule Change, they will normally waive the fee if you try hard enough.

Basically getting Close-In Ticketing Fees waived on Award Ticket changes is all a game.

In the event that the Phone Agent refuses to waive the fee, simply say thank you and hang up and try again.

For my France itinerary change, the first Agent refused to waive the fee, so I hung up and not surprisingly the 2nd Agent said they would make a “1 Time Exception”.

I can’t even tell you how many “1 Time Exceptions” I have received from United…


It is unfortunate that it has to come to such shenanigans that it takes a “Schedule Change” of 1 minute to be grounds for getting a Close-In Ticketing Fee waiver, but unfortunately the Airlines have brought it upon themselves by having such dumb rules.

Since I don’t get a $75 Credit every time United decides to re-schedule my flight the day of departure, I don’t really feel bad utilizing loopholes to get a more direct flight to my destination.

Hopefully this trick will save some other people money on Close-In Ticketing Fees and Award Ticket changes!


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