How to Get Your Miles Back After Canceling an Award Flight

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-890

 tomasdelcoro / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Sometimes life gets in the way, and our travel plans change. But what happens if you’ve booked your trip with frequent flyer miles

The good news is that airlines have policies in place to make sure you can get them back. The bad news is that each policy is different, and there ​is a range of fees attached to canceling reward tickets.

As with everything in the travel world, it’s important to read the fine print before you book. When planning for your next getaway, be sure to understand the biggest airlines' cancellation policies for reward tickets. In some situations, it could make sense to pay to get your miles back.

Alaska Airlines

Editor's note: Due to the coronavirus outbreak, award tickets purchased on or before February 26, 2020 for travel between March 9, 2020 and May 31, 2020 may be changed or cancelled at no cost. If you cancel your trip, your miles will be returned to your Mileage Plan account.

Award tickets purchased between February 27, 2020 and April 30, 2020 for travel through February 28, 2021 may be changed or cancelled at no cost. If you cancel your trip, your miles will be returned to your Mileage Plan account.

Mileage Plan flyers who need to make a change or cancel their trip 24 hours after the initial booking will be charged a $125 change/cancellation fee. If you need to cancel your ticket, your points will be redeposited into your account and taxes reimbursed. If you are making a change to your reservation, you may also have to pay for any price difference between your original flight and the new reservation.

Other cancellation fees, including the call center booking fee or the partner award fee, are non-refundable.

American Airlines

Editor's note: Due to the coronavirus outbreak, award tickets purchased before March 1, 2020 may be changed or cancelled at no cost. Flights scheduled for travel between March 1, 2020 and May 31, 2020 may also be changed or cancelled at no cost. You will need to call customer service in order to get these miles reinstated to your member's account.

If you have to unexpectedly cancel your trip or change your itinerary and you booked with American AAdvantage miles, you can get those miles back. But unless you are a top-tier elite flyer, you will be forced to pay. 

If you booked a MileSAAver award, and you need to make a change, you will pay a $150 fee even if you keep the same award type. If you are traveling on a partner airline and need to change your origin, destination, or flying airline, you will also have to pay the fee, even if you keep the same award. If you are flying on an AAnytime award, the origin and destination change fees are waived if you keep the same award type. 

But what if you need to cancel your trip entirely? If your ticket has not expired, you can call the customer service number to request to have all your AAdvantage miles reinstated to your account.

If American is your primary airline and you fly a lot, you won't have to worry about fees. Most fees are waived for AAdvantage Executive Platinum members. 

Delta Air Lines

Editor's note: Due to the coronavirus outbreak, tickets purchased between March 1 2020 and May 31, 2020 may be changed at no cost. Domestic and international flights scheduled for March, April, and May 2020 may also be changed at no cost. In both situations, you may choose to cancel your flight and use the value of the ticket towards a future flight. Delta Air Lines will reinstate your miles to your account for free when you cancel an award ticket.

Delta Air Lines flyers who use SkyMiles to book their trip must pay a change or reinstatement fee, but those are sometimes waived for frequent flyers. 

Award flyers must either change their itineraries or cancel their tickets 72 hours from their departure time. There are change and reinstatement fees, in addition to any taxes or fees you will need to pay. But if you are a SkyMiles Platinum Medallion or Diamond Medallion flyer, your fees are waived if you make changes more than 72 hours away from your departure time. 

If you need to make a last-minute change within three days from your trip, you can say goodbye to those SkyMiles. Flights changed or canceled less than 72 hours from departure are non-refundable. 

Frontier Airlines

Editor's note: Due to the coronavirus outbreak, tickets purchased before March 10, 2020 for travel through April 30, 2020 may be changed or cancelled at no cost. Tickets purchased between March 10, 2020 and April 15, 2020 may also be changed or cancelled at no cost. If you cancel your flight, note that you must use the value of the ticket towards the purchase of a future flight within 90 days of cancellation.

While it may be almost free to redeem your Frontier EarlyReturns miles, it certainly isn't cheap to cancel your trip. Don't look for help from elite status here, the cancellation policy applies to everybody. 

If you booked a Last Seat Availability award, there is no fee to cancel your flight and get your miles back. Otherwise, expect to pay a $75 redeposit fee to return your EarlyReturns miles to your account. And if you don't show up for your flight, those miles will be gone and forfeited. 

JetBlue

Editor's note: Due to the coronavirus outbreak, flights scheduled through May 31, 2020 may be changed or cancelled at no cost. Award tickets purchased between March 27, 2020 and April 30, 2020 for travel through October 24, 2020 may be changed or cancelled at no cost. Any tickets purchased between February 27, 2020 and March 5, 2020 for travel through June 1, 2020 may also be changed or cancelled at no cost. Likewise, tickets purchased between March 6 and March 26, 2020 for travel through September 8, 2020 may be changed or cancelled at no cost.

When you book with JetBlue TrueBlue points, you are effectively booking a cash fare with the equivalent of a point. Unfortunately, that makes it difficult to determine how much you need to pay for changes or cancellations. 

If you need to change or cancel a Blue Fare or Blue Plus Fare booked in TrueBlue points, expect to pay based on the cash value of the flight. The more expensive the flight, the more you'll have to pay. And if you have to cancel, you will get the miles back in your TrueBlue account. 

If you booked a nonrefundable Mint fare with TrueBlue points, the change or cancellation fee is $200.

The worst thing to do is to not show up for your flight. If you don't show up and don't cancel your ticket, your miles are forfeited and fly away with the airplane. 

Spirit Airlines

Editor's note: Due to the coronavirus outbreak, travelers may change their travel dates and claim a Reservation Credit, to be used within six months.

Spirit Airlines is notorious for charging flyers for everything except using the lavatory in flight. The same is true for their frequent flyer program, FREE SPIRIT, if you have to change an award flight, you'll have to pay. 

Any changes or cancellations 24 hours after booking are subject to a varying modification fee (if change space is available) or a redeposit fee. 

Southwest Airlines

Editor's note: Due to the coronavirus outbreak, customers scheduled to travel up until April 30th are able to modify their reservation to a date 60 days away from the originally scheduled travel date with no change fee.

Any Southwest Airlines frequent flyer will tell you they "LUV" the airline because of their customer-friendly policies. This also applies to their change and cancellation policies as well!

At Southwest, change fees don't fly at all. If you are forced to change or modify your flight, you can do so for free on the website. However, if your change ends up with a higher fare, you will have to pay the difference. 

And if you accidentally miss your flight, those miles don't go away, instead, they go back into your account. But it can take up to four days for those miles to show up in your Rapid Rewards account. 

United Airlines

Editor's note: Due to the coronavirus outbreak, award tickets purchased on or before March 2, 2020 for travel between March 10, 2020 and May 31, 2020 may be changed at no cost. Any tickets purchased by April 30, 2020 may also be changed at no cost if rescheduled within the next 12 months. If you cancel your trip, the value of the ticket must be applied towards future travel within 12 months. Check the United Airlines website for additional information on travel waivers for specific destinations.

United MileagePlus miles are some of the best in the industry because of how many partners the Star Alliance carrier has. But if you're not a frequent flyer and need to make a change or cancel an award ticket, it can be a costly experience. 

The amount of money you pay to make a change to an award ticket or get your miles back after cancellation depends on your status. United MileagePlus Premier Platinum and 1K flyers who need to make a change or cancel an award trip at least 61 days in advance pay no fees. But Premier Gold flyers and Premier Silver flyers pay a lower fee, while everyone else pays a higher fee in change or cancellation and redeposit fees. 

Whatever you do, be sure to show up for your flight or cancel in advance. Everyone who is a no-show for their flight is forced to pay a $125 redeposit fee to get their miles back.   

It’s very important to read up on your programs’ policies, to see if having status lowers (or eliminates) redeposit fees. In addition, some travel insurance policies will reimburse any cancellation or redeposit fees if your trip cancellation is for a covered reason. If you need to get a reward trip refunded, you’ll be prepared to take the appropriate action.

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