Avoiding the Close-In Booking Fee for United Airlines Awards

Many US-based airlines charge a “close-in booking fee”, whereby they charge an extra fee for booking an award ticket within 21 days of your scheduled departure. Generally this is in the vicinity of $75, as it is with United Airlines. However, there is an easy hack that allows you to avoid paying United’s $75 close-in booking fee. This has been chronicled a few times before, originally by Mile Value in October 2014, and again by Well Traveled Mile in March.

As tested this morning, I can confirm that this trick does still work, and that you do not need to call-in to United customer service. Rather, it works like a charm doing it online, and the entire process took less than 5 minutes from start to finish.

I am looking to take a one-way flight from Santa Barbara to San Francisco this Friday, September 4th. Limited airlines fly out of Santa Barbara, and United is the only one who flies non-stop to SFO, so using British Airways Avios for one of their 4,500 mile one-way awards will unfortunately not be a viable option. Given the absurd cash prices for flying from SBA to SFO ($435 nonstop, $325 with a connection, or $200 using a throwaway ticket), spending 10,000 miles seems like a bargain, but I am not interested in paying the $75 close-in booking fee.

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 9.41.47 AM

United allows free changes to award flights within 24 hours, so I decided to take a shot at this tactic.  I booked this route for a random date in October, and paid 10,000 miles plus $5.60 in taxes to complete the reservation.  A minute later, I went back in to my United account to view my itinerary.  I then clicked “Change Flights”, and conducted a search for the same route on September 4th, and this is what I saw:

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 9.45.59 AM

With just a few clicks of the mouse, I was able to change my ticket from October to this coming Friday, for no fee at all, ultimately making a reservation three days in advance for no booking fee!

This may be a glitch where the computer fails to assess the fee upon a ticket change, but the comments to Well Traveled Mile’s post indicate that you have been able to do this for months, so maybe it is just a back-door trick.

Either way, it is still available for now.  So if you have to make a last-minute award redemption on United, don’t simply accept that you need to pay a $75 booking fee – try booking a flight with the same routing for a day more than three weeks in the future, and then change it to your desired date.  You’ve got nothing to lose, and possibly $75 per person to save!

Michael Prodanovich is a contributor to Point Me to the Plane, and author of The Ultimate Guide to Free Travel

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  1. This has been around for a long time and is one of those things that I wrestled with posting myself. It is a glitch and too much attention drawn to it could end it. Hopefully it is just one of those things that United feels would be too difficult to prevent, which they may since it will not be something everyone feels comfortable with (what if the last seat disappears on a last minute booking, for example).

  2. Interesting, but don’t you need to be at least Plat to avoid the change fee? Booked award tickets some time ago, but a better option came up 1 day before travel – had to pay 2x$50 (since I am Silver) to change it…

    • Interesting. I am not sure. I have no status at all and did not have to pay a change fee – so I unfortunately I don’t know the exact mechanics of the intricacies of the rule.

  3. On your second screenshot it looks like there was no standard 10,000 mile award availability on 9/4 but you were still able to change the booking? Interesting.

    • So you found this out on yourself? Or did you learn in somewhere in the Internet thanks to other people posting about it? Get off your horse.

      • I credited two other blogs for discussing this, and used my post as a confirmation that it still works. Additionally, View from the Wing and Points With a Crew have also touched on this subject in the past, so I am far from the only one discussing this, or bringing it to the forefront.

    • So you’re asking if you can change a ticket, and then cancel if within 24 hours if you change your mind? I would think so, but I cannot speak with certainty.

  4. Thanks for the tip. This trick still works as of Jan 2016 for Award Saver tickets. The trick to keep in mind is to choose a random future date that is more than 21 days from today. To play safe, I chose a random date that’s 60 days later.

  5. 2/10/16 – Still Good

    Was terrified I’d get charged $75 change fee + $75 close-in fee.

    Thankfully, neither. This trick worked for me today, saved $75! Thanks Michael!

    Like Michael (the author), I also have no status. I booked for about 35 days in the future, then 5 minutes later (soon as ticketed) I went to reservation > Change flight(s) > rolled ’em back to 2/17 and 2/22 for 0 miles and $0.

  6. i just tried this March 21st and it didnt work either trying to change vie united web site or calling. Web site gave me an error and then I called and he said there will be a 75 fee.

    • @Chad – Confirmed this morning this still works fine. What error did you receive on the website? You’re simply booking the same route but for a different date.

    • I seem to have gotten the same error as you Chad. I wonder if they updated the system to disallow this.

      When I got the final page, the page was missing information such as traveler name(s) and T&Cs. Then when I clicked submit, it said they were unable to change online and I need to call in. Darn, I really needed this to work for a last minute flight this weekend.

      I guess I’m going to have to try HUCA. Or else the system has finally be fixed.

      • Update: I was able to call in and change the flight on the first try. Unfortunately, the flights that I wanted, the agent couldn’t see them available on his screen under the Saver Award. He mentioned that sometimes they have more flights available online to promote people booking online more than calling in. I ended up having to change where I’m flying into. This means an extra 30-45 min drive between airport but it beats paying $75 to book the other flight!

  7. Still works 5/8/16. The flight I wanted didn’t show up on the list for “Change Flight” at all, but I called in and with a little searching (it has 2 stops, which I guess doesn’t show up on default for the agent on the phone?) she was able to find it and change my flight with extra charges! No mention of the Close-In fee

  8. May 22nd. Today’s Update:
    Error in trying to change the flights online. But successfully changed the flight date through the phone call and no fees charged!

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