|by Amy Chen||Airlines, Frequent Flier Miles||5|
Beginning Thursday July 30, United drops its fee for award redemptions less than 3 weeks in advance of travel.
Previously, last-minute travelers were slapped with a $75 fee if they booked an award travel ticket 7 to 20 days before and $100 if the award travel was ticketed six days or less. "United first introduced these fees to the Mileage Plus program on October 16, 2006," says travel awards expert Gary Leff.
This is surprising news for frequent fliers: As Mark Ashley has blogged, "Man bites dog! Airline reverses fee!" United had been trying to discourage travelers from booking last-minute seats using reward miles because the airline thought it could sell those extra seats to full-paying customers at the last-minute instead. United's latest move truly rewards its most loyal customers.
I've actually paid $200 to go nowhere on what should have been a free ticket. Last November, a family emergency prompted me to redeem an award ticket on American Airlines. I grabbed the first flight I could and paid the $50 AAdvantage Award fee for booking 7 to 20 days in advance. The only available award itinerary had two layovers, but I booked it because I needed to get home to the Bay Area.
A few days later when the emergency turned out to be less dire, I changed my ticket to fly nonstop from New York to San Francisco (and reluctantly paid the $150 change fee for the privilege).
But then I searched on Kayak and found an affordable red-eye flight that allowed me to go home without missing work. Thank goodness for small favors: Once you lock in the airports on a mileage ticket, you don't have to keep paying a change fee. As a result, I've moved my travel dates twice because each time, I've managed to find unbelievable cross-country fares on airlines like JetBlue ($231 to Oakland is my personal best). So here I am eight months after I originally tried to redeem my miles and I still haven't used my American Airlines ticket. It's starting to stress me out.
Here's hoping American Airlines will follow United's lead on eliminating last-minute award booking fees. My mileage ticket expires this November!