What Happens to Your Miles When You Cancel a Reward Flight?

What you need to know about canceling a reward ticket.

Sometimes life gets in the way, and our best-laid travel plans come to a screeching halt. But what happens if you’ve booked those travel accommodations with your frequent flier currency? You may wonder whether you’ll lose those hard-earned points and what penalties you face.

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 are a range of fees attached to canceling reward tickets.

With that in mind, it’s important to check the fine print. So before you click ‘book now,’ take a look at the information I’ve gathered here about some popular carriers and their cancellation policies for reward tickets.

Alaska Airlines

You’re in luck if you cancel your ticket booked with Mileage Plan miles within 60 days of your travel date. Change and cancellation fees are waived if you can pull the plug in that time frame. If you can’t, expect to pay a $125 fee. Once that is paid, your miles will be redeposited into your account and any taxes paid will be refunded. However, the call center and partner award fees are non-refundable.

American Airlines

If the ticket has not expired, you can request to have your AAdvantage miles reinstated for a wholly unused AAdvantage award ticket. The charge to do that is $150 per account for the first award ticket, and then $25 each for any other tickets booked through the same account.

The reinstatement charge is waived for Executive Platinum members using their AAdvantage miles.

Delta

If you’re fortunate enough to be a frequent flyer with Delta and have Diamond or Platinum Medallion status, any award booking cancellation fees will be waived. For anyone else, there is a cost of $150 per ticket to redeposit your miles.

You must cancel award tickets at least 72 hours prior to the originating flight departure time in order for you to have those award miles redeposited into your account.

Frontier

If you need to cancel your award ticket, expect to pay a $75 redeposit fee to get your EarlyReturns miles back. And you can’t just be a no-show: you need to cancel your Economy Award ticket prior to departure in order for it to retain its value in miles.

Jet Blue

Change and cancellation fees require work to decipher because they depend on the price of the ticket and fare options (Blue, Blue Plus or Blue Flex). For cancellations within 60 days of departure date, it ranges from $70 (fares under $100) to $135 (fares more than $150) for Blue. For Blue Plus, cancellations within 60 days of departure date range from $60 (fares under $100) to $120 (fares more than $150). There are no charges for tickets booked as Blue Flex.

Southwest

Southwest’s policy is a breath of fresh air for travelers facing cancellation of a ticket booked using reward points. The airline boasts a “change fees don’t fly with us” policy so no fees or penalties apply. It asks customers to allow up to four days after the date of the last flight for the points to be returned.

United

Of the airlines I checked, cancelling an award ticket with United was the most costly. If you don’t have status in its MileagePlus program, it will cost you $200 to re-credit the miles used to book an award flight, up to one year from the original date of issue. Premier Silver status holders are charged $125, Premier Gold members pay $100, and there is no fee for Premier Platinum members.

Virgin America

For tickets booked with Virgin America Elevate points and then canceled, there is an Elevate redeposit fee of $100 for Elevate Red or Silver members. The fee is waived for those with Elevate Gold status. The airline asks customers to allow up to one week for points to be redeposited into their accounts.

The bottom line: If you have to cancel a flight you booked with points or miles, you don’t have to lose out.

Read up on your programs’ policies, see if having status lowers (or eliminates) redeposit fees, and don’t just be a no-show. You’ll be prepared to take the appropriate action should you need to get a reward trip refunded.