United $75 Trick NOT DEAD

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Edit November 18, 2017: Three more positive reports in the last two weeks. This trick may never die. 🙂

In Don’t Pay the $75 Close In Fee on United (Trick!), Scott wrote about an easy way anyone can avoid the fee United charges non-elites for booking an award within 21 days of departure. The trick has been alive and well for years, helping last minute travel planners (or those wanting to scoop up award space that becomes available close to departure) save tons over time.

The Trick

Facts

  • “Booking a MileagePlus award ticket through any channel, less than 21 days before departure” incurs a fee of $75 per ticket. This fee is reduced or waived depending on your status.
  • You can make free changes or cancellations of your United award within 24 hours of ticketing by phone or online as long as the original scheduled flight is purchased a week or more from departure. This is designed as a safety valve if you make a mistake in the initial ticketing, but you can use the free changes and cancellations however you’d like.

How it Works

If you want to book a United award within 21 days of departure, book the same flight for 1+ months in the future, then immediately call in to change it to within 21 days of departure. No close in ticketing fee will be charged.

Word That The Trick Was Dead

A few days ago, Angelina Travels wrote that this trick appeared to be dead. It is indeed dead if you try to do it online–change a flight to within 21 days on united.com and the new total will ring up to include another $75.

The trick relies on human error. To make sure you can still do it, I performed a test. I can confirm that you still can. You just have to call United MileagePlus to make the change.

Testing

I found a Saver Level economy award on united.com between Kona and Honolulu on a Hawaiian Airlines flight for more than 21 days from now (July 30, 2017):

The only out of pocket cost for this award is the standard $5.60 in taxes that applies to any award within the United States.

Then I found a Saver Level economy award seat on the same flight between Kona and Honolulu on a Hawaiian Airlines flight, but for less than 21 days from now (June 7, 2017):

Notice how the out of pocket cost jumps to $80.60. That’s the $75 close-in booking fee, which you would incur if you booked online.

With 6,000 United miles + $5.60, I booked the flight on the July 30 flight on united.com.

I then called United MileagePlus to see if customer service agents would charge me $75 extra to change the award to the one on June 7.

I spoke with four different representatives. The first two confirmed I could make the change from July 30 to June 7 at no extra cost. The third agent was more competent than the first two and recognized that a fee was mandatory since I wanted to move the flight to within 21 days of departure. The fourth agent, like the first two, confirmed I could make a change to a flight on June 7 for free. I made the change and checked the MileagePlus online account I made the reservation with, and there it was, with no record of any change fee/close-in booking fee.

Just to double check no change fees were charged to the credit card I paid for the taxes with, I checked my online account. Only a pending charge for $5.60 was there, no extra charge for $75. Awesome!

Bottom Line

You can still avoid the fee United charges for booking an award within 21 days of travel with a simple trick: book your desired award more than 21 days in advance, and then call United MileagePlus (within 24 hours) to change it to an earlier date closer to departure. This may require calling multiple times if you happen to get a competent customer service rep the first go around, but I think it’s pretty common for them to be unaware of such a close-in booking fee as it’s usually something the computer deals with (three out of four that I spoke to had no idea, and the one that did took a long time to figure it out).


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44 COMMENTS

  1. Sarah
    Where’s Scott at he needs to post more . Just got back from France on the 23rd , I just booked a return trip on AA 9/19 ORD>NCE then 10/2 United CDG>ORD 60K points then like $90 fees. Perfect seats great Flts that’s why I booked it . Then booked AA 1/21/18 ORD>HNL RT 40K points then $11 fees perfect seats.. I have 30k Hawaii air points for inter Island travel . I think I have 90K AA points ,30k INK ,25K SW left ..Will get Citi P card like 7/15 for Hotel Rooms NEED 24 !!!!

    THANK YOU !! u made an Old Cave Dwellers life Very Nice(Fr.)…

    How come no one wants my 2 United Lounge Passes ??

    CHEERs

  2. Is there a way to save the fee in this scenario?
    Booking F on LH. F doesn’t become available until 2weeks before flying. In a case like this is it still possible work this magic?

  3. Scott, I was previously able to do the change on UA.com 100% of the time and never had to call. I figured it probably will still stay alive a little longer over the phone, but the fact that it changed online shows me that it’s soon to be gone for good.

    • No, Delta doesn’t actually charge an out of pocket cash close-in booking fee, they just raise the miles price of their awards closer to departure date–no trick to get around that.

  4. Hi Sarah, I was actually just looking up online what is a close-in booking fees and found articles of all sorts saying how to avoid it but then the latest ones said that it doesn’t work anymore. Then I came across your article and tried the same, and guess what- IT WORKED !!! Thank you so much 🙂 I just saved $75

  5. Just did it today, the (first and only) agent I spoke with never brought up the $75 close-in, only a $5 difference in taxes/fees for the different route.

  6. I tried it last week. I booked on date after 21 days, I called up to change the date, the agent said I have to pay now the $75 fee, so I told him to leave the reservation as it is. I called again, the 2nd agent saw a note from the first that I have to pay the $75, so she didn’t want to change without the fee.
    I canceled the booking, made a new booking, called again the agent changed it without the fee.

  7. Would this trick with awards booked through partner Singapore? Can I make the change through united or will they force me through Singapore?

  8. I tried today, and perhaps because they had my phone number on file, both of the agents I spoke to gave me the changed flight with the fee… one said it was a fare difference and the other said it was a rebooking fee. As a FF, at this point, it wasn’t worth time to make more calls, so I bit the bullet and booked the flight with the higher close-in fee. Boo.

  9. Was 0/5. But showed perseverance and found someone who made no mention of the $75 fee. He also thought my return flight was my departure flight,but once we got over that obstacle I was in the clear 🙂

  10. can the schedule change involve change of route and flight numbers , or the change is only changing the departure date and nothing else? I asume change of route would involve change of fees too..

    I am looking at BOM>NRT>IAD>DTW and can see availability for 10 days out.. howevere 21 days out the IAD>DTW flight number is different although the and also landing a minute later as compared to the one next week…I am not sure if I can book the one 21 days out and then call in because the flight number are different for the last leg>?

  11. Thank you SO much for sharing this! I was able to change the date of my United domestic flight on the 3rd try without fees! The first two reps mentioned the $75 close-in fee, but the third rep I spoke to confirmed no additional fees (since it was still within 24 hours of booking and there was no difference in my miles award). It did take a few hours (use a land line if you can to save cell phone minutes), but it is still worth it for me since I can’t afford $75! Thanks to the OP, and thank you to all the posters who shared their persistence stories!

  12. Got shot down twice, Philippines call center both times. I’m going to try to see if I can get away wit hit later but it seems like the agents are getting a warning now to collect the fee.

  13. August 2, 2018 – I got this trick to work on the 4th call to United. I recommend using different phone numbers, not just the one you’re given on the reservation change page online. There is a chance you’ll end up in the “wrong” department, which could work in your favor as the agent might not be instructed (by their screen) to process the close-in fee. Took a while between all the 10+ minute wait times (I called around lunch time EST), but worth it in the end. It’ll be a gamble with your time as it might not pay off, but that’s what award travel has become. Thanks to this post and viewfromthewing for keeping this trick alive through updated reader comment and helping us save some money!

    • Hey, what other numbers do you recommend? I tried 4 times on the untied1 number and once on the mileage plus number. Still no luck

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