Delta’s 72 Hour Rule & $150 Award Change Fee? Not This Time

I flew out today to visit my uncle who had a stroke. My outbound was American and return on Delta. My wife was supposed to fly with me, but one of our dogs is sick (we were up much of the night), and she made the call to take the dog to the vet today — this isn’t something we could leave to our dogsitter.

I had booked outbound travel on American, paid ticket for me and mileage ticket for my wife, return on Delta using miles for both of us.

It was no problem cancelling the mileage ticket on American. I’m an Executive Platinum member and get free cancellation and redeposit of award tickets. So even though she was already checked in and it was two hours prior to flight, it was just a quick phone call to get miles back in my account.

Delta was supposed to be trickier.

  • Delta’s rules are that there are no changes to award tickets within 72 hours of travel at all.
  • I have no elite status with Delta.
  • The change fee is $150 in any case and I’d be on the bubble whether or not to pay that to get my miles back.

So what’s even the incentive to let Delta know she wouldn’t be traveling? Well I figured there might be another passenger trying to get on the flight and making one more seat available to someone else was worth a call. Maybe they’d process someone’s upgrade earlier.

I rang up Delta, explained to the agent that I would be flying but my wife wouldn’t be. I told her the reason for the trip and why we needed to cancel her travel. I did not even ask for any favors.

She went ahead and cancelled my wife’s reservation. Then I asked, “is there any way to get some of the miles back?”

The agent paused for a moment and said “well normally it would be $150” not mentioning the airline’s 72 hour rule “but let me see if I can get that waived.” She puts me on hold, comes back a couple of minutes later and says that she’d be able to do it, just let her know the hospital where my uncle was admitted to document the record and she’d refund the miles and the taxes.

This was taken care of during the time I boarded my American Airlines outbound flight, less than 24 hours before the Delta flight’s scheduled departure.

When frequent flyer programs launched award tickets were supposed to be a reward for loyalty, and award customers were expected to be treated better than paying customers. There are often steep change fees on award tickets now, but mileage awards are for the most part still cancellable with points redeposited into an account. In other words even after myriad rule changes over the years, inventory issues aside, they’re still more flexible than paid tickets.

Miles aren’t just an alternative currency used to purchase travel or services from an airline, they are a thank you for your business, and redeeming miles should feel like a reward and not a punishment. Delta got this one right.

Update: Not for nothing but a contrasting experience was when my 15 year 10 month old dog passed away in January. I cancelled a weekend trip and Hyatt refused to extend my 120-day expiring category 7 free night, even though they had just announced that those certificates would be valid for 180 days going forward.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Glad to see how DL handled this, and thank you for acknowledging the good service.

    Best of luck to your aunt and uncle and hope your dog gets better. Rough week.

  2. First, all the best to your uncle. And hope the dog gets well soon.

    Good to see Delta stepped up on this. Found out about this rule in 2016 (big surprise) when we needed to cancel a Delta award on Alitalia after husband contracted flu/bronchitis bordering on pneumonia. We did end up cancelling just prior to the 72 hour deadline because of the doctor visit diagnosis, but we did get a doctor’s letter which we were told would avoid the fee should we have cancelled inside the 72 hours.

  3. Indeed, a nice move by Delta. But in the grand scheme of things, miles shmiles…here’s hoping that your uncle and dog are both doing as well as possible.

  4. I hate Delta’s 72 hour rule. Makes a lot of things damn near impossible- want to upgrade your seat? Can’t do it. Last minute cancellation? Get bent.

  5. Yea on a recent trip I wanted to change my departure date on a delta award at the last minute and ran smack into that 72 hour rule which just sucked. I rarely need to make last minute changes and the one time something came up Delta gave me the cold shoulder and then I got to fly stuffed into a plane like cattle.

  6. @ Gary — DL never enforces that stupid rule (or most other rules) on me as a 1.9996 MM Diamond. (One more flight to 2 MM!)

  7. I recently had a similar situation with a (partly) different outcome.

    A close relative became seriously ill and my wife and I needed to cancel two award tickets each. Outbound was with American, inbound with Delta. We had no status with either airline.

    Delta treated us well, we did not even need to ask for any favors. As the agent learned about the situation, she suggested she would find out if she could waive the cancellation fee. Sure enough, we got the miles back and the cancellation fee was waived.

    With American no such luck, even after asking. The rules are there to be followed. As it was a good bunch of miles, we both paid the $150 fee to redeposit the miles.

  8. Delta will waive that 72 hour waiver if reason legitimate… better have credible note from doctor….unfortunately a former client of mine found out that the sick puppalito wasn’t a valid excuse…..regardless of what we think 🙁

  9. Some hotels are better than others. The resort at Squaw Creek very kindly agreed to refund a prepaid room booked thru visa infinite concierge after my son tore his ACL. Very kind of them and we will likely be very loyal to that property now.
    I think the moral of both your Delta story and mine is that it pays to call .::

  10. DL refunded my miles on 2 award tickets. I was going to see the grand kids a couple weeks ago but had a death in the family down on Barbados. I called DL to get a ticket but they don’t fly there anymore. Agent was awesome. She canceled my award ticket and even suggested I tell AA about the death and possibly get the bereavement fare. AA price was high so I ended up using 52k for the round trip with the return in business. Even under the circumstances they wouldn’t waive the close in award ticketing fee. It’s a business first. I get it. I had used skymiles for a friend to come visit me the following weekend and had totally forgotten to cancel the ticket. When I realize it I called DL and explain that I was out the country and had forgotten to cancel outside the 72 hour window. No problem. Ticket cancelled and miles back in my account. Full disclosure; I’m a DM MM but still it’s not a DM perk so they didn’t have too. Little things like this keeps me loyal.

  11. This is why Delta customers are so loyal. I have had so many things happen and they always take care of me. That awful Icelandic volcano, did a doozy on Europe flights. We had to cancel our trip. Delta over-rode inventory and give me replacement flights on the same phone call. Even re-issuing the ticket as it was over 365 days old. American used to be like that, not now though.

  12. Hope the family and dog are well. Have had to change plans more than once with for the 4 leg family members. I just do not use Delta point redemption is too high.

  13. I stopped flying Delta altogether because of the 72 hour advance award cancel rule. Switched to American Airlines for my 100K+ miles flown per year.

  14. Thanks for sharing this story, Gary. It’s nice to hear when a company does the right thing — and when an employee is actually empowered to do so at a major airline like Delta. I have to say, I had a similarly surprising experience with Delta a couple of months ago. I held Medallion status years ago, but have not had status with them in several years. I had an international vacation scheduled and, due to work, I had to cancel at the very last minute. I was really disappointed. I was traveling on a non-refundable (paid) leisure ticket and it wouldn’t have been worth the change fees to think about a refund. But, I called, to let them know I was going to no-show. The agent asked for the reason I couldn’t make it (work.) She asked me to hold the line for a moment and she came back. “Is there any other reason at all that you’re canceling?” I explained some more detail of the situation, but was straight-forward that it was work-related and I understood this was a non-refundable ticket. A few minutes later she came back and explained that there was a waiver due to weather that could be applied to the flight in this particular circumstance and she issued a credit for the full value of the ticket — and made my day. It took a bit of the sting out of canceling a long-awaited vacation and really made me think so much more favorably of Delta.

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