How to Avoid Airline Change and Cancellation Fees

Whether you’re a master trip planner who books everything in advance of a last-minute adventurer, sometimes things happen and a trip has to be postponed or canceled altogether. When that happens, airlines like to tack on fees upwards of $200, which can sometimes cost more than the ticket itself.

couple at airport

Luckily, there are many ways you can avoid airline change and cancellation fees. Below are a few steps you can take to get out of paying these fees:

1. Cancel Within 24 Hours

Every major airline has a 24-hour free cancellation policy. Book your ticket and you won’t have to pay any fees when you cancel up to 24 hours later. 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. Book with an Airline That Allows 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

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

Southwest

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 that can be applied towards future travel (must be redeemed within a year).

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 flights: One group was on JetBlue and the other on American. When we showed up to 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, explained what happened and was able to get all the 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 pre-paid, 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 a variety of 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, there are lots of credit cards that let you earn elite-qualifying credits so you can 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.

Final Thoughts

Changing or canceling your travel plans doesn’t have to be expensive or a hassle. Book with the right airline, using the right credit card and you won’t have pay out of pocket 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.

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.