We are all in this hobby to get free flights and hotel stays. But sometimes things come up that make us need to change our plans. While hotels usually allow you to cancel within a few days before your reservation without penalty, airlines in general have very different policies. With the exception of Southwest, almost every airline charges steep fees to redeposit your miles into your account after you cancel a mileage redemption ticket (sometimes up to $150 or more), leaving you to decide if it is worth it to buy back your own miles.
I had the unfortunate experience of being in such a situation. I was in Panama City for a couple of days in January after spending two weeks in Nicaragua, and prior to spending two weeks in Colombia. My return flight was a mileage redemption ticket on American Airlines from Bogota, Colombia, for which I spent 17,500 miles for a one-way economy class ticket. Unfortunately, I managed to severely sprain my ankle (and tear some ligaments, too, for good measure) in Panama City, and knew that I would have to be off of my feet for a couple of weeks, and would not be able to enjoy Colombia as I wanted to. I got a flight home the next day on United, as they had better timing and routing for that day. For this ticket, I paid the same amount that I had already paid for my American Airlines ticket, 17,500 miles for a one-way economy class ticket.
I had already been back home in California for nearly two weeks by the date of my previously-ticketed American flight home from Colombia. I canceled my ticket, but before paying the redeposit fee, I decided to hope for mercy from American. I wrote in to Customer Relations and told them my story, and said I’d be happy to furnish a copy of the paperwork from my trip to the medical clinic in Panama. They wrote back within 48 hours and said that due to the exigent circumstances, they’d be happy to waive the redeposit fee, and give me my miles back for free.
In the era of poor quality flights and even worse customer service, this was certainly a breath of fresh air. Their graciousness in this situation (as opposed to my inquiry to AA Customer Relations about the checked bag fees to Cuba) not only made me feel valued like a human being, but also saved me from making the decision as to if it was worth shelling out $150 just to get my 17,500 miles returned. I value American miles at around 1.5 cents each, so I likely would have done it, but it would have been a bitter pill to swallow.
A family member of mine was in a similar situation recently as well, also with American Airlines. She had to have minor surgery about 10 days before a flight, which would have made it extremely difficult for her to take the trip as planned. She canceled her ticket and wrote in to AA Customer Relations. Just like in my experience, AA wrote back within 48 hours and agreed to waive the redeposit fee.
Sometimes good customer service still exists. And the moral here is that if you have to cancel an award flight due to health or injury, definitely go ahead and ask if they’ll waive the redeposit fee for you. You don’t get what you don’t ask for, so you’ve got nothing to lose, and you may be surprised at what you hear in response.
Michael Prodanovich is a contributor to Point Me to the Plane, and author of The Ultimate Guide to Free Travel