Using Schedule Changes to Save on Re-Deposit Fees

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While we’re on the topic of United tricks, I thought I’d take the opportunity to remind you all of how to avoid the cancellation/re-deposit of miles fees typically collected on awards.

Normally canceling a United award and re-depositing your miles incurs a $200 per ticket fee if you don’t have United status.

Recently a reader wrote to us asking the following:

“I have held reservations on United since Sept 2016 for flying from Savannah to Copenhagen on June 1, returning June 13. I seem to have read about how to cancel and get points back and not pay the fee. I just cannot seem to find anything that fits my situation.”

I pointed him to this post that Scott wrote back in 2012. It describes multiple methods for lessening or (in the case of Trick #1) totally escaping award cancellation/re-deposit of miles fees for United awards. The post was old, yes, but I figured it still worked.

How To Save $200 When You Want to Cancel a United Award

Wait for a schedule change, and then call to cancel the trip. United makes very frequent schedule changes. Often the changes are only 5 or 15 minutes and affect only one leg of your itinerary. No matter how small the change is, if you want to cancel your itinerary for free, you call up and ask to cancel after a schedule change. It helps to stay vague on the call.

Say something like, “The new schedule doesn’t work for me. I’d like to cancel the itinerary.” They will try to change the itinerary. You can politely listen to the options that you will reject, or you can say: “I’ve checked United’s flight schedule, and there is no itinerary that works for me.”

They will eventually cancel the itinerary, refunding the miles and taxes paid, with no fee. If they drag their heels, insist that you would not have booked the itinerary as it is now, and you shouldn’t be penalized when United changes its schedule.

Reader’s Experience Calling United

In his words…

“United had 2 small changes. One change was departure had us leaving Savannah earlier by 25 minutes. The other change had us arriving 5 minutes sooner. She could find nothing else any later (which I knew), and after talking with others said she would redeposit my miles and no charges. She didn’t really question why I could not make 25 min. earlier.  I just said it no longer worked for me.”

And there you have it. His award was cancelled and miles re-deposited for free instead of the usual $200.

How do you find minor schedule changes?

They are usually not emailed to you. Check the itinerary online at united.com. Find the itinerary you want to cancel, and click to view it. It will list whether there are any schedule changes.

If there are changes, it will also have a button to push to say you’ve seen the change or something to that effect. Don’t push that button, or you may waive your chance to cancel for free.

Legacy Carriers’ Contracts of Carriage

The above “trick” isn’t really a trick, it’s more a matter of knowing your rights as a customer. Seems logical that an airline would be obligated by their contract of carriage to reimburse a customer with no fees if their flight was even slightly altered without their consent.

United’s Contract of Carriage

In the section on flight delays/cancellations/aircraft changes, it says the following:

Schedule Change- When a Passenger’s Ticketed flight is affected because of a Schedule Change that modifies the original departure and/or arrival time by 30 minutes or more, UA will, at its election, arrange one of the following:

  1. Provided that the dates of departure and arrival must be within 7 days of the originally scheduled dates of departure and arrival, respectively, transport the Passenger on its own flights, subject to availability, to the Destination, next Stopover point, or transfer point shown on its portion of the Ticket, without Stopover in the same class of service, at no additional cost to the Passenger;
  2. When a Schedule Change results in the cancellation of all UA service between two cities, at UA’s sole discretion, UA may reroute Passengers over the lines of one or more carriers in an equivalent class of service;
  3. Advise the Passenger that the value of his or her Ticket may be applied toward future travel on United within one year from the date of issue without a change or reissue fee; or
  4. If the Passenger is not transported as provided in C) 1) or 2) above and does not choose to apply the value of his or her Ticket toward future travel as provided in C) 3) above, the Passenger will be eligible for a refund upon request. 

The fourth point essentially says that no matter how little of a change is made, if the customer doesn’t approve, they can cancel and receive a full refund with no fee.

Delta’s Contract of Carriage

In the section on Flight delays/cancellations, it says the following:

B. Delta’s Liability in the Event of Schedule Changes, Delays and Flight Cancellations

In the event of flight cancellation, diversion, delays of greater than 90 minutes, or delays that will cause a passenger to miss connections, Delta will (at passenger’s request) cancel the remaining ticket and refund the unused portion of the ticket and unused ancillary fees in the original form of payment in accordance with Rule 260 of these conditions of carriage. If the passenger does not request a refund and cancellation of the ticket, Delta will transport the passenger to the destination on Delta’s next flight on which seats are available in the class of service originally purchased. At Delta’s sole discretion and if acceptable to the passenger, Delta may arrange for the passenger to travel on another carrier or via ground transportation. If acceptable to the passenger, Delta will provide transportation in a lower class of service, in which case the passenger may be entitled to a partial refund. If space on the next available flight is available only in a higher class of service than purchased, Delta will transport the passenger on the flight, although Delta reserves the right to upgrade other passengers on the flight according to its upgrade priority policy to make space in the class of service originally purchased.

Delta also says that if you don’t agree with a schedule change, you can get a full refund with no penalty.

American Airline’s Contract of Carriage

In the section on Cancellations and Refunds, it says the following:

  • (C)SCHEDULE CHANGE IN THE EVENT, AFTER TICKET ISSUANCE, SCHEDULE CHANGES ARE MADE BY AA THAT:
    • (I)AFFECT A PASSENGER’S DEPARTURE AND/OR ARRIVAL BY 2 OR MORE HOURS;
    • (II) RESULT IN THE ADDITION OF AN INTERMEDIATE STOP ON THE PASSENGER’S ITINERARY;
    • (III) RESULT IN A SUBSTITUTION OF EQUIPMENT NOT ACCEPTABLE TO THE PASSENGER; OR
    • (IV) IF A CANCELLATION OR A CHANGE IN EITHER AIR OR TOUR ITINERARY IS INITIATED EITHER BY AA OR IT’S TOUR OPERATORS WHICH IS UNACCEPTABLE TO THE PASSENGER, THE PASSENGER WILL HAVE THE OPTION OF CANCELLING WITHOUT PENALTY, OR REROUTING ON DIFFERENT FLIGHTS TO/FROM THE SAME OR DIFFERENT DESTINATION.HOWEVER, THE PASSENGER MUST PAY ANY ADDITIONAL AMOUNTS RESULTING FROM THE REROUTING.

Clause IV says that no matter how little of a change is made, if the customer doesn’t approve, they can cancel and receive a full refund with no fee.

Bonus: Loyalty Programs That Don’t Charge/Don’t Charge Much For Cancellation/Re-Deposit Fees

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 50,000 point sign up bonus and laundry list of extremely valuable benefits, to the Ink Business Preferred with its 80,000 point bonus. And of course, there’s always the good ole Sapphire Preferred with its 50k bonus + another 5k for adding an authorized user.

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.

Bottom Line

We know that the rules state (for the legacy carriers, at least) that we have the right to cancel with a full refund if they make any schedule change that we don’t accept. And we know that in practice, United adheres to these rules. Have any of you had experiences canceling award tickets/re-depositing miles with other airlines that changed your schedule?


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9 COMMENTS

  1. This might be a bit off topic, but I recently had a 5 minute change going Munich to Maui. The usual 2 stop forever trip. But since my plans changed a bit, and I wanted to go from Vienna instead, even one day later, and I had found one of those great Austrian Air Business Class flights, I tried this out. It took a bit of pushing….’But it’s only a 5 minute change’, and a lot of background back and forth, but they changed me over without fee. Yeah, going VIE to LAX non stop, in a ‘throne seat’ , and I learned it from you. THANKS !

  2. Wish I had thought to wait to see if schedules changed on four J class tickets MAN-JFK on AA booked for July after I found PE class tickets on VS that were non-stop MAN-MCO. Booking VS prevented the need for re-positioning flights to our home in Orlando since AA has become so stingy with their sAAver award space! I had also already booked the re-positioning flights (JFK-MCO) on paid AA tickets in J before finding the space on VS, but I was able to cancel within 24 hours to supposedly get a “full refund” after taking the ridiculous extra steps AA requires to get a refund. I’m now in a battle with AA to get credit restored to $600 in AA gift cards instead of the $600 in travel vouchers that they sent us. AA claims this is their policy to refund gift cards as travel vouchers (even though gift cards never expire and vouchers expire in 1 year!), but they have not yet provided me with written verification of this policy in any form that customers would have access to.

    • Who knows if she lied or was just misinformed but you should certainly point them to the contract of carriage next time and don’t step down.

  3. AA changed my flight schedule about 30 min. When I called to cancel they said I had to have a 1 hour time change in order to be able to cancel. How can I make em go by their own rules?

    • Let them know their own contract of carriage gives you the right, and be persistent. Tell them the web address if necessary so they can go read it for themselves. It does look like, from the comments here so far, that people have more trouble getting refunds out of AA.

  4. I’ve used the AA “substitution of equipment not acceptable to the passenger” to cancel/redeposit an award without a fee. (The agent asked me to show her where this rule was displayed on the AA Web site. Once I did that, she cancelled the ticket without further difficulties.)

    But, as you noted, with WN and BA it’s all much easier.

  5. Jack
    Why don’t u get ur data then Call them up and a follow up email ..I like when people report what the out come was so I can figure out if the hassle is worth it…Worse for me is Delta one trip to NCE I spent @ least FOUR HOURS total on the phone because they changed my days and times 4 different times. I had to switch to another person because her accent was so heavy I couldn’t understand her . But then again it’s FRANCE ..

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