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Avoiding Airline Close-in Booking Fees

The money hungry, cash starved airlines are always thinking of new ways to collect “fees.” One of these fees is the “close-in” booking fee that’s charged to folks making an award redemption within 21 days of departure. In fairness to the airlines, this fee has been around for ages, but most people don’t book trips on the whim so it doesn’t affect the majority of travelers.

However, the secret to booking premium cabin is either really far in advance or really close in to departure and I was looking to do the latter and was going to be hit with the fee.

Of course, elite members get this fee reduced or waived, but I’m not one of those members….

So now what?

A known work around exists to avoid the “close-in” fee with United Airlines. The trick involves booking a flight greater than 21 days out and changing the flight to the one you actually want to fly that’s within the 21 days. The work around so simple that it’s believable that the loophole was closed. Curiosity was getting the best of me despite reading reports the work around has been closed.

I wanted to make a new redemption for myself on July 30th for a flight departing August 4th and as expected any redemption would incur a $75 because I’m not a United Elite member. Instead of booking the flight I wanted for the August 4th. I booked a flight that was greater than 21 days out. For this instance, I booked a flight for the 28th of August for the same origin and destination city pair as I original intended except this redemption didn’t incur the $75 close-in fee.

Almost immediately after I booked a flight for the 28th of August, I called United to change the flights to the one I really wanted for the 4th of August. The agent changed my flights to the real flights I wanted to book and didn’t collect the $75 “close-in” fee. The taxes/fees for my intended flight was cheaper than the one I booked greater than 21 days out and was refunded $13.20.


My original flight booked that was greater than 21 days in advance. Notice the etkt total charged to my VISA


The flights that I actually wanted to fly that was less than 21 days from departure. Notice NO form of payment

The change fee doesn’t apply since United allows free change and cancellations within 24-hours of a booking regardless of your elite status with United.


This is only my own personal experience of the loophole working with United. You’re experience may differ because the competency of an United agent greatly varies from one and another.

I’m not sure why previous reports from May said the work around doesn’t work. My suspicion is that if you’re dealing with a live agent who makes the change for you, the agent has to mindfully apply the “close-in” booking fee. Because the agent is desensitized to dates from the countless dealing during their shift, they simply get disoriented and simply forget.

This trick, at least to my knowledge, doesn’t work with American Airlines because the impose is calculated automatically through the system.


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