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Will changing my award ticket to Israel cost me?

Costly switch fees often waived for bad weather, man-made calamities

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Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com

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Question Dear Cashing In,
I got an American Express Delta Air Lines credit card a year ago and am using Delta frequent flier miles for a trip to visit family in Israel in August. But now I'm worried that the trip might not happen because of the fighting in Gaza. Will I have to spend a lot of money to change my ticket or cancel it? -- Brian

Answer Dear Brian,
Most of the time, when we use miles from flights and credit cards for award tickets, the vacations go off without a hitch. But sometimes problems arise.

Now, the fighting between Israelis and Palestinians is a rare case. Last week, airlines halted flights into Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport after a rocket landed nearby. Later in the week, carriers resumed flights, although the violence continues.

But the temporary halting of flights raises a larger issue, particularly as we head into hurricane season: What options do you have if you're traveling on an award ticket and the airline cancels your flight because of storms, unstable political situations or some other crisis?

Generally, airlines release advisories in such circumstances that outline passengers' options, but they don't usually address award tickets. Typically, for canceled flights in these circumstances, airlines say they will allow passengers to change their tickets without the usual change fees -- which can run into the hundreds of dollars -- or cancel their tickets and apply the fare to a future flight. Sometimes they even allow this when the flights are operating, such as when there's an approaching storm and they anticipate problems. On the Israel situation, U.S. airlines are waiving these fees for anybody scheduled to fly to Tel Aviv between now and the middle or end of August. 

The same principle applies for those traveling on award tickets. I asked the major U.S. airlines for clarification. American Airlines spokesman Casey Norton told me: "AAdvantage follows the same rules as the overall travel policy for Tel Aviv. You can change your plans before Aug. 31 without being subject to the fees. Same for when we've had hurricanes. We put out a travel advisory, so you can rebook without fees."

United and Delta did not respond, but I think it's safe to say that their policies are similar.

Assuming that's true, Brian, that means you could either change your flight, or cancel it and have the Delta SkyMiles redeposited to your account. Usually, doing either of those would cost $150. You would have to call Delta to make any changes. If you elected to go somewhere else, you would probably have enough miles, because flying to the Middle East on a Delta award ticket is one of the airline's most expensive destinations.

In the future, you might also consider travel insurance if you're planning a trip to a hot spot. Airlines typically sell travel insurance when you book a ticket online, and many credit cards also offer protection against canceled or delayed flights.

But make sure you read the policies carefully before you buy, as they might exclude claims connected to war zones.

See related: How to get to that long-haul international flight for free

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Published: July 29, 2014



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