Airline ticket flexibility is more important than ever before, and fortunately airlines have largely adjusted their policies to make travel more flexible. Even so, one huge advantage of booking an airline award ticket rather than paying cash is the flexibility that you get.
Why? Generally you can redeposit the miles for an airline award ticket for a very small fee, or with many programs for free. Even when revenue tickets have flexibility, typically that comes in the form of a credit you can use toward a future ticket, normally with an expiration date.
In this post I wanted to compare airline award ticket change & redeposit policies, because this is an area where we’ve seen lots of improvement since the start of the pandemic.
Comparing airline award ticket change & redeposit rules
How do airline award ticket change & redeposit rules compare between airlines? Let’s compare the policies of some major frequent flyer programs. Below I’ll provide a consolidated list, and then we’ll discuss the policies in more detail below, since in some cases there’s some nuance and/or exceptions. Here are the policies of some popular programs (costs are all per person):
- Air Canada Aeroplan charges up to 100 CAD for changes, and up to 150 CAD for cancellations
- Air France-KLM Flying Blue charges €50 for changes, and €50 for cancellations
- Alaska Mileage Plan charges nothing for changes, and nothing for cancellations
- American AAdvantage charges nothing for changes, and nothing for cancellations
- Avianca LifeMiles charges $150 for changes, and $50-200 for cancellations
- British Airways Executive Club charges $55 for changes, and $55 for cancellations
- Delta SkyMiles charges nothing for changes, and nothing for cancellations
- Emirates Skywards charges nothing for changes, and nothing for cancellations
- JetBlue TrueBlue charges nothing for changes, and nothing for cancellations
- Singapore KrisFlyer charges $0-50 for changes, and $50-75 for cancellations
- Southwest Rapid Rewards charges nothing for changes, and nothing for cancellations
- United MileagePlus charges up to $125 for changes, and up to $125 for cancellations
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club charges $50 for changes, and $50 for cancellations
A few important things to note:
- You should be concerned with the policy of the program that you booking your ticket with, rather than the airline you’re actually flying with (in situations where you book a partner award)
- A change fee refers to situations where you’re trying to change the date or time of your flight, while a redeposit refers to a situation where you’re trying to just have the miles put back in your account after cancelling a ticket
- I won’t be covering all frequent flyer programs (after all, there are hundreds), but rather will focus on programs that are either really popular due to redemption options, and/or programs partnering with major transferable points currencies
- For awards to & from the United States, you can generally expect that you can cancel them for free within 24 hours of booking, which provides flexibility for changes you need to make shortly after booking
With that out of the way, let’s look at the policies of each program in more detail.
Air Canada Aeroplan
While Air Canada Aeroplan is one of my favorite frequent flyer programs, it doesn’t have a particularly generous or simple policy when it comes to ticket changes and redeposits. As a general rule of thumb, you can expect that a ticket change on a standard award will cost you 100 CAD, while a ticket redeposit on a standard award will cost you 150 CAD.
Fees are potentially lower if you’re booking a higher priced award, and you can also expect to pay more to refund a ticket through the call center (though there’s no reason to do that, since you can easily redeposit awards on aircanada.com). Also note that fees are per direction of travel, so you’ll pay even more if you’re traveling roundtrip on one itinerary.
Air France-KLM Flying Blue
Air France-KLM Flying Blue charges €50 to either change or redeposit an award ticket, so the cost is the same regardless of what you need to do with your award ticket.
Alaska Mileage Plan
Alaska Mileage Plan no longer has any change or redeposit fees on award tickets, making it a solid program for locking in an award, especially given all the great uses of Mileage Plan miles.
American AAdvantage no longer has any change or redeposit fees on award tickets. So this is a great program for locking in speculative awards, especially given all the great partner awards that can be booked with AAdvantage miles.
The Avianca LifeMiles program is a popular program for Star Alliance first & business class awards. Making a change to a LifeMiles award ticket will cost you $150, regardless of what the change is. Redepositing your ticket, meanwhile, will cost you $50-200. You can expect to pay around $50 for a short haul economy award ticket, while you can expect to pay $200 for a long haul first or business class ticket.
British Airways Executive Club
British Airways Executive Club offers lots of great partner award redemption options. You can expect that making a change to an award ticket or redepositing the Avios for an award ticket will cost you $55 if done online, with an extra $25 fee for doing so via the call center.
Note that the fee varies based on where in the world you are. For example, at the moment you can expect to pay €42.50 in the European Union, or £35 in the United Kingdom.
There is one interesting quirk to canceling Avios awards, which is that you don’t have to necessarily pay the full cancelation fee to redeposit an award ticket booked with Avios. You either have to forfeit the taxes & fees or pay the fee to get your Avios refunded.
In other words, if you booked an award within the United States on American, you’d generally only pay $5.60 in taxes & fees. So rather than paying $55, you could just forfeit $5.60, and get your Avios back.
Delta SkyMiles has also improved its policy on award tickets, and no longer has any change or redeposit fees on SkyMiles reservations. The only exception is when booking basic economy tickets with SkyMiles, as those don’t offer the same flexibility.
Emirates Skywards is the best program for booking Emirates first class awards. During the pandemic, the airline eliminated change and redeposit fees on awards. While it’s possible these will be reinstated at some point, there’s no timeline for that happening.
JetBlue TrueBlue has improved its flexibility for award tickets, and no longer has any change or redeposit fees on TrueBlue reservations. However, the taxes & fees won’t be refunded to your original form of payment, but rather will be added to your JetBlue Travel Bank, and can be used toward a future flight. The only JetBlue awards that aren’t refundable are Blue Basic tickets with TrueBlue points, which are subjected to a $100-200 redeposit fee in the event you need to cancel.
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer is the best program for booking premium cabin Singapore Airlines awards. The program’s fees differ depending on whether you’re booking a Saver or Advantage award (with the former being the lowest priced award):
- Changing a Saver award ticket costs $25-50, changing an Advantage award ticket costs $0-25
- Redepositing a Saver award ticket costs $75, redepositing an Advantage award ticket costs $50
Southwest Rapid Rewards
Southwest Rapid Rewards doesn’t have any change or redeposit fees on award tickets. This was the first major program to have such a policy, and the airline continues to take a very customer-friendly approach with this.
United MileagePlus is the only US airline on this list to still have change & redeposit fees on most award tickets, which I find to be disappointing. The policy also isn’t especially straightforward. Here are the basics:
- There’s no fee for changing or redepositing a MileagePlus award 31 or more days before departure; within 30 days, you can expect to pay up to $125 to redeposit an award (the cost is lower if you have status)
- There’s no fee for changing a MileagePlus award within 30 days of departure, if you’re originating in the United States; for all other markets, you can expect to pay up to $125 to change an award (the cost is lower if you have status)
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club has the following charges for award changes and redeposits:
- Changing an award costs £30 in the UK, or $50 in the United States (or an equivalent amount in another currency)
- Redepositing an award costs £30 in the UK, or $50 in the United States (or an equivalent amount in another currency)
Airline award tickets can not only unlock amazing first & business class seats for huge discounts, but also offer significant advantages when it comes to changing or canceling tickets. Nowadays many frequent flyer programs don’t even have change or redeposit fees for awards, which is awesome.
I tend to think that these policies are worth keeping in mind when planning travel, especially if it’s speculative in nature. Based on my own redemption patterns, I’m particularly happy about the policies of Alaska Mileage Plan and American AAdvantage.
If OMAAT readers have any award ticket change or redeposit experiences to share, please do so in the comments section!