Trouble Getting United to Charge the Correct Award Change Fees

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Last year United changed up their award fees for changes, mileage redeposits, and more. In some cases the fees got a bit worse, and in other cases the fees actually went down. One piece of “good news” from when those changes were announced was that it was expressly called out that if your status changes between the time of ticketing and time of the change, the lowest fee based on your different status levels would apply.


Since this was very clearly called out on their MileagePlus Updates website, I went ahead and booked a somewhat speculative trip for next holiday season on the last day that I had United Platinum status last month. Since I booked it as a Platinum, the rules indicate I should be allowed free changes or cancellations to the award until 61 days out, at which time changes will run me $50 per person. As a current Silver elite, those charges would otherwise be $50 and $100, respectively, which for a family of four adds up really quickly.

United Award Chart Fees Beginning October 6, 2016

United Award Chart Fees Beginning October 6, 2016

It turns out I didn’t need those United award flights after all as I found something better via American. I tried to cancel the award and redeposit the award online, and not surprisingly it tried to charge me fees based on my current elite status instead of basing it on whichever fee was lower since my status had changed since the time I booked. I then called up United for help and went around and around for a bit trying to explain the situation and point out that their own website said I should be charged the lower of the two fees since my status changed since I booked the award.

United award change fees.jpg

I was put on hold while the agent checked with someone else, but ultimately he said no-can-do. He then offered to transfer me to yet another department for help, and after sitting on hold for another 5-10 minutes without going anywhere I eventually hung up. I hate wasting time on the phone in this manner more than getting dental work, so after that failure I tried to reach out to United for help via Twitter and their email. Unfortunately, both couldn’t do anything in this situation except encourage me to try calling again. Great.

Today I called again explained the situation, pointed to the rules on their website, and I was again put on hold while they checked with someone. It is obvious the computer is not programed to do what the website indicates should happen regarding charging the lower of two fees if status changed, but I was hopeful that someone would do a manual override.

Thankfully this time around they did agree to make a “one time exception” to waive the award cancelation fees and refund the miles and taxes without charging anything extra. I was thankful not only that they took care of it, but that on this particular call it didn’t take too terribly long to get to that point. However, in the end I felt like I was pestering them to do me a big favor when really all I needed was for them to do what was expressly written on their website.

Not having a higher tier elite status and having to almost beg for these sort of things is not fun. I share this story because I’m sure I am not the first or last person to have their Untied elite status drop after they book an award and then need to make a change or cancelation. It is clear that the computer is not programed to charge the lesser of the two fees, but instead is set to charge fees based on your current status. If you need a manual override as I did, be prepared for it to potentially not be a very straight-forward process. You may have to point to where the rules are spelled out in the FAQs here and be a little persistence to get it done.

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  1. I find the United agents to be getting less and less competent. I spent 78 minutes on the phone yesterday to make a simple itinerary change for a flight July 25th. For every little thing the agent would put be on hold because she had to check with “internal support”. At the end she tells me the change fee is $125. I told her it’s $75. She said your itinerary is less than 60 days from now. I told her from February to July is 5 months or roughly 150 days. She had to again check with internal support before telling me I was right!

  2. After a series of unfortunate incidents on United Airlines in 2012, I stopped flying United, fell from 1K to lowly Gold for Life by virtue of my past flying and never looked back. I don’t fly United anymore unless absolutely necessary. They remain a crappy airline with some awful employees. Munoz acknowledges as much but just cant turn the old battleship around.

    My time is not free and United still doesn’t seem to recognize that. Your post is yet another data point.

  3. Yeah I left off half the story here as it was a bit irrelevant to the main point, but I also cancelled today’s inaugural 77W flight on the same initial call and was told there would be no fee to cancel that one because it had a schedule change. Then later I was told it was $50 fee as it was within 60 days (which would be correct when booked as Platinum). I just paid the fee since that really was correct, but then even though they were willing to charge me the Platinum fee for that one they wouldn’t for the other trip. So weird and inconsistent. The sad thing, or good thing, is that most of my interactions with United in the last year or so have been pretty good. However, I have also had higher elite status during that time so not sure how that influences things. Time will tell since I am a lowly folk now.

  4. I haven’t flown United for three years despite being a “hub captive” in San Francisco, where UA owns most of the flight slots. I have flown over 300,000 miles after UA screwed me and I began my boycott.

    • Ha ha – well, that advice was based on what is clearly written on United’s site. Sadly it does seem it takes a bit of persistence to get United to follow what they said they would do, but it worked in the end. Would be a pain to go through too many times though.

  5. All you need to do is file a DOT complaint and then you get action from a competent employee. Sad to say and sad that you’re forced to do this to get any customer service whatsoever with them. If they change their customer service, then you wouldn’t need to do this.

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