United Award Service Fee Chart – Am I Crazy or is it?

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Today I needed to make a change to a United award ticket I have booked.  I needed to change the departure date by one day on a flight that is still several months away.  On the new day that I needed to go there was a direct flight available, whereas on the day I was previously booked all available reward flights required a connection.  Since I will be traveling on this flight with my kiddo, getting the available direct flight would make things much simpler.

The website was throwing me errors (as has been typical on many of my reservations since the merger), so I called in to get some help.  I mistakenly thought it would be a simple change, but I was told that there would be a $75 fee to change from an award flight with connections to one without.  What?  I told the agent that I have always been told that you can make changes up to 21 days before departure without a fee as long as the origin and destination remain the same.  She insisted I was wrong and that there has always been a charge if the routing changes at all.  Huh – where have I been?  She was not going to budge, so I decided to “hang up and call back”.

I hopped on United’s website and saw their (crazy looking) award service fee chart.  I call it crazy because it just seems unnecessarily complex to me, but then again I’m a pretty simple gal.  It did not look like that, pre-merger.  Regardless, there is nothing on there that says there is a fee for changing routing as long as the origin and destination remain the same up until 21 days before.  In fact, the United website says, “Adding, changing or deleting a connection, 21 days or more prior to departure – no fee”.

So, I called back and explained the situation to another agent.  That second agent immediately started to tell me that there is indeed a $75 fee per person for changing routing regardless of whether or not you are 21 days before departure.  I asked her to go look at the website and help me understand where this information is, because I was seeing the opposite.  She went to the award chart and said, “correct, we do not charge when you change routing.”  She said it as if that had been her stance all along, so I was somewhat confused at first, but as long as she was changing the flights without charging me, I was happy and went along with it.  She had to put me on hold a few times to get the flight changed, but in the end it was changed to a day earlier and on the direct route.  Woohoo!

I hate interactions like this though, because I know there are many others out there that would have just believed what the agents were saying and would have paid the money to change the flights, or would have kept their old flights even when better ones are available.  It’s this kind of stuff that leads people to believe that miles aren’t worth it, when in fact the award ticket was more flexible than a revenue ticket likely would have been.

What has your experience been with awards and fees with the new United?  Am I crazy to have never heard of this alleged charge for changing routing on award tickets that both agents seemed to think exists or were they just both confused?

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  1. There are plenty of agents who haven’t bothered to learn the new rules. Sadly, many of them don’t seem inclined to learn them, either.

    The good news is that if you know you’re right there is no harm in holding them to the rules.

    • @Seth, was that an old rule? I had never encountered that issue before. It would make sense if it were an old rule and the agents were just not clear on the new rules, I just hadn’t come across it with CO.

  2. This system is new
    In the past any changes to route incurred a fee for most.
    Even a change from Economy to Biz on an award for which you have paid biz for the whole trip cost money in the past.
    At least now before 21 days there is no fee for changes to the same airline AND it is clearly noted in the chart

    • @ffi, I am glad it is clear now as well, but I never encountered a problem changing routing before as long as the start and end point stayed the same. Maybe it was a UA and CO difference….or maybe I am crazy. 😉

      @WLN, that makes sense. I had very limited interactions with the UA system (other than to transfer miles to CO), so that is the most logical explanation. In that case, I hope at least the second agent remembers this new rule and is able to help future callers.

  3. If I remember correctly, on legacy UA the rule was free changes up until the date of departure as long as origin, destination, and routing stayed the same. On legacy CO, it was free changes up until 21 days before departure, with only origin and destination having to stay the same. So once the programs were linked but before they would merge, you could choose: schedule changes all you want or routing AND schedule changes but only three weeks in advance. Must be agents who came from UA and are still learning the CO rules, I’d guess.

  4. Yes, interactions like this annoy me muchly. It’s not only airlines, but many large corporates. Where staff who don’t know the exact rule just decide to pick something out of the air instead of actually going to check with a supervisor or on their own website… and there are many, many people who would just take their word for it since they are “the company” in that person’s mind.

  5. I hate United right now. I had a measley $200 voucher due to a ridiculous experience where our flight was canceled, and me, my wife, and my infant son had to pack everything back up and drive to a different airport. We were supposed to be in economy plus, but it was full on the new flight. Whatever, things happen, but then they refused to refund me the money I paid for economy plus. It took months before I got the money back and only after I finally gave up dealing with them and told Amex I was disputing the charge because they never provided the service. After all that I wrote a complaint to corporate and was given the $200 voucher.

    Tried to use the voucher recently and their website wouldn’t recognize it, so I had to call in to use it. I’ve had to make 7 different calls to complete a fairly straightforward direct flight from IAD to IND where the only complication is using this voucher. I’ve had to wait hours on hold through all of those calls. They were insistent on charging me $50 in phone ticketing fees even though the system wouldn’t accept the voucher. They finally said they were waiving the fees on the last call, but I’m not sure they have. When I log in, the reservation says that it has been purchased, but it still says there is internal processing being completed, and the total price still shows the fees. I’m going to have to call again to make sure this is actually complete. After this, I’m not flying them anymore for quite some time.

  6. I actually don’t have much to say. I just saw Seth and wijomas here, so I thought I’d join the party 😉

    Huh? Fees? That’s a four-letter word I don’t recognize :p

    Seriously, though, sorry that you have to deal with this crap, but glad that you know the rules and are persistent. That’s the real lesson here: Caveat emptor. Know the rules of the game and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. Glad the end result was positive in your favor.

  7. I believe the fee for removing/adding connection was a pre-merger rule with United. I also experienced this fee. It seems agents are not up to speed on the new rules or never bother to learn them.

  8. After being very focused on miles/points/cards for the last year, I’ve realized that all the points “hoarding” is not for me and my family. Like you, mommy points, I have a young child and getting the points is fun, but the dark secret is that spending the points is usually a big hassle. I’ve done the multiple calls like you just did, sometimes for 30min to hours and I’d much rather spend that time with my boy.

    Also, I booked a great trip on United, and because of last minute changes (obviously due to child), the trip was cancelled and then I had to debate whether to spend the $150 per ticket to reinstate the points (we couldn’t use the same itinerary so the points were worth the price of the ticket, not good value).

    I think points hoarding is just not an ideal situation for families with kids. I know all the rules but there’s just too many variables to deal with when using award miles. Most points websites are run by young singles or couples with no kids or older empty nesters which allow flexibility. It just doesn’t work that well for us, IMO.

    I’m still into points, but not that focused on it. Thanks for your hard work, mommy points, and I still have you on the RSS reader!

  9. The rules are so complicated, I think most of them just assume there is a fee. Is the pricing on fees automated? If so, I would think you should end up pleasantly surprised at the end even if the agent tells you there will be a fee at the beginning of the conversation.

  10. Mommy Points, did you get the Filipino reps on the phone? I find the call center in the Philippines to be awful the reps are extremely rude and unknowledgeable. I have had agents there refuse to even look for a ticket for me and hang up on me because I did not have the miles in my account even after I explained I wanted to look for seats and put them on hold pending a mileage transfer. My advise would be to hang up if you get that call center and try again till you get a PMCO agent they are awesome.

  11. I think you probably got a premerger UA agent – one who has not picked up that there actually are some changes that we will like from this merger.

  12. On Wednesday, I was trying to standby on an earlier flight and the three agents I talked to told me there would be a $75 fee, even as star gold. I said it was free for star gold, yet none of them believed me. Finally a couple hours before departure, one of the agents who told me I was wrong asked a colleague and they throughY gold was a $0 standby fee, so they called someone to confirm it was free. I can only wonder how many people had to pay that $75 because they didn’t know better.

  13. I am flying BOS-YUL-FRA-ACC on May 25 with terrible layovers (and routing for that matter). This was booked through united through star alliance partners. Could I get a better timing/rounting with no change fee?

  14. wijomas, I hate that, too. Mostly for the folks who don’t know to challenge what they are being told.

    Walt, that does sound like a nightmare. So sorry you are having to deal with all of that for what should be a simple transaction.

    Michael R, no one wants to hear about your fee-free lifestyle. 😉 Seriously though that is a great argument for elite status no or reduced fees!

    MichaelP, that must be what this was. Glad that silly rule/fee is gone.

    @Charles, there is no question that miles and points take time. This is true for both earning and redeeming. To some it is not only useful, but fun, but to others it is quite simply just time away from their families. That is a totally valid point, and you have to do what is right for you and your family.

    I know I choose to do miles and points because it gives us quality opportunities as a family that we would not otherwise have, so the trade-off is worth it for us. Additionally, while there are sometimes fees for changing and cancelling award tickets, I have found the flexibility of award tickets to often me greater than revenue tickets so it actually helps us when unexpected things happen with our little one.

    In the end, you gotta do what is right for your specific family and situation.

    Scottrick, I don’t know if it was automated or not. I do know she was asking for my credit card number.

    harvoson3, it does appear that changing airlines will incur a fee.

    Del, that very well may be have been the call center I reached. English was not the first language of the reps I worked with.

    Andrew, I think you are correct.

    Kris, so true. It is amazing what is probably happening to some customers right now.

    Tejash, you can get a better routing for now fee until 21 days before, but you cannot change carriers without a fee.

  15. First of all, I want to thank you for your great website! I had this exact situation. You are correct that they shouldn’t charge you the $75 change fee. The United staff think that there’s a change fee of $75. (It was $150 before the merger.) I called back and spoke to an agent who worked for Continental before the merger and she took care of it for me.

  16. My wife would definitely have just paid whatever fee. She refuses to ever argue and just pays whatever agents tell her too…drives me crazy.

    Haven’t had any problems yet post merger…knock on wood…though I haven’t had but a few flights this month.

    • @SkiCat Travels, I think there are many out there just like your wife. You shouldn’t have to argue to have a company follow their policies.

  17. this happened to me today. the agent i spoke to insisted that there is a $75/ticket change fee to remove a connection. i said i was looking at united.com (same page linked to in the post) that clearly stated no change fee.

    agent said the website is wrong and the fee is real. after i argued for long enough, the agent agreed to change my ticket with no fee, but said it was a 1-time exception and that the website will be updated.

  18. Same problem for me as well!

    The agent insisted there was a $75 fee and put me on hold. This made no sense (I knew the 21 day policy) so I did some googling and found your chart. Thanks a million! The agent tried to argue, but I calmly insisted that because I was “changing a connection” (was connecting in Frankfurt for a flight to Paris, now flying direct) no fees should apply. She ended up changing the flights for me for free, but did so without apology or acknowledging that she was wrong. This seems like a pattern… I hope there aren’t a bunch of suckers out there paying unnecessary fees.

    • @BobbyVan, so glad this post was able to help you keep some money in your wallet. It is too bad that they are continuing to give customers bad info (and undoubtedly take extra money from many of them)

  19. HI Mommypoints,

    There’s a similar problem for my ticket. I booked my August flights from Beijing to Washington, DC like PEK-SFO-DCA a few months ago, when I could not find award space for a direct flight. Now I could find one directly flying from PEK to IAD, however, the agent on the phone told me DCA owns a different airport from IAD even though they are in the same city.

    I checked the fee chart and found the fee of 75 is for “Changing your origin or destination CITY” , not for the change of the airport code. I argue with the agent on the phone, but she kept saying that these two are different airport codes…..

  20. I was just charged $50 for making a similar change to my flight. I agree the award chart is very difficult to understand, but after reading your post I decided to attempt to have the fee reversed. I spoke to multiple agents who said the fee applies, so I am trying to get s refund through the website. Not sure it will happen, but clearly agents are still erroneously applying this fee. Perhaps if they made the change policy easier to understand, this sort of thing wouldn’t occur.

    • Shane, what worked for me some is have them look at the award chart online so they see what you see. Hard for them to argue with that. So sorry this is still happening!

  21. I just changed an award ticket routing LAS-YVR-ICN to LAS-YYZ-ICN with no fee. I actually did it on United.com. Not sure if it’s a new feature, but they now have a mechanism to change award flights online.

  22. i changed my flights on united.com from the 23rd of may to the 30th of may for no fee lhr-cai-dubai, now im trying to change it from the 30th to the following day and it is asking for a change fee of 75.00 – im confused as to why?

    • AB, my guess is because you are now within 21 days of departure. Certain changes are free before then, but carry a fee as you get closer to departure. Oops – just saw you answered your own question. 😉

  23. ok im so silly, i have just realized that the change fee is because i want to change it within 21 days :/ sorry.

  24. I am looking at making an award booking on UA for myself, my wife and an infant for IAH-LIM-CUZ-LIM-IAH-HNL. There is a direct flight available the day I want to leave but I get the 10% on the infant. If I route IAH-SAL-LIM-CUZ-LIM-IAH-HNL I can make that 10% “disappear”. I’m thinking of booking the IAH-SAL and then changing for “no fee” to the direct flight on UA. Do you think this will work and should it?

    • Lance, to be honest I am not sure why you would not be charged for the infant’s ticket because of routing. I can’t really offer advice because I haven’t heard of that before.

  25. It seems to be whenever I add a star alliance partner on the outbound, it doesn’t calculate the taxes. The IAH-SAL is with TACA and the fare goes from ~$800 with UA to ~$200 with TACA. If I route CLT-IAH-LIM (with the same nonstop UA IAH-LIM that would otherwise trigger the 10%) with the CLT-IAH on US Airways I get similar results. So I’m thinking of booking with TACA and then changing to the nonstop with UA and saving myself ~$600. I might try this either way and let you know how it goes but I was hoping for some kind of explanation as to why it is displaying like that. Weird.

    • Lance, ah that makes sense. Has to do with what the partner charges for the lap infant…or what the computer thinks the partner charges for the lap infant.

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