Avoiding Last Minute Booking Fees on Award Tickets

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I’ve talked about this before, but one of the greatest uses of airline miles is to fly yourself or a loved one last minute when airfare prices can be astronomical, but the mileage price of the ticket can seem comparably reasonable. Given the current level of uncertainty at our house thanks to medical appointments and similar, we have had relatives, specifically the grandparents in Kansas, on a stand-by of sorts in case the troops on the ground here need reinforcements.


That means thinking through the ways that we can book last minute award tickets without incurring additional fees in case the need arises. Even if you do get hit with a last minute booking fee of $75 or similar for booking within 21 days of departure as is charged by United and American Airlines, it can still be worth it to use miles for last minute tickets depending on the cash price, but no fees are better than fees, so here are seven ways to avoid last minute booking fees on award tickets.

Avoiding Last Minute Booking Fees on Award Tickets:

  • High level airline elites typically are not charged close-in booking fees, so if you or someone else who can book the ticket for you has high level elite status with an airline then this may be the time to book the award from that account.
  • British Airways charges no close-in booking fees, and you can fly on partners such as American Airlines or Alaska, if there is saver award availability on those flights. Transfers to British Airways from Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards are pretty much instant, so this is a big fan favorite for last minute bookings.
  • Alaska Airlines charges no close-in booking fees and you can fly not only Alaska, but American Airlines and Delta operated flights.
  • Aeroplan, Singapore, and ANA all charge no close-in booking fees and you can fly Star Alliance partners like United Airlines if there is saver award availability. However, be aware that if you are transferring points into some of those programs from a credit card points program like Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards, or Citi ThankYou that the transfers aren’t all instant and that can hinder you booking your last minute award travel by several days, which may not be helpful in all situations. ANA also does not allow for award bookings for flights departing within the next 96 hours. That said, you can make instant transfers from Amex Membership Rewards to Aeroplan, so that may be a solid route for quick last minute bookings.
  • JetBlue and Southwest do not have close-in booking fees, but since the price in points is tied to the selling price of the ticket, it may require more points than you are used to spending for that close-in award ticket.
  • Delta does not charge a close-in booking fee, but they charge more miles for tickets booked within 21 days or departure, so that may not be your best route.
  • There are no close-in booking fees on United if you have the United Club Card. Some have also utilized a date change feature to avoid paying a close-in booking fee on United, but that isn’t a route I can stand behind since it isn’t within the rules and involves some risk of not working.

Have you ever had to book a close-in award ticket? What did you do to avoid or minimize last minute booking fees?



  1. I booked a last-minute (less than 24 hours beforehand) award ticket on American this past January to see my grandmother before she passed away. I was thinking of transferring to BA to avoid the $75 fee, but the flight from here to ABQ requires two segments, which made the cost fairly high in Avios. In addition, I happened to look up the “reduced mileage awards” just in case, and ABQ was on the destination list, so it wound up being 15750 miles + $75 fee + $11.20 security fee. Cash price on the ticket was around $1000, which made it a great redemption, although it feels a bit crass to think about the trip in that manner.

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