How to change travel plans booked with rewards

If COVID-19 continues to impact your travel plans, you may wonder what’s next if you’ve 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 do you have to pay a fee for it?

The world has largely reopened as COVID cases have declined and become less severe, although travel is still not quite where it was before the pandemic has yet to end.

If you’re sick or the destination you’re planning to visit has tightened up its travel rules, these tips will help you better understand your options if you have to change your travel plans.

Can I cancel or change a flight booked with miles?

The short answer is yes, although it is up to the airline to determine which premium fares are eligible for cancellation.

Travel expert Mark Jackson says travelers should always check the airline’s up-to-date policy for flight cancellations and changes. Most airlines do not charge a cancellation fee if you cancel a flight purchased with miles. If you booked a flight using miles and canceled your booking, the miles can be returned to you. But fee evasion may depend on booking times and travel dates.

The benefit of canceling is that you can rebook later for a lower price, allowing you to stretch your miles or points further.

“Many airlines will try to keep your habits and may even offer discounted prices for future travel,” says Will Hutton, founder of travel website The Broke Backpacker.

Can I cancel a hotel stay booked with points?

You can cancel your hotel stay, but be sure to ask what will happen to your points if you do so. Under normal non-pandemic conditions, advance or prepaid rates may be non-refundable in accordance with the program’s cancellation policy. But many now offer extended cancellation and rebooking policies.

“It depends on the brand, but in general, the hotel is more likely to refund your points,” says travel writer Katherine Phan.

As with cancellations of flights booked with miles or points, timing can be a factor in canceling stay plans. For example, many networks require you to cancel at least seven days before your scheduled arrival, and some charge a full night fee or a two night penalty if you cancel within a week of your stay.

How hotels and airlines work to accommodate travelers

A number of major airlines and hotel brands have updated their cancellation and change policies to help travelers whose travel plans are affected by COVID. The best thing you can do if your travel plans have been put on hold by the coronavirus is to call and speak with customer support.

“Be kind and be clear about what you want,” Fan says. “General policies vary widely, but most customer service reps go out of their way to accommodate needs within reason.”

And if you’re not getting the results you want, “politely end the conversation and try again with a new rep,” Fan says.

Learn about protecting your travel card

Hutton says many credit cards can provide key travel protection, especially now. If you used your travel rewards card for your booking instead of paying with miles or points, see what’s included with the card. For example, trip cancellation insurance can refund some or all of the amount you paid if you charged the cost of the trip from your card.

However, you should read the fine print. Many cards exclude pandemics as a covered situation, although there are exceptions. If you are quarantined by a doctor or a government agency imposes a quarantine, your trip cancellation coverage may begin. 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. In particular, check to see if your policy includes “cancellation for any reason” coverage, which will allow you to get a refund of any money you pay out of pocket for your trip.

A wait-and-see approach may be best for managing points or miles trips.

If you got your miles or points refunded because you canceled your trip, you may be wondering if it makes sense to rebook now or wait a little longer.

There are several unknowns to consider, including which destinations could be affected by a potential surge in COVID cases. Jackson advises canceling and refunding your points or miles rather than rescheduling. If you’re planning to rebook using points or miles, keep these tips in mind:

  • Look for refundable rates and free cancellation rates.
  • Be aware of your hotel or airline’s cancellation policy as it changes frequently and may depend on the date of your ticket or booking.
  • Avoid booking with cash and points or cash with miles as the cash portion of your booking may not be refundable.

Travel Provider Policies

Most travel providers offer more relaxed post-COVID change and cancellation policies, but policies may vary. Here’s what some of the biggest travel service providers do for clients.

Airline Change policy
Alaska Airlines There is no fee for changing the basic and first class fare.

For canceled fares, miles will be re-credited to your miles plan account.

american airlines For award rides, all change fees are waived. You can also cancel your flight at any time prior to the departure of your first flight and redeem your miles free of charge at any time within one year after the ticket issuance date.

For travel with tickets, the change fee depends on the ticket purchased.

Miles can be re-deposited to your AAdvantage account.

Delta Air Lines As of January 12, 2022, all Main Cabin or higher tickets are free of change or cancellation fees and you can change or cancel your booking prior to departure.

However, Basic Economy tickets are non-refundable and non-refundable unless they meet the Basic Economy Changeability Waiver conditions.

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

Frontier Airlines There is no change fee if the change is made at least 60 days before departure.
jetblue There is no change or cancellation fee for purchased bookings, except for Blue Basic bookings.

Bookings with TrueBlue redemption cannot be modified, however you may be able to cancel and rebook an unused flight subject to availability.

There is no re-deposit fee for returning TrueBlue Points to your account.

southwestern airlines There is no charge to change or cancel an award booking.

Beginning in the summer of 2023, you may lose Rapid Rewards points if you do not cancel your Wanna Get Away or Wanna Get Away Plus flight at least 10 minutes before departure.

Spirit There is no charge for changes and cancellations made at least 60 days before travel.
United Airlines Change fees have been waived for most Economy and Premium Class tickets departing from the United States.

As of January 1, 2023, there will be no fee to change your award trip.

Miles can be re-deposited into your account at no charge if you don’t show up for your flight (then it’s $125).

Hotel COVID-19 change policy
Hilton Honors Cancellation is possible free of charge within the dates specified by the hotel.
Hyatt World of Hyatt members with Explorer, Globalist, or Lifetime Globalist status can cancel by 11:59 pm the day before arrival if your property has a 48-hour cancellation policy.
IHG Hotels IHG Rewards Club Nights are subject to change or cancellation without charge until the cancellation/change period set by the booking hotel.

Your points will be re-credited to your IHG Rewards account, although you may be charged a processing fee.

Marriott Bonvoy Each hotel’s individual cancellation policy and rates as stated at the time of purchase apply.
Booking site COVID-19 change policy
expedition Flights canceled within 24 hours of booking may be eligible for a full refund. For non-refundable flights, you can get a flight credit.

You can change or cancel your hotel reservation in accordance with individual hotel policies. Fees may apply. If your hotel has a free cancellation policy, you can cancel your booking without charge, although some hotels require more than 24 hours notice.
Priceline Priceline respects the cancellation policy of the airline you booked with, but does not take precedence over that cancellation policy.
VRBO VRBO will comply with the cancellation policy. Once the cancellation is confirmed, the service fee will also be refunded.

bottom line

What you do with your planned trip may depend on the destination. While most countries have eased travel restrictions they imposed in the midst of the pandemic, a large seasonal wave or a new strain of COVID could force some countries to close their doors again. If you are planning to travel anytime soon, remember that this is an ongoing situation and things can change quickly.

“Hold tight; Treat your miles and points like you would your investment right now,” Phan says. “Don’t give in to the fear that they will become worthless when this is all over.”

By staying flexible with your plans – and how you use your miles or points – you can make the most of them when you can travel again.

Editorial disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective judgment of our contributors and is not based on advertising. It was not provided or ordered by credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to our partners’ products.

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