How to Avoid Airline Change and Cancellation Fees

Travel

Whether you’re a master trip planner who books everything in advance or a last-minute adventurer, sometimes things happen. Unfortunately, there are times when you have to postpone or cancel a trip.

When that happens, airlines tend to charge up to $200 in change and cancellation fees (and even more for international flights). It can sometimes cost more than the ticket itself.

couple at airport

Luckily, there are many ways to avoid airline change and cancellation fees.

15 Tips for Avoiding Airline Change and Cancellation Fees

Below are some things you can do to get out of paying these fees:

1. Cancel Within 24 Hours

Every major airline has a 24-hour free cancellation policy. A few airlines have restrictions depending on your departure date.

American Airlines’ 24-hour cancellation policy requires flights to be booked at least 2 days before departure. JetBlue and Spirit Airlines’ policy only applies when travel is booked at least 7 days before departure.

2. Book a Refundable Ticket

Refundable tickets cost more, but it might be worthwhile if you want absolute peace of mind. With some airlines, refundable tickets come with other benefits, like higher mileage earnings and extra baggage allowance. All of these are worth factoring into your decision to book a refundable fare. For example, JetBlue’s Blue Flex fares allow free changes. All you have to pay is a fare difference, if there is one.

3. Choose Airlines That Offer Free Changes

A few airlines allow free changes and cancellations, which can offer huge savings if you’re traveling with a group. You might come across similar fares across multiple airlines. When that’s the case, book with the carrier that offers free changes and cancellations:

Frontier Airlines

Booking in advance pays off with Frontier because the airline offers free changes 90+ days before departure. If you change your ticket within 14–89 days of departing, you’ll incur a $49 change fee. This is still a bargain compared to the $200 Delta and United Airlines charge. Flight changes within 13 days will incur a $99 change fee. At this point, you might also notice a fare increase, so the cost to change could be even higher.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest remains one of the most passenger-friendly airlines out there, thanks to its two-free-checked bags policy and free changes and cancellations. All you have to pay is an applicable fare difference. If you choose to cancel a Wanna Get Away Fare (???), you’ll receive your refund in the form of a Southwest credit. The credit can be applied towards future travel (must be redeemed within a year).

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines is another airline known for its customer-friendly policies. If you change or cancel your flight reservation more than 60 days before the departure date, there are no fees associated with the change or cancellation.

However, if you make changes or cancellations within 60 days of departure, there is a fee that ranges from $0 to $125, depending on the fare type and circumstances. It’s essential to review Alaska Airlines’ specific policies to understand what fees may apply to your booking.

4. Ask for a Waiver

Despite what an airline’s cancellation policy may be, it’s always worth it to ask for a waiver if your travel plans suddenly change. In the case of weather issues, airlines will offer waivers proactively. If you have a medical reason or personal emergency, airlines will waive change and cancellation fees if you’re able to provide documentation.

And if none of these scenarios apply to you? Call and ask anyway. Earlier this year, my family and I were flying to New York on two separate domestic flights: One group was on JetBlue and the other on American. When we showed up at the airport, the American Airlines check-in agent couldn’t find the second half of our reservation—even though I had a confirmation number.

After a few hours of getting nowhere, we realized the trip had to be rescheduled. I called JetBlue and explained what happened. I was able to get all ticket change fees waived for the group traveling with that airline. Sometimes customer service agents will make exceptions to the rule. It’s always worth a try to ask.

5. Get Reimbursed by Your Credit Card Company

Many rewards credit cards nowadays offer trip cancellation and interruption coverage. If you need to cancel a trip for a “covered” reason, you can file a claim with your credit card company and get reimbursed for non-refundable travel expenses. Covered reasons vary by credit card, but generally include illness and severe weather.

It’s important to note that this coverage is secondary. If you purchase travel insurance, your credit card’s coverage will only kick in if the travel insurance company denies your claim. The other coverage stipulation is that your trip must be charged to the applicable credit card.

Below is a breakdown of popular credit cards that offer trip interruption and cancellation:

Chase Sapphire Preferred – $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip for your prepaid, non-refundable travel expenses. This policy covers the cardholder and immediate family members.

Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Ink Business Preferred, United Club Card – Same coverage as the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Marriott Bonvoy Premier Credit Card – $5,000 worth of coverage per trip.

The World of Hyatt Credit Card – $5,000 worth of coverage per trip.

6. Earn Elite Status

This is more of a plan-in-advance solution, since earning airline elite status takes time and effort. Airline elite members qualify for various perks, including waived fees on flight changes and cancellations.

Earning elite status has become more difficult, with so many airlines incorporating revenue requirements into their elite status qualifications. However, many credit cards let you earn elite-qualifying credits so you can get there faster.

Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard – Earn 10,000 elite-qualifying miles after spending $40,000 per calendar year.

AAdvantage Aviator Silver Mastercard – Earn 5,000 EQMs after spending $20,000 per calendar year. Earn another 5,000 EQMs after spending an additional $20,000.

AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard – Earn $3,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars after spending $25,000 in a calendar year.

JetBlue Plus Card – Earn JetBlue Mosaic status after spending $50,000 in a calendar year.

7. Utilize Same-Day Changes

Some airlines offer same-day change options for a reduced fee compared to standard change fees. This can be an excellent way to avoid paying the full change fee while still making adjustments to your itinerary. Here are a few examples of airlines offering same-day change options:

  • American Airlines: For a $75 fee, you can change to a different flight on the same day of travel, as long as the new flight has the same origin and destination.
  • Delta Air Lines: Delta offers same-day confirmed flight changes for a $75 fee, with some restrictions. The new flight must have the same origin, destination, and routing.
  • United Airlines: United allows same-day flight changes for a $75 fee, but the new flight must be within 24 hours of the original flight and have the same origin and destination.

8. Leverage Airline Alliances and Partner Airlines

Airline alliances and partner airlines can sometimes offer more flexibility when it comes to changing or cancelling your flight. If you’re a member of a frequent flyer program or have elite status with one airline, you might find that partner airlines within the same alliance offer similar benefits or reduced fees.

  • OneWorld Alliance: Includes airlines such as American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, and Qantas. OneWorld offers a range of benefits, including easier ticket changes and cancellations for elite members.
  • Star Alliance: Consists of airlines like United Airlines, Air Canada, Lufthansa, and Singapore Airlines. Star Alliance Gold and Silver members can enjoy various benefits, including reduced or waived change and cancellation fees.
  • SkyTeam Alliance: Comprises airlines such as Delta Air Lines, Air France, KLM, and Korean Air. SkyTeam Elite and Elite Plus members can benefit from more flexible ticket policies and reduced fees.

9. Monitor Flight Schedule Changes

Keep an eye on your flight schedule, as airlines occasionally make changes to departure and arrival times. If there’s a significant change in your flight’s schedule, you may be eligible for a free change or cancellation without penalty. Always review your airline’s policy on schedule changes, as this can vary between carriers.

10. Consider Trip Cancellation Insurance

Purchasing trip cancellation insurance can provide extra protection and peace of mind. While travel insurance policies vary, some comprehensive plans include coverage for trip cancellation or interruption due to unforeseen circumstances. Make sure to carefully review the policy’s terms and conditions to ensure it covers your specific needs.

11. Use Award Tickets

Booking flights using award miles can sometimes offer more flexibility in terms of cancellation or change fees. Depending on your frequent flyer program, award tickets might have lower fees or be completely refundable. Keep in mind that redepositing miles or points might still incur a fee, but it’s often less than the fee for changing or cancelling a paid ticket.

13. Connect with Airlines via Social Media

Reaching out to airlines through social media channels like Twitter and Facebook can sometimes yield positive results in terms of fee waivers or reductions. While it’s not a guaranteed solution, airlines are often more responsive and accommodating on social media, as they aim to maintain a positive public image. Be polite and concise when explaining your situation, and you might find yourself getting a more favorable outcome.

14. Bundle Your Flights with Hotels and Car Rentals

Bundling your flights with hotel stays and car rentals can sometimes offer more flexibility and protection when it comes to change and cancellation fees. Many travel booking sites and airlines offer package deals that include flexible cancellation or change policies, which can save you money if your plans change.

15. Be Flexible with Your Travel Dates

Having flexible travel dates can make it easier to avoid change and cancellation fees. If you can move your trip by a few days or weeks, you may find that airlines are more willing to work with you to avoid fees. Additionally, traveling during off-peak seasons can result in lower fees and greater availability for changes and cancellations.

Final Thoughts

Changing or cancelling your travel plans doesn’t have to be expensive or a hassle. Book with the right airline, use the right credit card, and you won’t have to pay a change or cancellation fee when you need to change your plans. And if those options aren’t available to you? It never hurts to call the airline and ask for a fee waiver anyway. The worst they can do is say no.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between a change fee and a cancellation fee?

A change fee is a fee charged by the airline when you make changes to your existing flight reservation, such as changing the date, time, or routing of your flight. A cancellation fee, on the other hand, is charged when you cancel your flight reservation altogether. The fees for changing and cancelling a flight can vary depending on the airline and the type of ticket you purchased.

Can I avoid cancellation and change fees if I have travel insurance?

Travel insurance may cover cancellation and change fees, but this depends on the specific policy you have and the reason for the change or cancellation. Generally, travel insurance covers cancellations and changes due to covered reasons, such as illness, severe weather, or a death in the family. If you’re considering purchasing travel insurance, carefully review the policy to understand what is and isn’t covered.

Are cancellation and change fees always non-refundable?

In most cases, cancellation and change fees are non-refundable. However, some airlines may offer credits or vouchers that can be applied toward future travel instead of charging a direct fee. It’s important to review the specific airline’s policies to understand their approach to change and cancellation fees.

Ariana Arghandewal
Meet the author

Ariana Arghandewal is a travel hacker and travel rewards expert who earns over 1.5 million miles every year. Since 2012 she has covered rewards travel and credit cards for various publications, including her blog, PointChaser.com. She now writes for The Points Guy.