Almost all airline programs charge a close-in booking fee for booking award tickets within 21 days of departure.
Originally via Mile Value, there is a simple and easy hack that may make it possible to avoid paying United’s $75 close-in booking fee. It may not work 100% of the time, but I recently used the method again and saved $150 on two tickets!
If you have elite status with United you may not be charged the late booking fee, or you may only pay a reduced fee. Also, if you have the United Club card you will not have to pay the fee. That said there is an easy trick to get around the fee altogether for anyone---elite status or not.
How to Avoid Paying Close-in Booking Fees on United Airline Awards
If you have an award flight you want to book within 21 days of departure you can easily and risk free try this method to avoid paying United’s $75 close-in booking fee.
First off, United allows award tickets to be cancelled for free within 24 hours of booking. This is key to using this trick.
All you need to do is book the same flight more than 21 days out and then call in to United (United reservations at 1-800-864-8331 or MileagePlus customer service at 1-800-421-4655) to change your ticket to the closer date you want to travel.
I recently did this on and saved $150 when I changed two award tickets. It worked first try without a problem, but in reality it may not work every time.
United’s system does not automatically add the fee when you change an award departure date within 21 days of departure. It’s up to the agent to remember to add the fee and they often forget!
Ultimately your mileage may vary but the odds seem to be in your favor since this trick has worked for many. If the agent informs you that there will be a $75 fee you can politely say you don't wish to make changes and always hang up and call again. With no luck you can still cancel your award within 24 hours without a paying a fee and the miles will be instantly deposited back into your account.
Have you used this trick, did it work the first time? Does it work with other airlines?