Updated March 30, 2020 to include data points on award refunds

Updated March 27, 2020 to include data points on United’s refund practices.

There’s nothing normal about travel during the COVID-19 outbreak. As with any travel decision, always do what you feel most comfortable with. It is our personal opinion that there are many good reasons to take this time to plan ahead for future travels and more.

Let’s move about the cabin and discuss.

Eventually We’ll Be Cleared For Takeoff

There will come a time when the virus is over. Most safe estimates say travel will be normal by autumn (spring for our friends in the southern hemisphere). Whenever it may be, it would be wise to start planning now for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and even into 2021. Not only is there award space available for as far out as March 2021, but you’ll also avoid the rush of people come summer or fall who didn’t plan ahead.

Here at MileValue’s Award Booking Service, we’ve been finding great awards for the end of 2020 and through February 2021. For example, this week Kevin booked a client in ANA business and first class from India to the US for just 99,200 LifeMiles and $79 per person! That includes 8+ hours in ANA lie-flat 787-9 DreamLiner business class and nearly 10 hours in ANA first class. LifeMiles is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, Capital One Venture Rewards, Marriott Bonvoy, and two cobranded cards (the Avianca Vida Visa and Avianca Vuela Visa which Sarah Page has reviewed) making points quite achievable.

Award Booking Service Sale Through the End of March

We at the MileValue Award Booking Service are offering 30% off our normal prices through the end of March. Check our website for more information and feel free to reach out with any questions to [email protected].

Top Tip: Airlines open up award space as far out as 11 months in advance, so planning ahead can really pay off with snagging coveted award space as soon as the schedules open. You can even contact us at the Award Booking Service in advance so that we are searching the space as soon as it opens.

Plan Your Credit Card And Points Strategy

On the subject of points and miles, it is always prudent to think ahead regarding your credit card application strategy and which programs may be most beneficial to your future travel. Want to book an award via United’s MileagePlus program or use United’s Excursionist perk to get a free flight? Then Chase Ultimate Rewards cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or United cards like the United Explorer are the way to go. Dreaming of mainland US to Hawaii for 7,500 points Turkish miles? You’ll want to consider Citi ThankYou points via cards like the ThankYou Premier or Prestige, or Marriott Bonvoy like the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card. Thinking of applying for Global Entry? Be sure to have a card which gives you a credit for the program such as the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.

Free Credit Card Consultations

Gone are the days of buying mass gift cards to meet sign-up bonuses and opening multiple cards of the same kind. These days the best approach is to plan out both short- and long-term strategies based on your credit portfolio, travel desires, and more. MileValue owner and credit card expert Sarah Page can guide you through application rules and considerations via the Credit Card Consultation service if you are interested in opening new cards but aren’t sure which route to take. Typically these consultations, which can be done over email or a 30 minute phone call, cost $25. In consideration of the current economic circumstances she is now offering them for free.

Airlines Offering Free Changes

Many airlines including American, Delta, and United are offering one free change at any time in the future for tickets purchased in March.

As of March 25, American has extended that to include any tickets purchased by April 15 and it covers any of American’s published non-refundable fares.

Delta is also offering a free change for tickets purchased between March 1 and April 15 for travel up to a year after the original purchase date. Or you can choose to cancel and receive a Delta eCredit. Delta specifically notes these “rules apply whether a flight is booked with cash or miles. For award flights that qualify for a change fee waiver, we are also waiving the mile redeposit fee.” 

Delta elaborates:

United is currently offering free changes to tickets issued March 3 through March 31. Do note if the new ticket is priced higher, the customer will have to pay the fare difference. But if the new ticket is priced lower, United is pocketing that cash and not giving you the difference. Or you can choose to cancel a ticket issued between March 3 and March 31, in which case the value of that ticket can be applied to a new flight up to 12 months from the original ticket issue date. Per United, “This applies to all tickets, all fare types, all destinations, all points-of-sale, all travel dates available for sale, provided ticket number starts with 016.”

Update March 27, 2020: Folks are reporting mixed results with United’s refunds. Sometimes the fee is waived, sometimes it is not, and this is being encountered via all channels including over the phone and Twitter direct messages as folks are reporting on Reddit on Thursday and on Sunday as well. If an airline cancels your flights and refuses to honor a refund (remember – you’re eligible for a refund if you have not accepted a voucher or a different schedule to get you to your destination), then as a last resort you can do a charge back or open a dispute via your credit card.

Update March 30, 2020: Data points via Reddit that United are now waiving fees for redepositing award tickets if the airline is the one who cancels. AA and Delta have been doing this already, so finally United is coming around. As always there are some mixed reports out there, so if the airline cancelled your flight and a rep is not waiving the fees, one method is to hang up and call again. Always be polite and you should find someone willing to help.

If Your Flight is Cancelled

We’ve heard quite a few cases recently of airlines telling passengers that they are only eligible for a travel credit or voucher when their flight is cancelled. Per the US DOT, “A passenger is entitled to a refund if the airline cancelled a flight, regardless of the reason, and the passenger chooses not to be rebooked on a new flight on that airline.” This includes tickets that are nonrefundable, as well as extras including baggage fees and seat selection fees. The US DOT law applies to all flights within, to, and from the United States. The EU has a similar law, as well as a recent elaboration owing to the COVID-19 situation.

Unfortunate Realities

Some airlines, including JetBlue, are being very deceitful to customers if not outright breaking the law by refusing refunds for cancelled flights. British Airways has routed customers to a voucher page when they cancel their flight online, not giving them a chance to request a refund (unless you manage the not-so-customer-friendly task of turning off JavaScript).

In a recent twist, some airlines including American and Qatar are offering a bonus if you choose a voucher rather than a refund for a cancelled flight. Weigh this option for yourself, and if you take the voucher, then keep in mind you will not be eligible for a refund. There may be times when this makes sense, such as an AA voucher if you live near an AA hub, but for most travelers it will likely not be the best option. The bottom line is if an airline cancels your flight and you have not accepted a voucher or other routing, you are entitled by law to a full refund, even if the ticket is nonrefundable.

Top Tip – Before accepting a voucher, always read the fine print for blackout dates, restrictions, and more. Some are good for only one year, for a value equal to or less than what you previously paid.

Final Approach

Things will surely continue to change over the coming weeks. Airlines will continue to adjust their offers, routes, prices, waivers, etc. Always mind the fine print and remember that if the airline cancels your ticket you are entitled to a refund by law if you would like it. Amidst the current situation, now is as good as ever to get your credit cards, points, and future plans in order.

Let us know where you would like to travel to in the comments.