Emergency Award Flight Change? Hope You Didn’t Book with US Airways Miles

One of my Award Booking Service clients is on a trip and due to an unfortunate emergency, needs to fly home sooner. Thank goodness the award flight was booked with United miles, and we were able to find business class availability for her revised date.

We even changed the airport to a more convenient one, and got the tickets changed for the $75 per ticket change fee since the original award tickets were issued prior to June 19; for award tickets issued June 19 or later, changes within 21 days of travel cost $100 (see United Increases Award Ticket Change and Cancellation Fees for Non Elites).

It's a good thing the original award wasn't booked with US Airways miles–if it was, she would have lost the equivalent of 100K US Airways Dividend Miles for her two tickets, since US Airways awards with partner airlines can't be changed after travel has begun: “For travel with our airline partners, no changes of any kind are permitted once travel has commenced.”

It's easy to think you'll never need to change your return flight, until, well, you have a family, medical, or other emergency. 

And what if, as in my client's case, it's not a medical emergency for either of them, but absolutely necessitates a change in the return flight? In other words, travel insurance would have been useless, as it wouldn't be a covered condition.

This is also Reason #4 why US Airways miles aren't worth it to me, even when they run a 100% bonus for buying miles. I'm just waiting for my Dividend Miles to convert to AAdvantage miles, with the US Airways American Airlines Merger. Also see US Airways MasterCard: Turn US Airways Dividend Miles Into AAdvantage Miles

These are my preferred miles to book with, combining good award options with change flexibility and low fees:

1. United Miles

Changes <21 days prior to travel or changing origin/destination at any time: $75 for tickets issued prior to June 19, 2013; $100 for tickets issued from June 19, 2013 (reduced or waived depending on elite status)

Why #1: While it's unfortunate that the change fee is now $100 per ticket for non elites, United miles remain incredibly valuable for business and first class award travel with low taxes and fees, and United miles can be earned quickly using signup bonuses and category bonuses from the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold, Ink Plus, and Chase Freedom, not to mention the United MileagePlus card. And because the fee includes both close-in date/time changes and changes to destination, you can change both for one fee if you do so at the same time.


2. British Airways Avios

Date or Time Changes: $40

Why #2: While the Avios chart is expensive following the 2011 devaluation for long haul premium class flights (and of course high fuel surcharges deter many from redeeming on British Airways metal), it's still a good deal for many nonstop shorter flights within a given country (or even shorter Fifth Freedom flights such as Cathay Pacific First Class from NYC to Vancouver). It's great to be able to not worry about close-in ticketing fees and have a reasonable $40 change fee when done online. And Avios can be earned with the British Airways Visa, as well as periodic transfer bonuses from AMEX Membership Rewards points. 


3. Singapore KrisFlyer Miles

Change of date or time: No charge for Singapore or Silk Air flights, $20 for partner airlines

Why #3: There's no question Singapore Air has among the lowest change fees out there, and as a Star Alliance partner also has access to plenty of partner flights in addition to enhanced award availability on Singapore Airlines. The main issues driving this to third place are the fuel surcharges/fees on Singapore Air award redemptions, the problems booking mixed cabin itineraries, and the fact that it can be harder to earn lots of AMEX Membership Rewards points, not to mention there are no transfer bonuses to KrisFlyer from AMEX Membership Rewards. There is the 25% transfer bonus from SPG, but points don't transfer instantly.


4. American AAdvantage

Change to origin/destination: $150

Date change within 21 days of travel: $75

Why #4: AAdvantage change fees are high, and in general I find saver award availability on AA to be poor relative to United. That said, AAdvantage miles are incredibly valuable for flying top notch international first class products, such as Cathay Pacific, Etihad, Qantas (well, if you're very lucky) and soon, Qatar. It's become harder to earn AAdvantage miles after a tightening of how many cards can be applied for in a given time frame, but very recently it's become a bit easier. See Citi AAdvantage: 100K AA Miles from 2 Citi Platinum Visas


To Avoid:

  • US Airways awards: *No* changes to partner award bookings after travel has begun; no one way awards
  • Delta Skymiles awards: No mileage refunds for changes or cancellations within 72 hours of travel; no one way awards
Which frequent flyer miles would you use for an award, if you thought you might need to make an urgent change to your return?
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