Points, Miles, and Martinis says that instead of paying $150 to cancel and redeposit miles on an award ticket you don’t plan to take, you can change an award ticket to the least expensive mileage redemption you can find and then be out miles instead of money.
Since I have no United elite status, I’ll incur a fee to get the 280,000 United miles redeposited back into my account.
Instead, my plan is to change my ticket to an award that requires fewer miles, like a 5,000 mile Hawaii intra-island award. Apparently United will refund the difference in both miles and taxes paid. So if all goes as planned, I’ll receive about 270,000 United miles and about $200 back in taxes and fees. But I haven’t tried this approach yet so I can’t say for sure if it will work.
But that doesn’t seem correct to me. Here are United’s fees.
He’d still have to pay a $75 fee to change the origin and destination on his ticket, as well as being out the 5000 miles. He saves $75 in the process, but the 5000 miles are worth at least that much to me.
A top tier elite of course would have no fee at all for a change or cancellation, and thus doesn’t need a strategy here.
But for someone looking to cancel without penalty, the best approach is to wait — there’s no reason to cancel until the days leading up to the flight itself unless you need to use the miles for something else in the interim. And the more time that passes, the greater the chance of a schedule change. Schedule changes are often like get out of jail free cards, “the new schedule doesn’t work for me” and then you cancel for free.
A change of a few hours, or a re-routing, or a change in equipment that means a flight will be in perhaps business rather than first class is often required. If you’re booking award travel particularly far in advance, though, schedule changes are a pretty reasonable bet — or at least there’s enough of a chance that it’s worth waiting for one.