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I booked a few awards to Thailand and Egypt in January. The awards would have allowed me to explore new areas and fly some of the world’s fanciest First and Business Class products. Here is how to book the awards I booked:

I should be in Egypt right now, but a wedding came up in Virginia that would have cut the trip too short, so I just wanted to cancel all these awards to get my miles back to head to Cuba and Colombia instead.

Canceling the Emirates flights was a breeze: until 60 days before departure, you can cancel or change Alaska Airlines awards for free. I called up to cancel a few months before the trip and got my miles and taxes back.

Canceling the Qatar and Etihad flights wouldn’t be so easy. American Airlines charges $150 to cancel an award. All the flights were on one American Airlines record locator, so I could pay the $150 once and get back all 120,000 miles and the taxes on the award, but I don’t want to pay $150 when I don’t have to.

The Trick to Avoiding Cancellation Fees

If you want to cancel any ticket–award or cash–for free and there is a major schedule change, you can get a free cancellation. What counts as major? Depends on the airline and the agent, but probably at least 60 minutes.

My American Airlines award had a five minute schedule change, and I tried to get a free cancellation because of the change by calling American Airlines at 800-882-8880, but the agent wouldn’t allow it.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 1.06.13 PM

Increase Your Chances of a Schedule Change

What do you do when you don’t have a valid schedule change that offers a free cancellation? Push back your flights to give the airline more time to change the schedule.

American Airlines allows free changes of awards up to 21 days before departure as long as you don’t change cities, airlines, or cabins. All awards must be flown within one year of ticketing, so you can’t move your flights back indefinitely to wait for a schedule change, but you can move them back quite a bit.

I booked my ticket in January, but that March five-minute schedule change reissued the tickets on March 2, 2015. That means I can push my flights back until March 1, 2016.

These were the original flights.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 1.05.47 PMI couldn’t change cabins, dates, or cities, so I started with the last flight from Abu Dhabi to Washington Dulles and found award space as close to March 1, 2016 as I could. Then I kept working backwards.

I found award space for all four flights in late February and called American Airlines to make the schedule change.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 1.05.12 PMThe change was free, and now I have nine more months for Etihad or Qatar to make a schedule change. I’d say my chances are greater than 50% that this will eventually happen, and I can cancel for free to get my 120,000 miles and taxes back.

If it doesn’t happen, or I need my 120,000 miles before then, I’ll just call to cancel and pay the $150 fee.

I’d pay the $150 fee with my Citi Prestige® Card next year when my $250 airfare/airline fee credit resets. The $150 would then be credited back to me.

See Also

Bottom Line

Want to cancel for free? Wait for a schedule change.

If none comes, change your award to later dates for free to give yourself longer to get a schedule change.

If you have to pay the fee, pay with a card that offers an offsetting statement credit for airline fees like the Citi Prestige® Card.

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Just getting started in the world of points and miles? The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best card for you to start with.

With a bonus of 60,000 points after $4,000 spend in the first 3 months, 5x points on travel booked through the Chase Travel Portal and 3x points on restaurants, streaming services, and online groceries (excluding Target, Walmart, and wholesale clubs), this card truly cannot be beat for getting started!


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