Update 7/21/18: A friend confirmed that the phone number that worked for me (that happened to be the last number I tried) worked for him on the first try a week ago: 1-800-421-4655.
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 helping last minute travel planners (or those wanting to scoop up award space that becomes available close to departure) save tons over time. While I wouldn’t call it healthy by any means, this trick still works, and I’ll tell you how I did it today.
- “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 21+ days in the future, then immediately (or at least within 24 hours) call in to change it to within 21 days of departure. No close in ticketing fee will be charged*.
*You may have to call more than once and try various numbers. More on that below.
Current State of United Close-in Booking Fee Trick
There has been talk around the internet lately that this $75 trick is dead. And while it certainly isn’t as easy as it used to be, it’s not dead. I just managed to avoid it myself.
My boyfriend Withers and I are flying United economy (oh, the perks of traveling with your dog) back to the United States from Buenos Aires to visit friends and family in a couple weeks. I was waiting on a few things to fall in line before booking the award, and realized that we were within the 21 day window of each of us incurring the $75 fee.
So instead of booking the flight we wanted…
…I booked the same flight numbers for 26 days out from now, which you will notice costs exactly $75 less out of pocket. That’s the pesky close-in booking fee.
Then I tried my luck with various agents until I found one that let me book for the same out of pocket cost on the original award, sans close-in fee.
The Phone Calls
I called the United MileagePlus Frequent Flyer Award Reservations/Premier Priority Desk line (1-800-864-8331), which is located in the United States. I told the rep I wanted to change an award I had just booked, gave her the new date, and told her it would be the same flight numbers. She told me that there would be no additional cost as the mileage amount was the same and I had booked within the last 24 hours.
Right before confirming everything (it sounded like she typed something in her computer during a brief silence), she told me that actually I would be charged $75 per passenger to move the flights back since the departure date was within 21 days of today.
I called back the same United Customer Contact Center in the US, and nearly the exact situation played out as in my first attempt. The only difference was the way the rep phrased the final bit of communication. She said, “the system recognized the flights as being within 21 days of departure so has added a $75 fee per passenger”.
At this point I lost hope as it appeared that their software is now updated to catch any human error.
I decided to try the Philippines United number (+63-2-884-8272) as others have reported higher success rates calling this office. I was put on hold and after a few minutes hung up on. I figured it wouldn’t work as I was calling outside office hours, but thought I’d give it a shot in case the operating hours had changed to 24 hours since the website was last updated. Doesn’t appear they have. They are open:
- Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. (that’s 8:30 pm to 5:30 am ET)
- Saturday, 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. (8:30 pm to 12:30 am ET)
- Sunday and holidays, closed (note Manila is 12 hours ahead of ET)
If you have trouble finding an agent that doesn’t tack on the $75 fee, I’d give the Philippines office a shot during office hours.
I called 1-800-421-4655, a different number also for United MileagePlus in the United States. At this point it felt futile to give the same number that had shot me down twice another call, and I thought just maybe that a different number would lead to a different office (with different software? who knows).
Just like the first and second attempts, I told the agent which flights I wanted to change mine to. This time I asked if it would cost anything on top, noting that I didn’t think it should since I had just booked the award an hour prior. He verbally confirmed I was right and then went about typing. A minute later he told me I was booked on the new flights and the confirmation for the changes would arrive to my email shortly. At this point I knew I was in the clear, because he would have had to ask permission to charge more to the card on the file. But just to by crystal clear, I asked for reconfirmation that there was no change in mileage or taxes/fees, which he reconfirmed for me.
I’m not sure if getting this trick to work is just HUCA (hang up call again) patience and persistence, or if it was the different phone number I used for United MileagePlus. One way or the other, it worked for me, and it looks like it can work for you too. I’d try calling the number that worked for me: 1-800-421-4655 (update 7/21: this phone number worked for my friend one week ago on the first try). Anyone else have success with a specific office?
Other Data Points
A commenter on View from the Wing just today (July 20) got his fees waived by being nice to the agent. The comment above his, also a Silver Elite member, also had success getting the the fee waived for being nice. Perhaps kindness won it for those guys, or maybe it was just agents that didn’t understand why the system was triggering the $75 fee, and since those guys were elites, they were prone to waive it.
Two other commenters on that same View from the Wing post, who commented before the elites, reported success (and did not mention being elites) in mid June. My success today seems more in line with them. I didn’t chat anyone up, am not a United elite member. My rep did not mention waiving anything.
Four commenters in May from my last post about this subject reported success, although I’m not sure I’d count these as valid data points as it appears that it became harder to get away with starting in early June at some point.
Don’t Want to Bother?
If you have the option and it won’t cost you even more miles or out-of-pocket (i.e. on United flights), you could use Singapore or Aeroplan miles to book the same award space. Neither programs charge a close-in booking fee.
Singapore miles are a 1:1 transfer partner of all the transferrable point types, and Aeroplan transfers 1:1 from Amex Membership Rewards and SPG (soon to be Marriott) points.
If you want to book an award with United miles within 21 days of departure, you can instead book the same award flights 21+ days out, and call within 24 hours–during the free cancellation window–to move your award to your desired travel date within 21 days. You may need to call more than once to find the right agent, but if it’s worth it to you, it’s possible to avoid the $75 close-in booking fee.
Whether or not you’ll want to bother with this trick will probably depend on how many people are on the reservation. I spent about 20 minutes today making a few calls that saved Withers and I $150. Fine by me. Doesn’t end up working and can’t handle any more automated recordings or hold music? Either cancel and rebook with another Star Alliance mile that won’t charge a close-in fee if it makes sense mileage/fees wise, or just re-book on United and eat the fee you would’ve paid anyways.
Has anyone else had success or failure with this trick lately?