Miles With Free (or Almost Free) Change & Cancellation Fees

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There are lots of obvious reasons why miles are better than cash, like the ability they give us to book mini palaces on planes that look like this…

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Etihad First Class Apartment on an A380

…or the loose routing/stopover/open jaw rules of some programs that allow us to see more places on one trip.

But what about the smaller perks we often overlook? Like free or nearly free change and cancellation fees? Changing or canceling a cash ticket can be pricey.

All of the following airlines’ loyalty programs charge no or very little fees to change or cancel/redeposit the miles for an award:

  • Southwest Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Korean Air
  • Singapore Airlines

What do Southwest Rapid Rewards, British Airways Avios, Korean Air SKYPASS, and Singapore Krisflyer all have in common? They’re transfer partners of Ultimate Rewards. There are so many easy ways to get Ultimate Rewards right now, from the Sapphire Reserve, with its 100,000 point sign up bonus, to the brand new Ink Business Preferred with its 80,000 point bonus, and the good ole Sapphire Preferred with its 50,000 point bonus. These are the five Chase cards you should apply for if you’re not blocked out by the 5/24 rule.

Credit card links have been removed from posts and added to the menu bar at the top of every page of MileValue under the heading Top Travel Credit Cards.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Awards

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Photo by Mark Doliner

As commenter UAPhil has pointed out numerous times on this blog, Southwest Rapid Rewards are the gold-standard when it comes to cancellations. Here’s his take:

Rapid Rewards points bookings are fully refundable, with no cancellation fees or penalties, and no availability hassles. (Southwest revenue bookings have no change fees, but they are non-refundable with some fairly strict rules on when they must be re-used, so points are actually a more valuable currency than dollars for making Southwest bookings.)

It’s true that if you book a Southwest award for 10k points + $5.60, and you later cancel it, you will get your 10k points back and the $5.60 will be returned to your credit card. Since Southwest awards are fully refundable, you can speculatively book with impunity.

By the same coin, changes to Southwest awards are also free.

British Airways Avios Awards

The technical fee to change or cancel an Avios Award typically ranges from $45 to $55 (depending on what country you’re flying in… in the United States it’s $55, in Belgium it’s $45, for example).

But British Airways has a policy that when canceling an award you either forfeit the taxes/fees or pay the $55. In many cases, like when redeeming Avios on short, direct American Airlines flights in the U.S., the taxes are cheap (in that example, only $5.60). So if you needed to alter that award, cancel it, forfeit the $5.60 and re-book it.

At least you know that no matter how much the taxes and fees are, you can always change or cancel your Avios award for a maximum of $55.

If your taxes and fees are greater than $55 and you cancel, British Airways will refund your Avios and taxes and fees less the $55 fee. But if your taxes and fees are less than $55, you just forfeit whatever your taxes and fees were and get your Avios back.

Since most of you probably only redeem Avios on short, direct, economy flights, as that tends to be the way you’ll get the most value out them, your taxes/fees should be cheap, like $5.60 for an award within the United States.

Singapore KrisFlyer Awards

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A Singapore Suite

For Singapore Airlines awards flying Singapore Airlines:

  • changing the date of a incurs no fee
  • changing the route, cabin class or award type incurs a $12 fee
  • canceling and redepositing your miles incurs a $30 fee

Singapore Airlines awards flying partners have a $20 change fee. To cancel and redeposit your miles when flying a partner, it will cost $30. A friend of Scott’s booked one of those super cheap awards between South America and the United States with Singapore miles, and when he decided to change the dates of his stopover in Cancun, he paid just $20 to do so. I changed the routing of her Singapore award between the United States and Buenos Aires a few months ago and was actually not charged at all to do so (although that was probably just a fluke).

Try doing that with a cash ticket!

Korean Air SKYPASS Awards

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The five types Korean Air First Class

For now, changes and cancellations to Korean awards are free.

That is changing August 1, 2017, when award changes will cost $25 and cancellations/refunds within one year from the issued date of the award will cost 500 miles (for domestic flights) and 3,000 miles (for international flights). I value Korean miles at 1.6 cents each, so the price to cancel an international award come August will be roughly $48.

Bottom Line

The main reason we use miles is to book expensive premium cabin awards that would otherwise be inaccessible with cash.

Beyond that, though, don’t forget to take advantage of the free or cheap cancellations that some types of miles offer. Speculative bookings have a lot of value when your plans aren’t fixed and great award space (or a cheap fare in the case of Southwest awards) is available.


Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Legally, for an airline to keep the taxes/fees that they supposedly collected at the requirement of a government entity and supposedly turn over to the government entity in its entirety when you cancel an award ticket seems legally questionable. On the other hand, I’m not eager for anybody to really pursue that legally and force the airline to change their policy and always collect the $45/$55 cancellation fee instead.

    • Yep, except if you’re within 21 days of the travel date and you want to change your travel date, then there will be a $75 fee. Canceling an AA award and redepositing the miles will run you $150 though. If it’s 60 days or more before the travel date, Alaska Mileage Plan award changes/cancellations are free. Inside of that window it’s $125.

  2. I booked a trip on southwest with miles, and the next day the price dropped on the return flight. I called SW, and with no argument, in a phone call that took under 5 minutes total, they refunded me the mile difference.

    (technically I could’ve cancelled and then rebooked, but it makes so much more sense to just do what they did)

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