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How to change your travel plans when you booked with rewards

Travel providers are offering more generous change and cancellation policies due to the pandemic


If you’re considering postponing or canceling a trip you booked with rewards, travel providers might let you do so without a penalty. Here’s what you need to know.

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If the COVID-19 outbreak has affected your vacation plans, you may be wondering what happens next if you used points or miles to book your trip. For example, can you get those miles or points back if you have to cancel or change your trip? And will you have to pay a fee to do so?

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, these tips can help you better understand your options for managing award travel.

Can you cancel or change a flight booked with miles?

The short answer is yes, though it’s up to the airline to determine which award fares are eligible for cancellation and whether you’ll pay a change or cancellation fee.

Mark Jackson, travel expert at Brad’s Deals, says travelers should always check the airline’s most up to date policy for cancellations and flight changes. If you booked your flight with miles and cancel, miles can be returned to you. But avoiding a fee may hinge on when you booked and your travel dates.

The upside of canceling is that you may be able to rebook later for less, allowing you to stretch miles or points farther.

“Many airlines will try to keep your custom and may even offer prices for future travel at a discounted rate,” says Will Hatton, founder and CEO of travel site The Broke Backpacker.

See related: Need to cancel a nonrefundable flight or hotel? You might have options

Can you cancel a hotel stay booked with points?

You can cancel hotel stays, but be sure to ask what happens to your points if you do so. Under normal, non-pandemic circumstances, advance or prepaid rates may be nonrefundable under the program’s cancellation policy. But many are currently offering expanded cancellation and rebooking policies.

“This depends on the brand, but, as a general rule, the hotel will likely refund you your points,” says Katherine Fan, senior travel features reporter at The Points Guy.

Similar to canceling flights booked with miles or points, the timing may matter for canceling your hotel plans. It could also vary from property to property.

How hotels and airlines are working to accommodate travelers

A number of major airline and hotel brands have updated their cancellation and change policies to help travelers whose plans were affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The best thing you can do if your summer travel plans have been halted by coronavirus is call and speak to customer service.

“Be kind and clear about what you want,” says Fan. “The overall policies vary quite a bit, but most customer service representatives are doing their best to accommodate needs within reason.”

And if you aren’t getting the result you want, “politely end the call and try again with a new rep,” says Fan.

Get to know your travel card’s protections

Hatton says many credit cards can offer key protections when planning summer trips, especially now. If you used your travel rewards card to book, rather than paying with miles or points, look at what’s included with the card. For example, trip cancellation insurance can refund some or all of what you paid if you charged your trip to your card, rather than using points or miles.

But you have to read the fine print. Many cards exclude pandemics as a covered situation, though there are exceptions. If you’re quarantined by a doctor or a government agency enforces a quarantine, your trip cancellation coverage may kick in. Check your card’s policy to see what’s covered and what’s not, says Jackson.

You may also consider purchasing travel insurance to cover future trips. Specifically, check to see if your policy includes “cancel for any reason” coverage, which would allow you to be refunded any money you pay out of pocket for travel.

See related: Should I buy travel insurance?

A wait-and-see approach may be best for managing travel with points or miles

If you’ve been refunded miles or points because you canceled a summer trip, you may be wondering whether it makes sense to rebook now or wait.

“At this time, it’s hard to gauge what travel [will] look like in the future and if we’ll be able to travel as freely as we did before the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Jackson.

There are several unknowns to consider, including whether hotels and airlines will extend their current coronavirus cancellation policies and which destinations may be most affected by the pandemic in the coming months.

Jackson advises canceling and having points or miles returned to you versus rescheduling. If you plan to rebook using points or miles, keep these tips in mind:

  • Look for refundable fares and fares that offer free cancellation.
  • Stay up to date with the hotel or airline’s coronavirus travel policy, as these are changing often and can vary by the date of the ticket or booking.
  • Avoid booking with a mix of cash and points or cash with miles, as the cash portion of your reservation may be nonrefundable.

See related: Maximizing travel rewards when you’re not traveling

Travel providers’ policies

While most travel providers are offering looser change and cancellation policies, what they’re doing and for how long will vary. Here’s what some of the largest travel providers are doing for customers.

AirlineCOVID-19 change policy
Alaska AirlinesFor travel purchased through June 30, 2020, for travel through May 31, 2021. change and cancellation fees are waived.

For travel purchased on or before Feb. 26, 2020, for travel through Dec. 31, 2020, change and cancellation fees are waived.

For canceled fares, miles will be redeposited into your Mileage Plan account.

American AirlinesFor award trips ticketed by June 30, 2020, all reinstatement and change fees are waived.

For trips ticketed on or after June 1, 2020, all reinstatement and change fees are waived, as long as changes are made 60 days or more before travel.

Miles can be redeposited to your AAdvantage account.

Delta Air LinesChange/cancellation fees are waived for travelers who have  flights departing in March through September 2020 or tickets purchased March 1 through June 30, 2020.

Miles for canceled award flights are automatically redeposited to your SkyMiles account.

Frontier AirlinesThe change fee is waived as long as the change is made 60 days before the flight.
JetBlueChange and cancellation fees are waived for all existing reservations ticketed on or before June 30, 2020.

There is no redeposit fee to have TrueBlue points added back to your account.

Southwest AirlinesThere are no change or cancellation fees for award bookings.
SpiritChange and cancellation fees are waived for travel booked by June 30, 2020.
United AirlinesFor tickets issued before March 2, 2020, for travel through Dec. 31, 2020, customers can reschedule for a flight of equal or lesser value for travel 24 months following the original ticket issue date.

For tickets issued by June 30, 2020, customers can reschedule for a flight of equal or lesser value for travel up to 12 months following the original ticket issue date.

Miles can be redeposited to your account with no fee as long as the change is made more than 30 days out.

HotelCOVID-19 change policy
Hilton HonorsCancellation and change fees are waived for bookings made prior to March 12, 2020, are waived between now and Aug. 31, 2020, as long as the change or cancellation is made at least 24 hours prior to the scheduled arrival date.

Any reservation booked between March 12 and Aug. 31, 2020, can be canceled or changed with no penalty, as long as the change or cancelation is made 24 hours prior to the scheduled arrival date.

Hilton Honors members may be eligible for a free night certificate for every canceled night. Stays must be completed by Aug. 31, 2021.

HyattMost World of Hyatt stays booked after July 1, 2020 for travel through Jul 1, 2021 can be changed or canceled with no fee. The same policy applies to most new reservations booked before July 1, 2020.

Changes and cancellations must be done at least 24 hours in advance of your stay.

IHG HotelsIHG Rewards Club Nights can be changed or canceled with no fee prior to the cancellation/change period set by the booking hotel.
Marriott BonvoyGuests with existing reservations can make a change or cancellation up to 24 hours prior to arrival with no fee through July 5, 2020.

Guests making new reservations between now and July 5, 2020 will pay no change or cancellation fees for cancellations made up to 24 hours prior to arrival.

Booking siteCOVID-19 change policy
ExpediaFlights scheduled to return on or before June 30, 2020, can be canceled with no penalty and receive a credit with the airline.

Hotel reservations scheduled to begin on or before June 30, 2020, can be canceled 24 hours in advance with no penalty – as long as the reservation was booked on or before March 19. Customers are eligible for a full refund or a voucher for the original property.

Hotels.comEligible customers who booked prior to March 19, 2020 for stays between March 20 – June 30, 2020, will receive an email giving them the option to cancel their reservation for either a full refund or a voucher for the original property.

Under normal circumstances, customers booking free nights can cancel a refundable booking within the hotel’s cancellation deadline and receive a refund for the award night and redemption fee.

PricelinePriceline honors the cancellation policy of the airline you booked with, but it will not override those cancellation policies.
VRBOFor reservations during the month of June, travel service fees for cancellations are waived “in instances where a trip must be canceled because local governments have enacted laws that restrict travel or prohibit stays in vacation homes for leisure.”

Bottom line

What you do with planned travel might depend on your destination. The Centers for Disease Control offers a map travelers can use for guidance, highlighting the risk level for transmission worldwide. Based on the map, travel to most European countries and China may be best avoided, at least for the near-term. If you’re set on traveling soon, remember that it’s an ongoing situation and things could change quickly.

“Sit tight; treat your miles and points like you would your investments right now,” says Fan. “Don’t prey to the fear that they’ll be worthless when all of this is over.”

Staying flexible with your plans – and how you use your miles or points – can help you make the most of them once you can travel again.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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