Will changing my award ticket to Israel cost me?
Costly switch fees often waived for bad weather, man-made calamities
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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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
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
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
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
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