You Canceled Your Award Trip: Are Your Points and Miles Gone Forever?

Depending on why you cancel, you might be able to get your credit card rewards back.
Last updated Jan 22, 2020 | By Ben Luthi
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Life is unpredictable, but there are only a few times when that reality hits worse than when you’re about to leave for a trip. If you’ve booked your flight or hotel with points or miles, you may be wondering if you’re about to lose all your rewards unless you pay a hefty fee to reinstate them.

But fear not — depending on the reason for your cancellation, you may be able to get all your points and miles back, so you can use them again.

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4 tips for getting those points and miles back

Whether you’ve just recently canceled a trip or you want to prepare in case it happens in the future, here are some tips to help you ensure you don’t lose your rewards in the process.

Protect yourself with travel insurance

Trip cancellation insurance is a type of travel insurance that can give you the peace of mind you need in case something makes it impossible for you to begin your trip as planned.

You can purchase this coverage — and some airlines even prompt you to buy it during the checkout process — or you can get it from one of your credit cards.

The following credit cards offer trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance coverage:

Before you rely on your credit card, though, make sure you read and understand the fine print. For example, benefits typically only kick in if you have to cancel your trip for a covered reason, such as an injury or sickness, death of a family member, financial insolvency of the common carrier (think airline, cruise line, or railroad), or other select things outside your control.

Also, you may be required to cover all or part of the cost of the booking using the card — that often includes just paying the taxes and fees on an award flight or hotel stay.

Finally, these insurance plans have a benefit limit for each claim and sometimes also over a 12-month period. So if you’re also filing a claim for something you paid in cash or you’ve filed claims in the recent past, you may reach one of the limits and no longer be covered.

Once you’re covered, your trip cancellation insurance will typically cover the cost of the fee airlines and hotels charge to redeposit your points or miles. And if you used Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book your trip, your eligible Chase card will provide a refund of those as well.

Opt for an airline or hotel with a generous cancellation policy

Before you book, take a look at the fine print, especially regarding cancellation policies. Some airlines and hotels have stricter policies than others. If you’re concerned you may need to cancel your trip, opt to book with an airline or hotel that has a customer-friendly cancellation policy. That way, if anything happens, it will be easier to get those points and miles back.

In most cases, airlines allow you to get a full refund if you cancel your flight within 24 hours of booking it. But if you cancel after that, you may be required to pay a fee if you don’t have insurance or a good enough reason to get it waived (more on that in a minute).

Call the airline or hotel directly

If you don’t have insurance coverage and you booked your flight or stay with an airline or hotel that charges a fee, it may make sense to speak with a human to plead your case. Call the airline or hotel directly or reach out on social media to see what your options are when you cancel. Chances are there’s someone on the other end of the line that will be able to help.

Keep in mind, though, that airlines and hotel brands have strict rules for waiving a cancellation or redeposit fee.

For example, I had to cancel a trip to Disneyland with my daughter in December 2019 because she woke up sick the day before we were supposed to leave. I wasn’t sure how long the stomach bug would last, so I messaged Delta on Twitter and called the IHG property directly.

Both required a doctor’s note to waive the cancellation fee, but once I had that, they canceled and refunded me without a fee attached.

Pay attention to the ticket you book

With some airlines, if you book a non-refundable ticket, you may be able to cancel the ticket but you won’t get your points or miles back at all. Instead, you might end up with a voucher for a flight on that same airline, or you could be out of luck completely.

Make sure you read all of the information regarding your ticket before you complete the booking process.

A word of caution: watch for change fees

Many airlines and hotels may charge a change or cancellation fee to void your ticket and redeposit your points and miles into your rewards account. Currently, Southwest Airlines is the only major airline that doesn’t charge a fee for most changes and cancellations.

Here’s what to expect from major U.S. airlines:

Airline Cancellation/redeposit fee How to avoid the fee
Alaska Airlines $125 Cancel the ticket within 24 hours after booking
American Airlines Up to $150 for the first award ticket and $25 for each additional ticket reinstated at the same time
Cancel the ticket within 24 hours after booking or have Executive Platinum status or change only your travel date (not origin/destination)
Delta Air Lines $150 Cancel the ticket within 24 hours after booking or have Diamond or Platinum Medallion status
Frontier Airlines $75 Cancel the ticket within 24 hours after booking (must be booked more than seven days in advance)
Hawaiian Airlines $30 for tickets wholly in the state of Hawaii and $150 for tickets issued for travel between Hawaii and North America or an international destination Cancel the ticket within 24 hours after booking (must be booked more than seven days in advance)
Southwest Airlines You can cancel any flight up to 10 minutes before its scheduled departure time for free N/A
United Airlines $75 if you cancel 61 or more days before departure or $125 if you cancel 60 or fewer days before departure; fees decrease for elite status members Cancel the ticket within 24 hours after booking (must be booked more than seven days in advance) or have Premier Platinum status (no fee for 61 or more days) or Premier 1K status (no fees at all)

With hotels, cancellation policies can vary based on the type of rate you book. For example, some will give you a discount if you book a non-refundable stay and pay in advance. Otherwise, you’ll typically have until 24 or 48 hours before the stay begins to cancel without penalty — actual cancellation terms can vary from property to property, so double-check during the booking process to get the scoop.

The final word on canceling award trips

Having to cancel an award trip at the last minute can be disappointing. But depending on the reason for the cancellation, you may be able to get your points and miles back.

While it’s possible to rely on the generosity of the airline or hotel to waive their cancellation fee, it’s best to rely on your credit card’s travel insurance coverage or purchase the protection if you don’t have a card that offers it.

#1 Travel Rewards Card

Benefits

  • 60,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 2X points on eligible dining and travel purchases
  • 3x points on grocery purchases — up to $1,500 per month (ends June 30, 2020)
  • 25% more value when redeeming rewards for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Premium travel protection benefits