Avoiding the Close-In Booking Fee for United Airlines Awards

by Michael

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

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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44 comments

Dan @ Points With a Crew September 1, 2015 - 11:28 am

Very interesting!

Another thing that you can do, depending on what kind of points you have, is to book with an alliance partner that does not charge such a fee. So for American it’s Alaska or British Airways, and for United it could be Air Canada

I wrote about this a few months ago
http://www.pointswithacrew.com/how-to-book-united-american-without-75-close-in-booking-fee/

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Charlie September 1, 2015 - 11:42 am

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).

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shay peleg September 1, 2015 - 10:27 pm

Do you really want to be the one who ruins this deal?

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Artem September 1, 2015 - 3:12 pm

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…

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Michael September 1, 2015 - 4:31 pm

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.

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Artem September 2, 2015 - 5:24 am

Well, I guess if you do it within 24 hours of original booking it does not charge you the change fee…

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Dov September 2, 2015 - 8:51 am

You are definitely subject to a change fee as a No status member but as you were still within the 24 hours of booking the system automatically waive the charge

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Michael September 2, 2015 - 2:00 pm

Makes sense. The 24-hour rule seems to be another good one to take advantage of then, in conjunction with this one.

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E September 1, 2015 - 3:33 pm

Does this work when first booking Y then change to a close in J? e.g. Eva doesn’t have J space until 14 days out.

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Nigel September 1, 2015 - 4:18 pm

I second that question. I’m looking at an Eva flight where J space should open this week for a flight two weeks from now.

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David September 2, 2015 - 9:45 am

I would want to know this too

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Nigel September 4, 2015 - 2:41 am

Can confirm it works on Eva from Y to J.

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Yana September 2, 2015 - 6:29 am

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.

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Greg September 2, 2015 - 10:46 am

Please change the misinformation in your original post about no change fee for United award tickets.

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nun September 2, 2015 - 10:52 am

Why on Earth would you post something like this?

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Giacomo September 2, 2015 - 1:58 pm

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.

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Michael September 2, 2015 - 2:01 pm

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.

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steve September 2, 2015 - 3:00 pm

Can you make this change to avoid the $75 fee, and then cancel the award ticket within 24 hours?

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Michael September 2, 2015 - 3:27 pm

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.

Reply
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DT January 10, 2016 - 10:21 am

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.

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ted February 3, 2016 - 8:20 am

Still works 2/3/16

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Adam February 3, 2016 - 8:54 am

@ted – thanks for the update!

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Tom February 10, 2016 - 5:20 pm

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.

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Michael February 10, 2016 - 5:22 pm

Great, glad to hear!

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NICOLE February 11, 2016 - 11:20 pm

Still works 2/12/16! THANK YOU!

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KP February 24, 2016 - 9:35 pm

Still works 2/24/2016! Thanks all

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Stefan February 24, 2016 - 9:48 pm

Just did it. Still works 2/25/16

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chad March 21, 2016 - 1:57 am

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.

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Adam March 21, 2016 - 7:01 am

@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.

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MB March 22, 2016 - 8:59 am

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.

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MB March 22, 2016 - 9:32 am

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!

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Allen May 8, 2016 - 1:16 pm

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

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Suqi May 19, 2016 - 1:27 am

Still works as of 5/18/2016. No additional charge.Thank you so much for the tips.

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Xing May 21, 2016 - 10:57 pm

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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fang July 16, 2016 - 7:26 pm

Still works as of 7/16/2016. 0 mile and $0. Thanks a lot for the tips!

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Shelley August 15, 2016 - 6:31 pm

Still working as of 8/15/16. Thanks!

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KC December 18, 2016 - 9:42 pm

Just tried the same as suggested, 12/18/16

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Mariah February 17, 2017 - 12:41 pm

2/17/2017 still works!

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Raina August 18, 2017 - 5:00 pm

Just tried–8/18/2017…they must have fixed it. Still wants to ding me on the close-in booking fee online. I’m afraid they may have fixed the glitch! Never booked close in before and am pissed at myself for waiting, of course! Will try calling in case they somehow overlook the fee to change.

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Isabelle August 21, 2017 - 12:58 pm

Did calling help?

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Steven August 28, 2017 - 10:30 pm

August 28, 2017

It didn’t work for me. I didn’t call.

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