Spoiler alert: It worked on the first try, calling 1-800-421-4655.

Update 11/1/19: Just saved another $75 for a last minute United award I decided to book. I called 1-800-4655 number, and the first agent I spoke to tried to charge me close-in booking fee for moving my flight from December 2 to November 10. I hung up and called back, same number, and the second agent did not mention it whatsoever and re-booked for free.

United MileagePlus charges $75 to book an award less than 21 days before departure. There is a work-around to avoiding that fee that has saved my boyfriend and I collectively close to a thousand dollars in recent years, I’d estimate. We often fly United when commuting between the United States and Argentina, the two places we spend the most time, as that’s the easiest airline to fly between those two countries with a dog. As our annual trip to the US is usually for months at a time, we bring our Boston Terrier along.

Omar, our Boston terrier, at the beach in South Carolina

Singapore as an alternative?

This time I wasn’t booking a flight with the pup, but I did need to fly United to get to San Luis Obispo, California from the east coast. Per usual, I was booking the flight a week before departure, which meant a $75 fee unless I employed the close-in booking fee trick. I have access to Singapore miles via Ultimate Rewards earned from my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card which I could’ve utilized on the same Saver Level United economy award space for the same amount of miles: 12,500 one way. And Singapore Krisflyer doesn’t charge a close-in booking fee.

Singapore’s award chart for flying Star Alliance partners. Prices listed are roundtrip.

But I have United miles leftover from the bonus I earned on the Chase United Explorer Business Card, and I value United miles less than Ultimate Rewards because United miles have to be spent as United miles while Ultimate Rewards can be transferred to ten different airline programs, including United. Therefore, I’d rather spend my United miles than my Ultimate Rewards. Especially considering there’s an easy way to get around United’s $75 fee!

The Trick

Facts

  • “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 to 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.
This screenshot is from the final payment page of my award booking.

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, although this time I did not.

The Trick in Practice

It was last Monday, October 21, and the United award I wanted to book was for Friday, October 25, between Charleston, SC and San Luis Obispo, California. As that was within 21 days of departure, taxes and fees amounted to around $80 ($75 for the close-in fee, and $5 for tax). I found a very similar schedule also available for the Saver Level 12,500 mile price, and the same routing. The difference was that this flight was for more than 21 days out:

I know, what a fun schedule right? Believe it or not it was the best schedule available. I have a couple United Club passes thanks to my United Explorer Business Card, so my idea was to sleep on the first leg, and eat and work in the lounge on the layover.

I booked online, and then immediately after called 1-800-421-4655 as I’ve had success with that number on the first try in the past. Others, as reported in the comments of You Can Still Avoid the United $75 Close-in Booking Fee, have also had success the first try via the same number.

I told the agent what I wanted to do, he made the change, and mentioned nothing of the $75 close-in fee. If he had mentioned it, as I’ve had happen in the past, what typically works is saying something along the lines of, “I was under the impression that I could make free changes within 24 hours?”

Maybe the agents have stopped caring as they are dropping the fee so soon anyways, or maybe the agent wasn’t aware of the fee. Either way, my advice is to book any last minute United awards you had in mind now so you can get out of the close-in fee. While saving $75 isn’t a massive deal, that fee is imposed per person. A family of four would save $300!

Close-in Booking Fee Drops November 15

Note that as of November 15 United won’t charge a close-in booking fee anymore. That’s when United drops their award chart and switches to dynamic award pricing, meaning mileage prices will be tied to the cash price of a ticket. When you think about how the cost of a ticket you pay for with money gets pricier closer to departure date, you can understand why United doesn’t need to charge this close-in booking fee anymore. They will still be “charging” it, but baked into the mileage price instead.

Bottom Line

While you won’t be charged that $75 fee as of November 15, it is likely the mileage price of last minute United awards will be higher as of that date. And there probably won’t be a trick to get around that.

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