United Close-in Booking Trick Seems to Be Dead?

United charges up to $75 for awards booked within 21 days of departure.

American has a similar fee, waiving it for all elites. Delta technically doesn’t have a close in booking fee, but most of the cheapest mileage awards on Delta flights require 21 day advance purchase — they charge their close-in fee in miles rather than money.

Years ago you used to be able to book an American AAdvantage award more than 21 days out, avoid the fee, and then call to change dates for free — to within 21 days. They closed that loophole. Of course if American saver award space is available you can book it using British Airways Avios – without a close-in fee.

In contrast the ‘book farther out then change’ trick with United has persisted for a long time. I’ve written about it or linked to others writing about it many times.

With United you’d need to make your change within 24 hours to avoid a fee. This used to work on the website. Back in the fall it still worked if you called in.

Since then it’s been “your milage may vary” or “hang up, call back” if you don’t get the answer you want the first time. I’ve had a couple of agents recently tell me it’s no longer possible to make the free change within 24 hours to move up your date inside of 21 days and avoid the close-in booking fee. Seat 31B had the same experience.

Is it still a case of ‘be persistent’ and eventually you’ll get an agent to do it for you? I’m curious whether anyone has had success this month making such a change with United MileagePlus in order to avoid a $25 – $75 booking fee.

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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  1. I actually just did this 2 days ago on a flight from EWR to LAX for next week. I originally booked it for mid September and then called in and have it changed to mid June. The representative was awesome and didn’t charge me the close in booking fee.

  2. travel thought leader with his thoughts on travel hacking 101! I guess while you were thinking for the past 8+ months now.

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  4. It stopped working for me on March 1, 2018. I assume they published new guidelines, because every rep denied me with the same language.

  5. It worked for me by calling in on Memorial weekend (end of May). Have not tried it in June yet.

  6. @clickbait – sorry you’re late to the party this was still working on a hang up call back basis by phone quite recently.

  7. The system automatically tries to charge the 75$ fee but some representatives don’t know what it’s for so they override assuming the system doesn’t know it’s a change within 24 hours.

  8. For 1K – no fee for making a change or canceling with redeposit 60 or fewer days before departure.
    Only fee for 1K is $125 for no show on reward travel to get the miles redeposited.

  9. Delta de facto has much higher close-in booking fees than the other carriers. For example, right now, they want 64,000 miles to fly SFO-ATL tomorrow; 21,000 miles to fly the same route in 3 weeks – a close-in surcharge of 43,000 miles.. For comparison, United has flights tomorrow from 12,500 miles plus $75 for general members.

  10. Platinum has no close in booking fee but they now charge you $50 to change to a flight less than 60 days out. Dumb.

  11. As with using British Airways to avoid American’s close-in booking fee, you can avoid United’s by booking the same flight through Aeroplan or Singapore’s Krissflyer profram. For domestic flights, Aeroplan’s fee is $7.30 CAD (=$5.60 USD), and Singapore’s is $5.60. I did this last Saturday for a flight this coming Saturday.

    Was tempted to try the United trick, since the flight was 10,000 United miles but 12,500 on Aeroplan or Krissflyer, but didn’t think tying up my miles and the time investment to pull off the trip was going to be worth the 2,500 miles. I went with Aeroplan since I didn’t have enough miles in either account to cover, but Aeroplan is an instant transfer from Amex, whereas I understand Krissflyer can take a few days and I was worried the flight (only a week away) might not still be available by the time the miles posted.

    As is seen in the comments, Gary’s news is current, it’s a state of uncertainty about whether and how often the trick will work. Definitely dying, but not completely extinguished..

  12. Just tried 4x today, no dice as “the computer is charging it”. Said just cancel it if you can’t have a supervisor override, so they asked and it was a no-go so I paid in chase points instead via the portal ~12k pts vs 8k+$17. (lifemiles would have been a little better but the website is a joke). Worked first time 5/31 for the inbound so this is very recent indeed, seems all of my calls were directed via Manila which used to be a sure bet. United’s loss IMO, just wish the lifemiles and krisflyer websites would get better. If there are any ways to not pay $25 to avianca that would be more useful now.

  13. Also avoidable when using Lufthansa miles on United flights. A couple limitations are you can’t have more than two legs on a one way and they seem to not be able to do mixed cabin, even if the agents don’t know that

  14. Worked June 12 at 1st attempt – Also could change the time and NY airports as the original flight 21 days apart was gone when called. Same miles with no Fee.

  15. Worked right now on 3rd call, after a long hold. Definitely getting a lot harder.

  16. 6/26/18 datapoint:

    Worked for me on 2nd call this morning (immediately after the first call). Originally called the Premier (Silver) line and the lady said there was a $50 charge per ticket (was booking for two people) because it was a close-in booking. Told her I’d wait to see if that is really what we wanted to do. Hung up and called the regular United line, but the system recognized my number and diverted me to some Premier agent. Chatted her up better than I did the first one. She came across the $100 in charges and said it shouldn’t be doing that because I just booked the original itinerary this morning. She played around with it and got it taken care of without any fee. Saved $100 by calling in twice!

  17. hey guys – thanks for the great intel. As of July 20, 2018 still works!

    Thankfully i searched on google and this blog came up. So I thought I would pay it forward. I also was able to do this trick successfully. Avoided paying the $50 close in booking fee ($50 for Silver members). Booked a flight 2 days in advance of what I needed (with miles) and then asked to readjust. They made the adjustment and waived the fees.

    A few notes
    – the first person i spoke with on the phone seemed mean, so I hung up and called back. Next lady was clearly in a good mood and I had good banter before asking to change
    – I called at 1AM PST when they were less busy (and probably bored). So maybe find a time slot where they are less busy?

    Good luck and thanks again for the great intel.

  18. Successful update as of September 2018: Found this thread, used the number in the most recent post by John on August 9th at 1-800-421-4655 and got routed to a rep in Philippines who changed my flight from a month out to today without a fee.

  19. This is very YMMV. After reading comments I was encouraged to try this out yesterday. It worked on my third (last one in fact, I was ready to give up) try and saved me $300 bucks. I did call the 800-421-4655 all three times.

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