Edit November 18, 2017: Three more positive reports in the last two weeks. This trick may never die. 🙂

In Don’t Pay the $75 Close In Fee on United (Trick!), Scott wrote about an easy way anyone can avoid the fee United charges non-elites for booking an award within 21 days of departure. The trick has been alive and well for years, helping last minute travel planners (or those wanting to scoop up award space that becomes available close to departure) save tons over time.

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 of 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.

How it Works

If you want to book a United award within 21 days of departure, book the same flight for 1+ months in the future, then immediately call in to change it to within 21 days of departure. No close in ticketing fee will be charged.

Word That The Trick Was Dead

A few days ago, Angelina Travels wrote that this trick appeared to be dead. It is indeed dead if you try to do it online–change a flight to within 21 days on united.com and the new total will ring up to include another $75.

The trick relies on human error. To make sure you can still do it, I performed a test. I can confirm that you still can. You just have to call United MileagePlus to make the change.

Testing

I found a Saver Level economy award on united.com between Kona and Honolulu on a Hawaiian Airlines flight for more than 21 days from now (July 30, 2017):

The only out of pocket cost for this award is the standard $5.60 in taxes that applies to any award within the United States.

Then I found a Saver Level economy award seat on the same flight between Kona and Honolulu on a Hawaiian Airlines flight, but for less than 21 days from now (June 7, 2017):

Notice how the out of pocket cost jumps to $80.60. That’s the $75 close-in booking fee, which you would incur if you booked online.

With 6,000 United miles + $5.60, I booked the flight on the July 30 flight on united.com.

I then called United MileagePlus to see if customer service agents would charge me $75 extra to change the award to the one on June 7.

I spoke with four different representatives. The first two confirmed I could make the change from July 30 to June 7 at no extra cost. The third agent was more competent than the first two and recognized that a fee was mandatory since I wanted to move the flight to within 21 days of departure. The fourth agent, like the first two, confirmed I could make a change to a flight on June 7 for free. I made the change and checked the MileagePlus online account I made the reservation with, and there it was, with no record of any change fee/close-in booking fee.

Just to double check no change fees were charged to the credit card I paid for the taxes with, I checked my online account. Only a pending charge for $5.60 was there, no extra charge for $75. Awesome!

Bottom Line

You can still avoid the fee United charges for booking an award within 21 days of travel with a simple trick: book your desired award more than 21 days in advance, and then call United MileagePlus (within 24 hours) to change it to an earlier date closer to departure. This may require calling multiple times if you happen to get a competent customer service rep the first go around, but I think it’s pretty common for them to be unaware of such a close-in booking fee as it’s usually something the computer deals with (three out of four that I spoke to had no idea, and the one that did took a long time to figure it out).

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