This comprehensive spreadsheet details commonly used loyalty programs and their policies towards booking an award close to the travel date.
To see how much you might have to pay for booking a last minute award, look up the loyalty program whose miles you will use on the chart (which might not necessarily be the airline you fly). You are subject to that programs’ rules and/or fees.
Below I expand a bit on a few of the loyalty programs’ policies that require further clarification.
The $75 close-in award booking fee applies when you book an award within 21 days of the travel date. This fee is waived for all elites.
The $75 close-in award booking fee applies when you book an award within 21 days of the travel date. Here’s a trick to avoid paying United’s close-in booking fee. I used it recently and it worked like a charm.
Fees for booking a last minute United award are waived for those with upper elite status (Premier Platinum, Premier 1K®, or United Global Services®) and also those that are United Club members. If you have a lower level elite status, the close-in booking fee will be less but not waived–read more details here.
Within 21 days of the departure date, Delta jacks up the price of their awards. So while there is no separately defined fee for booking close to the travel date, you will pay more miles.
TrueBlue award prices are based on the cash price of the ticket, which naturally gets more expensive as you get closer to the travel date. So while there isn’t a separately defined “last minute award booking fee”, you will probably end up paying more since the award price will climb the closer in you get to your desired travel date.
Rapid Reward prices are also based on the cash price of the ticket. Most Southwest flights have less Wanna Get Away fares left within one to three weeks of departure, and the other types of fares require more points per dollar. So again, you won’t pay a defined, separated last minute booking fee, but you’ll pay for it with more Rapid Rewards.
Elevate award prices are based on the cash price of the ticket when redeeming Elevate points on Virgin America flights, so you will run into the same issue of the award price going up as you get closer to the travel date. But when you redeem Elevate points on one of Virgin America’s partners, award prices are set and region-based, so you won’t have that issue– and there are no extra last minute award booking fees.
Here is a post that explains the booking process when you redeem Korean SKYPASS miles. It requires some extra steps that might be difficult to achieve if you’re trying to plan last second travel.
Using miles from any of the three American legacy carriers to book an award within 21 days of departure is going to cost you. Avoid it by transferring points to a foreign program that doesn’t charge close-in booking fees– but remember that a few of them require award bookings to be at least a few days (and in Etihad’s case, up to 14 days!) in advance.