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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 COVID-19 continues to affect your travel plans, you may wonder 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?

The world has largely reopened as COVID cases have fallen and become less severe, though travel still isn’t quite where it was prior to the pandemic — which isn’t quite over yet.

If you fall ill or a destination you’re planning to visit tightens its travel rules, these tips can help you better understand your options if you must change your travel plans.

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.

Travel expert Mark Jackson says travelers should always check the airline’s most up-to-date policy for cancellations and flight changes. Most airlines do not charge a cancellation fee if you cancel a flight that was purchased using miles. 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 of the travel site The Broke Backpacker.

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 travel writer Katherine Fan.

Similar to canceling flights booked with miles or points, the timing may matter for canceling your hotel plans. For example, many chains require that you cancel a reservation at least seven days before your scheduled arrival, and a few will charge a full night’s fee or a two-night penalty if you cancel within a week of your stay.

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 are affected by COVID. The best thing you can do if your 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 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.

However, you must 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.

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 trip, you may wonder whether it makes sense to rebook now or wait a bit longer.

There are several unknowns to consider, including what destinations might be affected by a potential rise in COVID cases. 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 cancellation policy, as these change 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.

Travel providers’ policies

Most travel providers are offering looser change and cancellation policies in the wake of COVID, but the rules can vary. Here’s what some of the largest travel providers are doing for customers.

AirlineChange policy
Alaska AirlinesThere are no change fees for main and first-class fares.

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

American AirlinesFor award trips, all change fees are eliminated. You may also cancel your flight anytime before the first flight departs and reinstate miles, at no charge, anytime up to one year after the ticket issue date.

For trips ticketed, change fees vary depending on the ticket purchased.

Miles can be redeposited to your AAdvantage account.

Delta Air LinesAs of Jan. 12, 2022, all tickets for Main Cabin or above do not charge any change or cancel fees, and you may change or cancel prior to departure.

However, Basic Economy tickets are non-changeable and nonrefundable unless it qualifies for a Basic Economy Changeability Waiver.

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 at least 60 days before the flight.
JetBlueFor purchased bookings, change and cancellation fees are waived, except for Blue Basic bookings.

For TrueBlue redemption bookings, changes are not allowed, though you may cancel and rebook your un-flown flight depending on availability.

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.

Beginning in Summer 2023, you can lose your Rapid Rewards points if you don’t cancel a Wanna Get Away or Wanna Get Away Plus flight at least 10 minutes before it takes off.

SpiritChange and cancellation fees made at least 60 days before your trip are free.
United AirlinesFor most Economy and premium tickets with travel originating in the U.S., change fees have been eliminated.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2023, there are no fees to change award travel.

Miles can be redeposited to your account with no fee unless you no-show your flight (then it’s $125).

HotelCOVID-19 change policy
Hilton HonorsCancellations are available at no cost within the time frame specified by the hotel.
HyattFor World of Hyatt members who have an Explorist, Globalist or Lifetime Globalist status, you may cancel until 11:59 p.m. the day before your arrival if your hotel has a 48-hour cancellation policy.
IHG HotelsIHG Rewards Club Nights can be changed or canceled with no fee prior to the cancellation/change period set by the booking hotel.

Your points will be redeposited into your IHG Rewards account, though you may be charged a processing fee.

Marriott BonvoyEach hotel’s individual cancellation policies and rates specified at the time of purchase apply.
Booking siteCOVID-19 change policy
ExpediaFlights canceled within 24 hours of your booking may be eligible for a full refund. For nonrefundable flights, you may receive a flight credit.

You may change or cancel your hotel reservation according to the hotel’s individual policy. Fees may apply.

Hotels.comIf your hotel has a free cancellation policy, you may cancel without a charge, though some hotels require more than 24 hours notice.
PricelinePriceline honors the cancellation policy of the airline you booked with, but it will not override those cancellation policies.
VRBOVRBO will honor the property’s cancellation policy. Once the cancellation is confirmed, your service fee will also be refunded.

Bottom line

What you do with planned travel might depend on your destination. While most countries have relaxed travel restrictions they implemented at the height of the pandemic, a large seasonal wave or a new strain of COVID could compel some nations to close their doors again. 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 fall 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.

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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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