Even though COVID-19 is now in the rear-view mirror, the value of flexible points-based bookings simply cannot be understated. Especially when it comes to change and cancellation fees.

Perhaps you’ve just spent the last couple of years of your life chasing points deals and working out which card to buy what with. You’ve racked up the points and booked your dream trip. But what if something goes wrong and you need to amend your booking?

Well, usually you’d be up for some fees. But thankfully, many airlines are still providing waivers for bookings made with points. Here’s what you need to know.

This guide is current as of 5 December 2022.

What do I need to know about cancelling a points booking?

One very important thing to note is that you are bound by the terms and conditions of the airline you’ve booked with, not the airline you’re flying with (if those two are different).

Depending on the complexity and timing of your booking, you might be able to cancel or change it with a few clicks for nothing. In some cases though, you could be looking at fees upwards of US$200. You might be able to cancel any time before departure, or you may have to finalise any changes at least 24 hours before the flight.

However, when all is done and dusted, you’ll usually be eligible for a full refund of the points used, as well as any cash co-payments remaining once fees are taken into account. This makes reward bookings a great tool to have when booking travel during these uncertain times.

It’s important to know all these details before we even go into the fees involved. You should be able to find this information relatively easily with most programs, but we’ve also included links below.

Last updated: 5 December 2022

We are focusing on the airline programs that most Australia-based travellers would likely have their points with, such as Qantas Frequent Flyer, Velocity Frequent Flyer, Cathay Pacific’s Cathay, KrisFlyer, Skywards and Etihad Guest.

And for those who buy miles from Alaska Mileage Plan, American Airlines AAdvantage, Avianca LifeMiles, British Airways Executive Club and United MileagePlus, we’ve got you covered too.

Airline programChangeCancellationsSource & additional info
Qantas Frequent Flyer5,000 points

Until 31 December 2022 for international bookings only.
6,000 points

Until 31 December 2022 for international bookings only.
Qantas Frequent Flyer Fee Schedule

Cancelling or changing a Reward flight booking
Velocity Frequent Flyer4,500 points or $35 for domestic

7,500 points or $60 for international

Only for those who booked international rewards before 30 June 2022, for changes made until 31 December 2022.
4,500 points or $35 for domestic

7,500 points or $60 for international

Only for those who booked international rewards before 30 June 2022, for changes made until 31 December 2022.
Velocity Reward seat conditions
Alaska Airlines Mileage PlanWaived indefinitelyWaived indefinitelyAlaska Airlines Fees
American Airlines AAdvantageWaived indefinitelyWaived indefinitelyAAdvantage® program updates
Avianca LifeMilesUS$150

May be possible, depending on the agent.
US$50/US$200 within/between regions

May be possible, depending on the agent.
FlyerTalk forum
British Airways Executive Club AU$63 (+AU$25 service fee if over the phone)AU$63 (+AU$25 service fee if over the phone)Depends on your 'region of departure' (Australia is assumed in this table). Change/cancellation fee waived for Gold Priority Reward bookings. Phone service fee waived for Gold members

British Airways reward flight booking and service fees

Executive Club terms and conditions
Cathay Pacific's CathayUS$40 or 6,000 miles

For bookings made and changed until 31 December 2022 on Cathay Pacific only.
US$120 or 17,000 miles

For bookings made and changed until 31 December 2022 on Cathay Pacific only.
Asia Miles FAQs
Emirates SkywardsUS$25 (free on Flex and Flex Plus awards)US$75 on Saver awards, US$50 on First Flex awards and free on Flex Plus awards.Figures are for Saver award tickets — more generous provisions for flexible tickets

Emirates FAQs
Etihad Guest100 AED10% of the miles spent on the ticketEtihad Guest terms and conditions
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyerUS$25/free for Saver/Advantage for date change if travelling on Singapore Airlines.

US$25 for change of route, cabin class or award type for tickets issued for flights on Singapore Airlines.

US$50 for change of flight, date, route or carrier for tickets issued for flights on partner airlines.
US$75/US$50 for Saver/AdvantageUS$25 or 2,500 KrisFlyer miles offline/phone service fee (waived if can't perform action online)

Singapore Airlines Service Fees
United Airlines MileagePlusWaived indefinitely.Waived indefinitely, although a US$125 fee applies if requesting an award redeposit after a flight's scheduled departure time.Most fees previously charged by United no longer apply.

United change fees

Some other notes on the comparison above:

  • The information in the table is applicable to reward flight bookings only. All the airlines have different change/cancellation policies regarding other services (e.g. hotel and car hire) booked with points.
  • COVID-19-related travel waivers are subject to change at any time. See your airline’s website for the latest details.
Ad – Scroll down to continue reading.Minimum spend, terms & conditions apply.

What should I know about airline change and cancellation fees?

You’ll be charged per person, per booking

Where a travel waiver doesn’t apply and you’re charged fees, those will be levied per person, per booking — not per sector. It means that if two people are on an itinerary and you want to change a flight, you’ll get charged the applicable change fee twice.

But if you wanted to change multiple flights within the same booking, the overall change fee is still usually the same.

Delta One Suites
Travelling as a pair? Be prepared to pay two sets of fees.

Try to not be a ‘no-show’

A no-show is simply where you fail to turn up for a flight, and haven’t changed or cancelled it previously.

Some airlines have a clear no-show policy, while for others there’s no mention of it at all. For the most part, it’s definitely to be avoided, as it can (and probably will) void any further flights on the same booking with no possible avenue for a refund.

In many cases, penalties for no-shows and late cancellations aren’t to be found anywhere, except to say they are ‘not permitted.’ That suggests you’d be forfeiting all the points and money paid.

You (usually) won’t get expired points back

In most cases, expired points are not refundable or able to be reinstated (here’s the exception for Qantas). So booking a flight a year into the future with points that are about to expire, with the intention of cancelling said flight won’t get you anywhere.

Once again, some airline COVID-19 policies may override this and offer extensions for points about to expire.

A guide to Qantas Points transfer promotions from bank rewards programs
Sometimes Qantas Points can be rescued, but it’s better not to let them expire.

Changes might not always be possible after your journey commences

For the most part, fees and charges might be different if your journey has already begun. That would be the case if you have started your trip and now want to change your return flight. In some cases, if your journey has begun, you can’t make voluntary changes to any further flights without forfeiting your points entirely.

Changes that require a ticket to be re-issued are not permitted within 24 hours of departure or once travel has commenced.

Qantas website

Faced with an involuntary change or cancellation mid-way through your trip? In that case, the airline should help you out while waiving all fees.

How can I minimise change and cancellation fees?

Being that reward flights often need to be booked a fair way in advance, it’s not uncommon for them to need to be changed.

1. Give your loyalty to an airline with low change and cancellation fees

This is certainly easier said than done, but it’s still worth thinking about.

In the case of buying miles though, your decision could certainly be swayed by how costly it may be to change any award redemption. Any money saved from buying those miles could easily get swallowed up by a simple change.

Remember the fare conditions are based on who the miles are with, not who you fly with. If you’re buying American Airlines AAdvantage miles and flying Qantas, you’re still bound by AA’s rules and fees.

2. Change, don’t cancel to minimise fees

For some airlines, the changing of flights is free, while cancellation will incur a fee.

In the case of KrisFlyer, date changes are free as long as you’re travelling on a more expensive Advantage award with Singapore Airlines and aren’t wanting to change the destination.

Singapore Airlines First Class
If you book an Advantage award with your KrisFlyer miles, you can change the date of your Singapore Airlines flight for free.

3. Wait until the last minute to cancel

If the airline has a considerable schedule change, you may be due a full refund if you elect not to accept the change. This is obviously different between airlines and not something to rely on. However, it could work so long as you’re happy for your points to be tied up until the last minute.

And this only works if you don’t need the miles from the cancelled booking to make another, of course.

4. Book return flights as separate reservations

Depending on your itinerary, it may be worth booking your outbound and return segments separately. If you book in this fashion, you avoid the risk of inadvertently cancelling your return flight if you’re a no-show. This also means you can change your return booking after your journey commences.

There is a downside to doing this. If you need to change both your outbound and return journeys, you’ll be slugged with fees twice.

5. Ask and you may receive a waiver of change or cancellation fees

You never know your luck, and there’s never any harm in asking for a fee waiver. You may have more success with a waiver in the case of a change (especially if you had a good reason), as opposed to a cancellation.

Summing up

Reward booking change fees vary greatly between airlines. There’s certainly an argument for taking this into account when choosing which airline to give your loyalty to.

In some cases, it may not even be worth the trouble of cancelling the trip if you deem your points to be worth less than any cancellation fee. Don’t forget that a no-show can nullify the rest of your travel, though.

Many airlines also have more generous fee waiver policies now versus several years back. In the US, American Airlines and United Airlines have also permanently abolished change fees for domestic US bookings, which is a great outcome.

This article was originally written by Matt Moffitt.

Change and cancellation fees for frequent flyer reward bookings was last modified: December 19th, 2022 by Brandon Loo