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American and United Airlines love to charge a $75 close-in fee on award tickets. This is essentially an additional fee which is added to your award ticket when you make the reservation less than 21 days before departure. Considering all of the fees and charges in the frequent flyer world, I think the $75 close-in fee is the biggest scam – it doesn’t cost American or United Airlines more money to book your award ticket less than 21 days before departure.
You can still avoid United’s $75 close-in fee when booking less than 21 days before departure… you just can’t do it online anymore. The online change trick on United.com used to work. What you would do is book a flight more than 21 days before departure and not pay the $75 close-in fee, then you would change the flight to your desired flight online under United’s 24-hour flexible change/cancel policy and the system would never prompt you for the $75 fee. It does now.
While the online trick to bypass the $75 close-in fee doesn’t work anymore, it still does over the phone… most of the time. United’s phone agents are mostly dumb and have no idea how to do anything anymore and therefore you have to rely on that. The new technique is to book a dummy flight more than 21 days out and then simply call United to change the flight to your desired flight within 24 hours of booking the original dummy flight.
It may take a few phone calls before a United agent knows how to change an award flight, but once you reach someone competent enough, you should be able to change it without a $75 close-in fee. Keep in mind you need to reach someone competent enough that knows how to change an award flight but doesn’t know that they should charge you a $75 close-in fee. Thankfully, as of now this trick still works 80-90% of the time.
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Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.