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Award Miles Flexibility for Your Next Race!

Race flexibility can be a helpful thing – booking a trip with the comfort of award miles flexibility can give you that! Have you ever planned on running a race and then had to pull out due to injury? Have you ever been signed up for a race that was cancelled? Have you ever signed up for a race and then had to change your arrival or departure date? If so, this may help you! If not, you will need flexibility at some point, so this will help you too!

Award Miles Flexibility for Your Race

Just in the last few months, we saw a huge running event (New York City Marathon) get cancelled. They cancelled it due to Hurricane Sandy and made many, many runners very upset as a result. I felt very bad for the large amount of runners from all over the world who had already arrived in NYC and were not able to run the race. More recently, the Tel Aviv Marathon (which was to have been run yesterday) was postponed one week until next Friday due to extreme heat (the half marathon was run as planned with 1 death and 20 hospitalized). In addition to these two, there have been a multitude of races that have been cancelled or postponed due to a variety of reasons.

If the reason was due to weather, many severe weather conditions cause the airlines to issue schedule waivers so most runners flying in for races are protected if they want to change their flight. However, in the case of race cancellations, changing the flight doesn’t really help you that much. If the weather condition that caused the cancellation was a heat condition, that is never a weather condition that airlines give waivers for.

Let’s break down what happens with a paid airline ticket – most tickets that we purchase for races are discounted economy tickets which have a non-refundable clause. Non-refundable means that you cannot get the cost refunded to your source of payment. With many tickets, however, you can get some of the value of the ticket issued back to you in the form of a voucher that is valid for one-year. Many cancellation fees are at least $150 (the different Online Travel Agents often charge their own cancellation fee in addition to the airline fee). International cancellation fees normally start at at least $250 (many of them can be around $400). So, if you spent $300 to fly to JFK for the marathon, at best, you would end up with $150 as a voucher. If you had flown from outside the US and paid around $800 for the ticket to JFK, you may have wound up with as little as a $400 voucher.

Award Miles Flexibility

The good way to get around losing money and flexibility when races go wrong is to use miles for an award ticket. Granted, depending on the airline and elite status, you will have to pay a fee for the redeposit of award miles and may have to pay change fees when the trip is close. However, there are some big differences between using miles and cash in the face of flexibility, with miles you can:

  • book tickets at the last minute for no increase in price (most airlines offer fantastic last minute award availability, but some do charge a close-in booking fee, like $75)
  • change tickets without fear of price increase (some airlines may charge a change fee when the ticket is close-in)
  • cancel award tickets and have them redeposited in your account for a fee – you can obviously choose to not pay the redeposit fee, but then you will lose the miles

Yes, there are fees associated with award miles as well, but two of the key differences is the flexibility offered by miles and the lower/no fees for changes/cancellations depending on your elite level with the airline. Many of you have some level of elite status and your fees would be substantially lower or free entirely depending on that level. So, should you ever have to change or cancel an award ticket, here are the facts for the major airlines:

American Airlines

Change award ticket

  • A $75 USD award processing charge will apply for a confirmed change to the date on an AAdvantage MileSAAver® and AAnytime® award ticket if the change results in a new outbound travel date that is within 21 days of the original booking date (waived for AAdvantage Executive Platinum®, AAdvantage Platinum® and AAdvantage Gold® members using miles from their account).
  •  A $150 USD charge will apply for a confirmed change to an eligible origin or destination on a MileSAAver® award (waived for AAdvantage Executive Platinum members using miles from their account).
  • Make a same day confirmed change for $75

Fee to reinstate award miles (after cancellation, award miles will stay but you will need to pay the reinstatement fee to use them)

  • When requesting a reinstatement, a $150 USD processing charge will be assessed per account for the first award ticket. Any additional award tickets reinstated to the same account at the same time will have a $25 USD per ticket add-on charge.

Ways to avoid fees

  • You can use British Airways Avios for travel on American Airlines (they are distance based, so it will not be a flat 25,000 mile requirement for domestic) because they do not charge a close-in booking fee (which is $75 on American Airlines when within 21 days of departure)
  • You can use Avios for travel on AA and avoid the larger $150 cancellation fee (it is only $70 to cancel with British Airways)
  • You cannot move miles between American Airlines and British Airways, so you would make the choice to use British Airways to book (still flown on AA within the US) instead of AA if you think there may be changes that could take place or you are booking a last minute ticket. Chase Ultimate Reward points transfer to British Airways at a 1:1 as do American Express Membership Reward (though there are frequent transfer bonuses from 30% – 50%.

Delta Airlines

Change award ticket

  • There is NO fee for booking a close-in award
  • There is a $150 fee for changing an award ticket (because it is a reissue) unless the member is a Diamond Medallion or a Platinum Medallion
  • There is a $50 fee for a same day confirmed change unless the member is a Gold Medallion, Platinum Medallion, or a Diamond Medallion

Fee to reinstate award miles

  • There is a $150 fee for redeposit of the miles in the event of a cancellation unless the member is a Diamond Medallion or a Platinum Medallion 
  • Note: if your departure is within 72 hours, you cannot change or redeposit the award miles at any fee. 

Ways to avoid fees

  • You can use Flying Blue (Air France/KLM) miles to redeem for Delta flights and pay a flat $70 fee for award changes or cancellations
  • You can use Flying Blue for travel on Delta but you cannot move miles between the two programs. You would have to make the choice to use Flying Blue instead of Delta if you thought there might be a chance that you would need to change or cancel the award ticket.
  • With Flying Blue, you can book one-way award tickets on Delta even though you cannot book a one-way award ticket on Delta (at half of the full price)

United Airlines

Change award ticket

  • To change your origin or destination city, you will pay a fee of $75 as a general member, $50 as a Premier Silver, $25 as a Premier Gold, and the fee will be waived if you are a Premier Platinum or Premier 1K
  • To change your departure or arrival date within 21 days of departure, you will pay a fee of $75 as a general member, $50 as a Premier Silver, $25 as a Premier Gold, and the fee will be waived if you are a Premier Platinum or Premier 1K
  • To make a close-in booking (within 21 days), you will pay a fee of $75 as a general member, $50 as a Premier Silver, $25 as a Premier Gold, and the fee will be waived if you are a Premier Platinum or Premier 1K

Fee to reinstate award miles

  • There is a fee of $150 as a general member, $125 as a Premier Silver, $100 as a Premier Gold, and the fee will be waived if you are a Premier Platinum or a Premier 1K

Ways to avoid fees

  • If you hold the United Club Credit card from Chase, you will be exempt from the close-in booking fee (the card does carry a $395 annual fee but includes a United Club membership with the card – I do not get a commission if you use this link)

US Airways

Change award ticket

  •  Any changes to an award ticket will incur a $150 charge unless you are a Chairman’s member
  • There will be a a charge of $75 for tickets booked within 21 days of departure unless you are a Gold member, Platinum member, or a Chairman’s member

Fee to reinstate award miles

  • There will be a $150 charge to reinstate award miles from a cancellation unless you are a Chairman’s member

Ways to avoid fees

  • None


  • For close-in award tickets, Delta is the winner (no fee)
  • For ticket changes before 21 days of departure, United and American Airlines are the winners (no fee (UA / AA)if changes are made prior to 21 days of departure)
  • For award cancellations, there are no winners – it is a flat $150 across the board

More ways to avoid fees

These tips work with all of the above airlines

  • If you have a friend that has elite status with the airline of your choice and the status is high enough to allow fee waivers, consider transferring the miles you need for the award to their account (Chase Ultimate Reward points transfer to United Airlines, American Express Membership Reward points transfer to Delta, SPG points transfer to American Airlines, Delta, and US Airways at 1:1 (plus 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 points transferred) and United Airlines at 2:1)
  • Wait for a schedule change: I had a recent case where I had booked an award ticket months out and they eliminated one of the flights in my itinerary and replaced it with a different flight that was greater than 3 hours after the original flight. I knew that flight would not work but I also did not call to change it as you get one change after they make a change and I wanted the flexibility to change or cancel in case something happened. Well, I did end up having to cancel the flight so I was able to get the miles redeposited (it was with United) with no fee. So, if you think there may be a slight chance you will have to make a change or cancellation, do not confirm the change that they enact.


Hopefully, this gives you a decent overview of the award changes and cancellations and what you are allowed to do. Though there are rules and fees in place, I still find trips booked with award miles to offer me a greater level of flexibility for race trips than purchasing a ticket outright.

Recent Case Example: If I had been traveling to the Tel Aviv Marathon and been planning to leave shortly after the race (like within a day or two), I would have found myself in deep trouble since they postponed it one week. If I had a paid ticket that had cost me $1300 (typical price from Rochester), I would have had to pay a $250 change fee and the fare increase for my new return date. Given that Tel Aviv flights are normally full, that would have meant an increase of at least $400-500 on top of the $250 change fee for a minimum total of $650. If I had traveled there on an award ticket (say with United), I would have been able to change my flight for $75 and then rebook based on award availability (there is decent availability back from Tel Aviv through NYC on the new return). That is a savings of a minimum of $575 plus it would give me the opportunity to rebook my return in business class for an additional 20,000 miles :).

So, take this information and book your next trip with the decision that is best for your situation. I think you will find 9 times out of 10 that using miles for your trip will end up being the best avenue in case of cancellation or postponement of your race.


Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by American Express. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of American Express, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express. This site may be compensated through American Express Affiliate Program.

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.