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So you have to cancel a flight you booked with points, and you’re wondering what will happen to your rewards now.
Well, what kind of points did you use?
This is the most important question to ask when you need to cancel a flight: Which “currency” did you use to make your reservation?
Most points bookings fall into two categories: true airline points (Delta SkyMiles, JetBlue TrueBlue, etc.) and bank points (Membership Rewards, Merrill+ Points, etc.). For this post, I’m going to assume you don’t have travel insurance. Of course, if you do, and you’re canceling for a covered reason, check your travel insurance policy for details.
Before we dive in, remember that almost every U.S. airline offers you 24 hours to cancel your ticket without a cancellation fee, regardless of class of service, destination, or cost. This is because of the United States Department of Transportation regulations.
What Happens to Flights Booked with Airline Miles?
Most airlines have a miles “redeposit” fee or something similar. This refers to your ability to cancel the reservation and have your miles reinstated to your account. I think in many cases, it’s worth it to pay the fee; the potential value of your miles often outweighs the reinstatement fee. Sometimes the fees will be waived if you have status with the airline. Delta, for instance, waives its fees for Diamond and Platinum Medallion members. Here are some examples of the fee (keep in mind that a separate cancellation fee may also apply):
- Alaska Airlines $125
- American Airlines $150 (+$25 for each additional ticket reinstated to the same booking account)
- Delta Airlines $150
- United Airlines $75 if 61 or more days prior to departure time, $125 if within 60 days of departure
My favorite airline for points flexibility is Southwest, hands down. Book a flight with Southwest Rapid Rewards, cancel up to the day of the flight with no penalty! That’s right, simply cancel the trip, and your points are redeposited into your Rapid Rewards account instantly. You can even ask to refund the taxes and fees to the credit card you paid with. For that reason, Southwest is my first choice when booking potential or theoretical vacation plans. I “luv” their flexibility!
What Happens to Flights Booked with Credit Card Points?
For other points currencies (think Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, U.S. Bank Flexperks, etc.), it can get a bit complicated. The ticketing airline‘s policies will apply, but you’ll usually have to work with your credit card company to deal with the reservation change or cancellation.
Let’s say you use your Ultimate Rewards points to book a flight on American Airlines. Remember, Chase is acting as a travel agent here, accepting your points as payment to simply book a cash fare on American’s site.
First, check if your ticket is a refundable fare bucket. If your fare is refundable, Chase will then work with American Airlines for a refund. The refund will usually be in the form of travel credit or a statement on your credit card, for the cash value of the ticket.
If your fare isn’t refundable, Chase can still cancel the ticket for you, but you’re not getting anything back. Most of the time, Chase and other banks are happy to try and help resolve the issue and have customer service teams to help with these kinds of issues.
You should pay close attention to the fare rules of the ticket you’re buying since the airline‘s policies will ultimately dictate your fate. Whenever possible, take advantage of Southwest’s flexible policies or any frequent flyer elite status you have. (Or, just cancel within 24 hours of booking.)
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