Yes, you can change or cancel your airline reservations… but it’s probably going to cost you.
If you’ve ever tried to change or cancel a flight, you already know that it doesn’t come cheaply. While some carriers are more lenient than others, many airlines charge hefty change and cancellation fees to help discourage the practice. Unfortunately, sometimes things come up and there is no way around them.
How much will changing or cancelling your flight cost? Are there ways to avoid these extra charges? And, what happens to your miles when you cancel an award flight?
In this piece, we will outline the flight change and cancellation policies for some of the most popular airlines for American travelers. But, before we do that, let’s take a look at some ways you can avoid these fees altogether.
7 Ways to Avoid Airline Change and Cancellation Fees
Don’t want to pay a fee to cancel or change your flight? Here are a some tips for avoiding or minimizing those costs.
- Be sure before you buy. – The easiest and best way to avoid an airline change or cancellation fee is to be sure everything is ready before clicking the buy button. Triple check that your flight itinerary is correct (dates and cities), then check again. If you’re booking a flight for vacation, be sure you’ve thoroughly searched for the best deals and are committed to your flight origin and destination.
- Know the airline’s cancellation policy. – Before booking, it’s important to know the airline’s change and cancellation policy. Some carriers (like Southwest) allow you to cancel or change your reservation without a fee. In that case, there’s no reason to wait on booking your flights. With that said, most airlines aren’t nearly that generous.
- Book round-trip flights whenever possible. – If you book two one-way tickets, a change in plans could affect both tickets. That means you could end up paying an expensive change or cancellation fee on both ends. If you book a round-trip flight and need to change it, at least you’ll only pay one fee.
- Make use of the 24-hour rule. – For flights operating within or coming to the U.S., carriers are required to hold reservations for a quoted fare or allow penalty-free cancellations on paid reservations which are cancelled within 24-hours of booking. However, this rule only applies if the reservation was made at least 7 days before the departure date. Each airline also applies the rule differently (ie: you may be able to hold flights but not cancel paid flights), so use it carefully.
- Have your documentation ready. – On rare occasions (like a death or natural disaster), an airline may forgive any change and cancellation fees as long as you can provide the proper documentation.
- Consider getting travel insurance. – Obviously, you don’t want to add expenses if you don’t have to. However, if you have to cancel or change your flights due to illness, injury, or another unexpected event, chances are good that you may have more than just airline fees to worry about. Depending on the situation, certain travel rewards cards may provide insurance to cover some of these costs. You should also consider adding a good travel insurance policy to help cover any unreimbursed expenses, including flight cancellation fees.
- Wait to pay the fee. – If all else fails, wait as long as you can to pay the change or cancellation fee. Airlines routinely modify their flight schedules due to weather and other events. There is always a chance that a change in schedule could benefit you.
Guide to Airline Change and Cancellation Policies
How much will it cost to change or cancel your flight? We’ve summarized the change and cancellation policies for 13 of the most popular airlines below.
Editor’s Note: While we do our best to keep these summaries as current as possible, always speak with your specific airline about their current change and cancellation policy before making any decisions about your flight reservations. Please see our disclaimer for more.
Alaska Airlines: Alaska Airlines has a fairly lenient change and cancellation policy, allowing you to change or cancel your reservations free of charge up to 60 days before departure. Within the 60-day window, their standard change fee is $125 while “Same-Day Confirmed Changes” run just $25. The standard change fee is waived for refundable first class tickets, and all fees are waived for their Mileage Plan MVP Gold and Gold 75K members.
Allegiant Air: At Allegiant, you can purchase “Trip Flex” with your tickets, allowing you to make a one-time change to your reservation without paying a change fee. Without the Trip Flex option, Allegiant charges a change fee of $75 for each leg you alter. Additionally, changes and cancellations are not allowed or credited within 7 days of departure.
American Airlines: On paid fares, American Airlines charges a massive $200 change fee on domestic flights and up to $750 for international reservations. Same-day flight changes run $75-$150 for main cabin passengers while business and first class same-day changes are free. Keep in mind that, before booking, you can also place a free hold on tickets for up to 24 hours. You can not, however, cancel a paid booking without charges applying.
Changes to award flights are more complex and only slightly more generous. A change in origin, destination, or participating airline will cost you $150. Cancelling your award flight means you’ll incur a $150 reinstatement fee plus $25 for any additional award tickets reinstated to your account at the same time. All of these charges are waived for Executive Platinum members.
Additionally, you have 21 days after booking award flights to change your dates, flight times, or ticket class at no cost. After that, adjustments to these items results in a $75 processing fee. This fee is waived for Executive Platinum, Platinum Pro, Platinum, and Gold members.
British Airways: British Airways does not have a standard change or cancellation fee for paid fares. Instead, fees are calculated based on the type of ticket purchased. On the other hand, award flights booked with Avios miles and departing from the U.S. are subject to a $55 change fee for date and time changes. Cancellation will also result in a $55 fee for redepositing your points. Changes and cancellations made to “Gold Priority Rewards” bookings are free of charge.
Delta Airlines: Delta Airlines charges a hefty $200 change fee on paid flights within the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Changes to all other international travel itineraries run $200-$500 and may only be allowed on your return ticket. Please note that basic economy fares are not eligible for changes.
Same-day confirmed changes are $75 for Silver Medallion members, but the fees are waived for Diamond, Platinum, and Gold Medallion members. Changes to award flights incur a $150 redeposit or reissue fee and may not be made less than 72 hours prior to your original departure time.
Frontier Airlines: Frontier Airlines charges a flat $99 fee to change or cancel flights on paid tickets, including same-day flight changes. This fee is waived for those purchasing “The Works” fares. Award flights may be changed at no additional cost for up to 8 or more days before departure.
Hawaiian Airlines: Hawaiian Airlines charges change fees of $30 for paid flights to neighboring islands, $200 for paid flights to the U.S. mainland, and $50-$300 on paid international flights. Tickets purchased with miles can be changed within the same ticketing class for $30 to neighboring islands, $50 to the U.S. mainland, and $150 for international flights. Award flights may also be subject to a redepositing fee of $150 on U.S. and international flights and a $30 fee on flights to neighboring islands. Restricted refundable fare tickets are subject to a refund fee of $25 on flights to neighboring islands and $100 on all other flights.
JetBlue: JetBlue has a tiered change and cancellation policy based on the purchase price of the ticket. Cancelling or changing your flight will cost $75 for fares $99 or less, $100 on fares below $150, and $150 on fares costing $150 and more. Changes and cancellations to “Mint” fares can be made more than 60 days before departure for just $75 and $150 after that. Same-day changes are available for $75, and changes or cancellations to Blue Flex Fares are handled at no cost.
Southwest Airlines: Southwest Airlines has the most flexible change and cancellation policy available, charging zero fees to change or cancel your flight. Yes, you read that right: You can change or cancel any upcoming Southwest reservation for free. On paid flights, refunds come in the form of a non-transferable credit. Changed or cancelled award flights, regardless of whether you earned your points from paid flights or by using a Southwest credit card, will see your points redeposited at no charge. Naturally, you’ll have to make up any price or point difference if you change your reservation to a more expensive ticket.
Spirit Airlines: Spirit Airlines allows you to make online modifications or cancellations for $90 while changes made at the airport or over the phone incur a $100 change fee. Changes to group bookings can be made for $50 per person. Flights booked with rewards can be modified or cancelled for $110. Changes are allowed up to an hour prior to your scheduled departure, and cancellations must be made before the first flight of your itinerary departs.
Sun Country Airlines: Sun Country airfares are non-refundable but may be changed prior to your scheduled departure. A change fee of $50 applies to paid flights within the U.S. and $100 for changes to international flights (including Puerto Rico and St. Thomas). Tickets booked using Ufly Rewards points are still subject to change fees, and points are refunded in the form of a voucher.
United Airlines: United Airlines has one of the most complex and restrictive change and cancellation policies of all. For paid flights, a $200 change fee applies to domestic flights. You could be charged $400 or more to change flights included in international itineraries. For passengers who are not MileagePlus Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, or Premier 1K members, same-day changes run $75 per person.
United’s change and cancellation fees for award flights are based on your membership level and when the change or cancellation is made. (Don’t forget, you can transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points here at a 1:1 ratio.) Charges run between $25 and $125. MileagePlus Premier 1K members are exempt from all award flight change fees except the $125 redeposit fee after a “no show.”
Virgin America: Virgin America offers a $25 “Plans Change Pass” for paid main cabin reservations, allowing you to make unlimited changes to your flight origin, destination, date, and time. For other paid reservations, change and cancellation fees are based on the type of ticket you purchase and the region in which you are traveling.
Both change and cancellation fees run $100-$150 on non-refundable tickets, regardless of class. Same-day changes can be made for $25-$50 depending on the flight. A redeposit fee of $100 is charged on flights booked with Elevate rewards points. (Please note: As of December 31, 2017, Elevate points are no longer available to be used or earned. You can convert any unused points to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles.)
Navigating the various airline change and cancellation policies can be a tedious and expensive affair – especially if you don’t understand a carrier’s policy in advance. Whenever possible, it’s best to do everything in your power to avoid these situations entirely. Trust me, your wallet will thank you.
We hope this guide to changing and cancelling flights has been helpful. As always, please leave any comments or questions below. Happy traveling!