Comprehensive Guide to Changing Award Tickets

Aug 17, 2015

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Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen runs through award ticket change policies for major airlines, and explains what you can do to minimize or avoid change fees altogether.

Booking airline award tickets is more of an art than a science. You may often want to make an award reservation before you’re even sure that you’ll be taking the trip, because it’s no fun to wait and then find out the availability you want has disappeared.

Unfortunately, most airlines charge fees when you make changes to an existing award ticket, and those fees eat into the value of your points and miles. In this post, I’ll explain these award change policies so you’ll know what to expect when your plans shift, and I’ll offer an overview of how you can earn miles in each program.

Virgin Atlantic 787-9 Dreamliner
Your flight may be operated by Virgin Atlantic, but the effective cancellation policy comes from whichever airline booked your ticket.

Before we get into the policies of each airline, it’s important to note that when you redeem miles, you’re subject to the change fees of the airline whose miles you used, not the carrier operating the flight. This is especially important given the rapidly expanding partnerships both within and outside of alliances.

A perfect example is the trip I recently booked on Virgin Atlantic. One of the reservations was booked using Delta SkyMiles, while the other was booked with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles (transferred from my sign-up bonus on the Citi Premier Card to take advantage of the current 25% transfer bonus). Even though my wife and I are taking the exact same flights, each ticket is subject to different cancellation policies, since I used different mileage currencies for the reservations.

Remember too that changing an award ticket may be a viable option not only for when your plans change, but also when availability opens up on a different airline or more desirable routing. If paying a $100 change fee allows you to move to a nonstop flight, it could be money well spent. If you’re not fully satisfied with your itinerary and are looking for other options, ExpertFlyer can be a big help when it comes to setting alerts for award inventory.

Distance-based redemptions using Avios can be lucrative, but you may prefer adding a free stopover or open jaw with other programs.
If you’ve already taken the first flight (or two) of your itinerary, it may be much more challenging to cancel!

This post will focus on the change policies of wholly unused awards, meaning that you have yet to depart on the first leg of your ticket. Once your trip has started, it becomes significantly more difficult and complicated to change your ticket, and in some cases you can’t!

In addition, the policies below are for changing awards more than 24 hours in advance, and typically don’t apply to same-day changes or cases where you need to fully cancel your itinerary and redeposit your miles for another day. For more information on what to do in those scenarios, check out my comprehensive guide to canceling award tickets and my post on using same-day changes to your advantage.

Here’s a quick run-down of airline change fees on award tickets for the 16 airlines included in TPG’s monthly valuations:


Award Ticket Change Fee

Fee Waivers/Discounts

Air Canada

CA$90 ($69)


Air France/KLM

€45 ($50) for Classic and Round-the-World Awards

Waived for Flex Awards


Free at least 60 days prior to flight; $125 fewer than 60 days prior to flight

Waived for MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members


$0 – $150, depending on the change made

Waived for Executive Platinum members


$0 (though you must keep the same routing and type of award)



$150 per passenger


British Airways

Varies by region of departure, but £35/€42.50/$55 for flights departing from the UK and Ireland/Europe/North America

Waived when taxes and fees are less than the change fees


$150 per ticket

Waived for Diamond and Platinum Medallion members


$0 – $99 (depending on type of ticket and change window)

Waived for Last Seat Availability awards


$0 – 150 (varies based on type of fare, price of ticket and/or change window)

Waived for Mosaic members and any traveler on the same reservation





$0 – $75 (varies based on type of change and airline)






$75 – $100 (depending on the time and type of change)

Change fees are waived or discounted for all Premier members

Virgin America


Waived for Gold members

Virgin Atlantic

£15 ($23.50) for domestic flights within the UK; £30 ($47) for flights originating in the UK; $50 (or the equivalent local currency) for flights originating elsewhere


As you can see, these policies are all over the map, and many include some additional exceptions and details. Let’s take a closer look at each one through a ranking of most to least generous (links will take you to the relevant page on the respective airline’s website):

Southwest has the nicest cabin crew among domestic airlines in my opinion.
Southwest leads the pack, allowing you to change your award ticket for free at any point leading up to your departure.

1. Southwest Airlines

The top spot once again belongs to Southwest. As I discussed in my cancellation post, the carrier doesn’t impose change fees when you modify a trip; you’ll just have to pay any applicable difference in fare. This is true of both revenue and award bookings. Since Rapid Rewards is a revenue-based program, price drops allow you to rebook your award ticket and get points refunded to your account with no penalty. I just took advantage of this last week and got ~600 points back into my account.

Southwest Rapid Rewards is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards (earned on cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Ink Plus Business Card); you can also open the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card, which offers 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first three months.

2. Singapore Airlines

If you redeem KrisFlyer miles (like TPG recently did to fly in first class on the A380 from Frankfurt to JFK), you have some different options when changing an award ticket. If you’re booked on Singapore or SilkAir flights, you can change your date for free, but must pay a fee if you change your routing, cabin class or award type ($12 for online changes and $20 for changes made by phone). If you redeemed your miles for partner flights, any change will incur a $20 fee.

The $75 fee comes into play if you need to make a change within 24 hours (or no-show for a confirmed award flight). In other words, try to make the change at least 24 hours ahead of your scheduled departure!

Singapore is one of two airlines that partners with all four transferable points programs: Starwood Preferred Guest, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards.

3. ANA

The ANA Mileage Club program allows you to make fee-free changes to an award ticket when you modify the date or the time of departure (e.g., changing from an early morning flight to a late morning flight). However, you are not allowed to change the airline or the routing; such changes would require canceling and rebooking as a new itinerary, which will set you back 3,000 miles.

ANA is a transfer partner of both Starwood Preferred Guest and American Express Membership Rewards. As it’s a Star Alliance airline, you can also book awards on ANA using United MileagePlus miles, which you can earn from the United MileagePlus Explorer Card and others.

4. Frontier Airlines

If you’ve booked a ticket using Frontier EarlyReturns miles, you actually have several options to change your award without fees. Any type of ticket can be changed for free 8 days or more before your flight (as long as the applicable class of service is available). Unfortunately, changes to economy award tickets made within 7 days of departure incur a $99 fee ($75 for name changes). Economy passengers can also pay $99 for same-day confirmed changes on the day of departure, and that fee is waived for elite members.

All of these changes are free for Classic Plus and Last Seat Availability award tickets.

You can earn miles on the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard, which is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 40,000 miles after spending $500 on the card in the first 90 days of account opening.

American allows you to make many changes to award tickets for free, though others may cost you $150.

5. American Airlines

American is one of the more generous carriers when it comes to award ticket changes. You can change your award for free as long as the following conditions are met:

  • You don’t change your origin or destination;
  • You don’t change your award type (e.g., from Mile SAAver to AAnytime or vice versa);
  • You don’t change airlines (when confirmed on non-American flights).

Otherwise, you must pay a $150 change fee or a $150 redeposit fee ($25 for subsequent awards redeposited to the same account at the same time), both of which are waived for Executive Platinum members. This is a very generous policy (at least compared to the likes of United and Delta), since you can change your flights, routing or dates without paying an additional fee. Just remember that if you move your departure date to one within 21 days of the original booking date, you will be charged the $75 award processing fee (this is waived for all AAdvantage elite members).

American is a transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest, and is actually offering a 20% bonus for transfers from SPG through August 7, 2015. Also, Citi Prestige cardholders can redeem ThankYou points for 1.6 cents apiece toward American Airlines flights via the ThankYou Travel center.

There are several co-branded credit cards offering lucrative sign-up bonuses and great earning potential, including the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard (currently offering 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,500 in the first three months) and the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard (currently offering an increased sign-up bonus of 75,000 miles after spending $7,500 in the first three months).

Virgin's latest Upper Class cabins are pretty swanky.
If you must miss out on Virgin Atlantic’s swanky new Upper Class, at least you won’t go bankrupt by canceling the trip!

6. Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic also has reasonable award ticket change fees: you’ll need to pay just £15 (about $23.50) for domestic flights in the UK, £30 (about $47) for flights originating in the UK and $50 (or the equivalent in local currency) for flights originating elsewhere.

Virgin Atlantic is the other airline that partners with all four transferable points programs: Ultimate Rewards, ThankYou Rewards, Membership Rewards and SPG. You can also open the Virgin Atlantic World Elite MasterCard, which currently offers 20,000 bonus miles after your first purchase, plus the opportunity to earn up to 70,000 more miles in your first year.

7. British Airways

British Airways uses the same fee schedule for changes that it does for cancellations, and these are based on your region of departure. The most common ones for TPG readers probably include the following:

  • £35 for the UK and Ireland
  • €42.50 for Europe
  • $55 for North America

Note that Executive Club award tickets can’t be changed within 24 hours of departure, so make sure to plan (at least somewhat) in advance!

British Airways partners with Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards and SPG. You can also apply for the British Airways Visa Signature Card, which currently offers 50,000 bonus Avios after spending $3,000 in the first three months.

8. Air France/KLM

Flying Blue, the loyalty program of Air France and KLM, uses the same fee structure for award ticket cancellations and award ticket changes; you’ll need to pay €45 (about $50) to change Classic and Round-the-World Awards (Flex Awards can be changed with no fee). Unfortunately, Promo Awards cannot be changed, so you better be sure about your plans before locking one of those down!

Flying Blue partners with ThankYou Rewards, Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest.

Lufthansa 747-8i
Booking an award on Lufthansa’s 747-8 but then having to cancel would be a bummer.

9. Lufthansa

Lufthansa’s Miles & More program (which is shared with SWISS and others) also charges the same amount for changes as it does for cancellations: €50/$60/CHF70. Remember that the above site indicates the “amount may vary or may be waived for certain awards,” so you’ll want to double-check the specific fare rules of your itinerary when booking or considering a cancellation.

Miles & More is a 1:1 transfer partner with Starwood Preferred Guest, and you can also earn miles with the Miles & More Premier World Mastercard, which currently offers 50,000 miles after spending $5,000 in the first 90 days.

10. Air Canada

Aeroplan, the spun-off loyalty program of Air Canada, charges the same fee to make changes and cancellations: CA$90 (about $69). These changes must be made at least two hours prior to departure.

Aeroplan is a transfer partner of both Membership Rewards and SPG, and launched the TD Aeroplan Visa for US cardholders earlier this year.

11. United Airlines

United’s change policy on award tickets is actually a significant improvement over its cancellation policy. Instead of $200, you’ll only have to pay $75 if the change is 21 or more days prior to your travel date and the origin/destination remain the same (this fee is waived for all Premier members). The fee jumps to $100 if the change is within 21 days of departure or if you change the origin/destination, and is discounted for elite members:

  • $50 for Premier Silver
  • $25 for Premier Gold
  • $0 for Premier Platinum, 1K and Global Services

United partners with both Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest (though the transfer ratio from SPG is a measly 2:1). You also have a few credit card options, like the United MileagePlus Explorer Card, which is currently offering 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in the first three months. Even better, the United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card is offering 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months.

12. JetBlue

JetBlue recently introduced a new fare structure, and since award tickets book into these same fare types, they’re subject to the same change policies (these are identical to the cancellation fees discussed in my previous post). The fees vary based on the type of fare, the price of the flight, and how much advance notice you provide. Here’s a quick chart:

Window Price Blue Blue Plus Blue Flex Mint
60+ days from departure: <$950 $70 $60 $0 $75
$950+ $70 $60 $0 $0
Within 60 days of departure: <$100 $70 $60 $0 $150
$100 – $149.99 $90 $80 $0 $150
$150 – $949.99 $135 $120 $0 $150
$950+ $135 $120 $0 $0

As you can see, more expensive tickets have more expensive change fees. While Blue Flex fares never incur a fee, those awards are astronomical to begin with.

JetBlue is a transfer partner of Membership Rewards, and you can also get the JetBlue Card from American Express, which currently offers 20,000 TrueBlue points after you spend $1,000 on the card in your first three months.

13. Virgin America

Virgin America is another carrier with identical change and cancellation fee policies; you’ll pay $100 to make changes to an existing award reservation.

Virgin America partners with Membership Rewards, and offers several co-branded credit cards.

Emirates first class is one luxurious product listed on ExpertFlyer.
Emirates first class is a great use of Alaska miles, but if you must make a change within 60 days of your flight, you’ll be out $125!

14. Alaska Airlines

Alaska is yet another airline that charges the same fees for changes as it does for cancellations. If you have 60 or more days until your flight, you can change your award ticket for free. Unfortunately, if you have to change your trip within 60 days, the fee rises to $125 (though this is waived for MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members).

Alaska partners with Starwood Preferred Guest. You could also get the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card from Bank of America, which currently offers 25,000 bonus miles upon account approval, plus a $100 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days.

You can leverage existing airline status to attain status on other carriers.
Canceling a Delta One award ticket is not only a sad proposition, but also a costly one.

15. Delta Air Lines

Coming in second-to-last is Delta SkyMiles, which imposes a blanket fee of $150 per ticket. This fee is waived for Platinum and Diamond Medallions, which is one of the features I’ll miss most when I lose my status early next year! Keep in mind that all changes and cancellations must happen at least 72 hours before your first flight.

Delta is a transfer partner of both Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest. You can also choose from several co-branded Delta cards, including the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express, which is currently offering 30,000 bonus miles after you make $1,000 in purchases within the first three months.

16. Avianca

Last place belongs to Avianca (a severe drop from its 4th place spot on the cancellation list). The LifeMiles program only charges $50 for award ticket cancellations, but a whopping $150 for changes. Unfortunately, this can’t be done online, so you’ll need to call the Avianca/TACA call center. Based on this FlyerTalk thread, you should be prepared to spend up to three hours on the phone to make this happen (though the process could be faster with a more competent agent).

Avianca doesn’t partner with any of the transferable loyalty currencies, so you’ll need to buy miles (ideally during one of its lucrative promotions) or credit Star Alliance flights to the LifeMiles program.

Southwest is (sadly) the only airline that offers completely fee-free award ticket cancellations.


As you can see, these policies are all over the map. Southwest again comes out on top, but it’s nice to see two of the three legacy carriers in the US earning higher spots on the list. In general, these fees are a bit lower and less punitive than the previously discussed cancellation policies (Avianca being a significant exception). Just be sure to verify the fees you’ll incur when you call to make a change.

Fortunately, there are some ways to avoid paying these fees. One of the simplest strategies is to wait it out. Some airlines (Delta comes to mind) are notorious for making schedule changes in the months leading up to a flight. If your itinerary changes even by just a few minutes, you may be able to change the ticket and avoid paying a fee. Even without a schedule change, you may be able to explain the situation and find a sympathetic agent willing to waive the change fee as a “one-time courtesy.”

Note that this isn’t a good strategy for Alaska Airlines when you’re more than two months out from your flight, as those changes don’t carry any added fee!

You may also want to consider a status match if you’re facing a hefty change fee. While most airlines these days offer status challenges, a few (like Alaska and United) will either grant a match or give you temporary status at a level that waives these fees. Status matches are typically only available once during the lifetime of an account, but if you have a family of four booked on an award ticket using Alaska miles that must be changed, using up the status match to save $500 might be worthwhile.

Finally, if you must change a trip and have to pay a fee, you can always use a card like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard to wipe out the fee once it posts to your account. While it’s not the most enjoyable way to spend your miles, it keeps money in your pocket for the new itinerary.

Waiting (and hoping) for a change to your itinerary is one way to avoid fees. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Bottom Line

As you can see, there’s a wide spectrum of award ticket change fees imposed by the most popular carriers, and sadly, it seems like these fees are here to stay. Remember that the policy of the booking airline applies to these award tickets, not the airline that actually operates your flight. As usual, be sure to do your due diligence and investigate what fees might be imposed if your plans change and you’re forced to modify your trip, or if a better itinerary opens up and you want to change to more convenient flights.

What experiences have you had with award ticket change fees?

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.