American Still Waives Change Fees When Upgrading Award Tickets

Filed Under: American, Awards

Last July I wrote a post about how American will waive award change fees when you’re voluntarily upgrading the class of service for an award within the same region. Basically, American has the following verbiage regarding fees when changing award types:

A $150 USD charge or additional miles will apply for a change to an eligible origin or destination on a MileSAAver or AAnytime award, (waived for AAdvantage Executive Platinum members using miles from their account). This additional charge or miles are waived when voluntarily upgrading to a higher award level in the same region.

Ordinarily if you change the origin, destination, or award type, you’d pay American’s $150 change fee. So if I had a business class award and wanted to change it to economy I’d have to pay $150 to do so. Along similar lines, if I had booked a standard award and saver space opened up, I’d have to pay $150 to change that award.

Cathay Pacific business class

However, American specifically has an exclusion whereby you don’t have to pay to upgrade the class of service on an award ticket within the same region. To give an example, say you lock in a Cathay Pacific business class award 11 months out, and first class award space only opens up shortly before departure (as is the norm). You could switch that award and pay just the difference in miles and not the change fee.

Cathay Pacific first class

I’ve received a lot of questions lately about whether this policy has changed or not, since some report having been told there would be a charge for such a change. What’s interesting is that the above quoted text no longer appears on the AAdvantage Award Travel page. So I followed up with American to get the scoop, and they told me the policy is still in place, and they’re investigating why it no longer shows up on the site.

But in the meantime, voluntarily upgrading an AAdvantage award to a higher award level within the same region doesn’t carry a change fee.

  1. Significance of “within same region”?.. Example, change fee waived when upgrading JFK-YVR; but not waived when upgrading SFO-HKG? Any other explanation appears redundant since origin/destination can’t be changed without penalty, irrespective of region.

  2. Any (slim) chance that United has a similar policy? I know it’s not a Delta policy, so I can’t bank on it being the same. Would come in handy for an upcoming trip!


  3. @ fauxblogger — It’s just intended to further clarify the policy. It doesn’t matter what the regions are, they just have to stay the same when making the change.

  4. I was told recently by an AA platinum phone rep that in order to upgrade my biz award to first class on Etihad, I wouldn’t just need the difference in miles for the upgrade, but I’d need the entire 90k miles required for the first class award.

    She said that it is considered two separate transactions, and the miles allocated to the business class award aren’t immediately refunded upon making a change. Do you know anything about this?

  5. I once had my CX F award flight cancelled due to weather and since no F award spaces were available afterwards I had AA rebook my itinerary routing thru different city on JL J instead, I was not charged a fee but had to wait until my itinerary was complete before I could get the difference in miles back. Funny thing is about 10 months later I had to cancel a domestic award flight and pay $150 to redopsit the 25k miles back and somehow they credited me 67.5K for that CX flight 10 months ago! I was happy and kept my month shut.

  6. So this doesn’t have to be the same flight you upgrade? It is essentially a free change if you upgrade to a higher class but between the same regions?

  7. @ AdamH — As long as the origin/destination remain the same and you don’t change the type of award (partner vs. American, standard vs. saver, etc.) you can upgrade without paying the change fee.

  8. @ Ross — Correct, the miles would need to be redeposited and then it would be charged as a new award, though if they phone AAdvantage they should be able to instantly get those miles redeposited and apply them towards the upgraded award.

  9. Hey Ben, how strict are they on the definition of origin and destination. Specifically would it trigger a change fee if I change my origin from DCA to IAD or JFK to LGA etc?

  10. @ HoKo — With the way American’s computers price change fees, an airport change (even if co-terminal) would trigger a change fee. That being said, some agents will manually waive the fees in such scenarios.

  11. I was thinking about making this exact upgrade. If the departure date is within 21days, will AA charge $75 close-in fee? Thanks.

  12. Ben,

    How about a reward ticket on Cathy issued via US air? Can I move from business to first on the same itinerary without paying fee (just extra miles)?

  13. @ Gordon — Nope, there’s no similar policy. You’d have to pay a change fee, and if you want to change the type of award altogether you’ll have to redeposit and start over.

  14. Lucky, is upgrading from MileSAAver to AAnytime considered an upgrade? For example, if I’m flying on an economy MileSAAver award on AA/US metal, and want to change the date, but no MileSAAver seats are available on the new date, would I need to pay any fees? ($150 award change fee? $75 close-in booking fee?)

  15. Hey Ben,

    Do you think this policy will still hold when the merger with US Airways is complete? I’ve got a LHR-ZRH in J, ZRH-HKG in F and HKG-SIN in J coming up, booked with US Airways Dividend Miles and was wondering if they might waive the change fee if I find an LHR-SIN in F given that I’ve already paid the F equivalent in miles for this itinerary.

  16. Upgrade from Econ to Business with same city pair on a different date – does it still qualify for the fee waiver?

  17. I was able to cite this policy and make a free change on my SFO-DFW-LGA itinerary (25k SAAver) to the Flagship SFO-JFK flight (32.5k SAAver) after being told there’d be the $150 reinstatement fee since I was changing destination airports.

  18. @Mark did you have to HUCA and try multiple agents or did you escalate to a supervisor or how did you end up getting them to agree to waive it?

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