An Undervalued Benefit of Top Airline Status

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For me, the biggest benefit of holding top status with an airline isn’t the upgrades, it’s the ability to cancel award tickets with no penalty and to book last minute award tickets with no fee.

As I”ve gotten older and the health of those nearest and dearest to me has started to decline, I find the flexibility this option offers (not to mention the extra inventory available to elites) invaluable.

Yes, in an emergency I will spend whatever it takes to buy or change a ticket to get where ever I need to be whenever I need to be there. But it’s not always obvious if it will be an emergency and many important times don’t quite rise to the urgent level it would take to justify spending $600 on a one way ticket or investing in a ticket “just in case” and then not flying it.

A few weekends ago it was best to try to catch a later flight back to DC so I could take care of some things. Not an emergency, but definitely better for me to be there. Well, between the change fee and price difference of a last minute ticket, I would have spent an extra $400. To purchase a one-way ticket outright was nearly that much. To book a one-way award ticket on two days out was only 12,500 miles + $2.50 in taxes. As a United 1K I don’t have to pay the $25-$75 fee for bookings made within 21 days of travel.

This feature was particularly useful last year when a friend found out their father had been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. Among the many complications of the situation, it wasn’t clear if they should be there for the surgery or come immediately afterward and it wasn’t possible to know until a day in advance, nor was it possible to know when they would need to come back.

Spending $1000 for a last minute ticket wasn’t financially feasible for them and there wasn’t enough time to drive. The stress of the situation alone was enough to wear them out. I was so glad that I was able to book award tickets for every possible day and then cancel them as needed. In one case, 45 minutes before the flight was due to depart.

The situation was still unbelievably painful, but not having to worry about how they would get there and how they would afford it took some of the worry away for both of us. And it wasn’t something I would have been able to afford to do if I had to pay $25-$75 for each last minute booking and then $100-$150 per ticket to recredit the miles.

Their situation is one that I could easily be in in the coming years, and for the peace of mind alone, well worth me figuring out how to fly 100,000 miles a year.

On a lighter note, this perk has happier applications as well. I’m notorious for changing my international first class award tickets multiple times before flight to get the best experience possible. I’ll book the best flights possible when I first start planning and then stalk availability in case something better comes up.

Depart on Thai Airways or Cathay Pacific?

Depart on Thai Airways or Cathay Pacific?

On my recent trip to Asia, I originally booked an award ticket to fly First Class on Etihad to Abu Dhabi and then Business Class from there to Bangkok (only two cabin planes were available on that route). Then two weeks before departure, First Class on Cathay Pacific opened up for fewer miles and a better schedule. Done! The miles were deposited back in my account and all my taxes refunded, all thanks to my recent qualification for American Airline’s Executive Platinum status.

When United made Singapore Airlines First Class awards bookable via their website, I used all my miles to book 3 possible dates immediately, cancelling them fee-free once I determined which itinerary best fit my schedule.

If you’re someone who already flies enough to come within reach of top status, the ability to perfect your vacation award trips over time without spending hundreds of dollars may well be worth investing in a few extra mileage runs.


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Heels First’s Travel Advice–Sophisticated Travel, Uncomplicated Advice. The travels and tribulations of two frequent flyers jumping into the world of travel, sharing their travel advice. Join Keri and Jeanne as they tackle mileage runs, elite status, and of course–the perfect travel accessories.


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