How To Avoid United’s $125 Fee For Cancelling An Award, Redepositing Miles

Covering how to prepare yourself for the turmoil of air travel this summer – since so many flights are cancelling, and there are few seats available for rebooking – I suggested booking a backup itinerary using miles for travel later in the day or the next day, and then cancelling the award ticket when your planned flight works out.

However I was asked, “Isn’t United charging for redeposit?” American AAdvantage doesn’t charge a fee for any member to cancel and redeposit miles, but officially United Airlines does unless you are a 1K or Global Services member.

United’s “fee for canceling a ticket for travel originating in the U.S. with miles redeposit 30 or fewer days before departure” is $125 for those without MileagePlus elite status, and it goes down to $50 for Platinum members. However,

  • United has not actually been collecting this fee! Despite published rules requiring it, in practice cancellation within 30 days (even within 24 hours) has been free.

  • And even if United were to change this it would not matter.

Making a change to an award ticket originating in the U.S. inside of 30 days is free. So you’d just change your itinerary travel dates to something in the future and it doesn’t need to be the same itinerary or mileage cost to take advantage of this. Then you’d cancel for free, since cancellation would be occurring more than 30 days to departure.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. Please take this post down. I worry the trick will get killed when it becomes widely used :).

  2. The same works with Aeroplan which has moved away from free cancellation but continues to allows one free change to award tickets. Change your award to any other award with latitude fare and once ticketed, cancel that new award for full refund of miles and cash taxes and fees. Have done that 4-5 times now in the past 6+ months and no issues whatsoever.

  3. I have had multiple WN award tickets for same or next day travel, only to receive an email canceling one reservation because it was impossible to make both flights.

  4. This is called “impossible bookings” and when I was working for Amtrak we did the same thing there. Example: Business traveler not knowing when a meeting would end (instead of just leaving if it ran over, which most meetings shouldn’t) so hedging travel by booking the 4:00, 5:00, 6:00 and 7:00 Acela trains from Washington to New York. It cost revenue for that person to tie up all those trains and no-show for two or more of them. So when we detected it we cancelled all but the last one booked (not the last departure, we looked at when the reservation was made for each) and notified the passenger. Since this happened during busy times we got the other seats back to resell, and we usually did resell them, such was the demand pre-COVID. We did not like telling people at the station, money in hand, that the train was sold out, then having it leave with empty seats.

  5. What about UA cancellation/changes on flights originating in Europe? Looking at their website I could only find an indication that miles can be redeposited or flights changed with no reference to a fee if cancel more than 30 days in advance. Sure would like some clarification about this!

  6. I just cancelled my SK flight a few days ago from OSL to CPH booked with United miles and got all my miles and fees back with no penalty so far

  7. Does this hack work for paid tickets? E.g. I book a regular fare, change it later to a refundable ticket (with extra payment added), then cancel the ticket. Would I then get all the money back, including from the funds I originally used to book regular economy?

  8. What if I booked a round trip ticket, for example DFW-FRA, and change the inbound flight within 30 days of departure? Is it still considered originated from US?

  9. I used my rewards points to book a UA economy round trip flight to North Dakota for myself and my wife. If I cancel my flight within 30 days or less does this have any effect upon my wife’s round trip ticket since she will NOT also be cancelling her flight? Would it effect the free 2 bag baggage limit (one carryon, one regular bag)?

    Alternatively what happens if I use instead the work around that you mentioned for avoiding the $125 redeposit fee? Would it have any effect on my wife’s ticket since she would NOT also be changing her itinerary?

  10. I am flying to Italy next month from US on United miles…no problem changing the date going to Europe. However, when I read the rules for changing from Europe to USA, I was surprised to see there is a $125 fee for changes made less than 30 days from departure. The United rep could not explain the “why” of this rule. People probably change the return TO US much more often that the departure FROM the USA. If I keep extending my United mileage ticket, it seems that each extension will cost $125. Am I missing something here? (That may be why there are always a substantial number of mileage seats available from Europe to USA!)
    I also book overseas travel via Alaska miles – never a fee for changes. So this seems to be my solution: Book a return using Alaska miles, wait until a day before I decide to depart for USA, then book on United miles and cancel the Alaska reservation. (In fact, Alaska rep told me I can cancel the reservation as late as one hour prior to scheduled departure!)

    I still don’t understand this insane United policy. Help.

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