One way

While US Airways is still around the following also works for US Airways bookings with avios. 

I’m changing how I book my Domestic AA flights. As many of you know I already book nearly all of my domestic AA flights with Avios.  The change moving forward is in how I book those flights with avios. I’m outlining this change to hopefully help you as well when you book a round trip ticket on AA with avios.

Personally it is pretty rare that I book an avios round trip award.  I love extracting free one ways whenever possible. I usually book a one way with another program and use Avios for one way flights only, either as part of a hybrid system booking, or as part of a double down booking.

However if I do book a round trip with Avios I’ve decided to split these flights in half, and book the outbound flight as a one way, and the return as a separate one way.  I’ll outline why I’m doing this, and the benefits in both saving money and increased flexibility in doing so.

Distributed Under Creative commons 2.0
Distributed Under Creative commons 2.0. Modified from the original.

Avoid Fees Whenever Possible

Milenomics seeks to replicate the benefits of being a [mid tier] elite without the messy issue of paying for and flying all those extra needless flights.  Especially for those of us who are #101 and #201 travelers there’s no chance you’d qualify for elite status based on your yearly paid flights alone.  Sitting on a plane just to earn EQM’s and move up the ladder is a waste of time and money.

AA’s current award change fees are really rather generous. You can change dates and flights as long as you leave the origin and destination untouched.  However they do add in a nasty $75 fee for “close in” ticketed awards, and any change to a destination will incurr a $150 change fee as well.

Today’s tip nearly eliminates the change fees for changes to origin or destinations, as well as the close in fee for changes to an award that is within 21 days.

BA Savior Small

British Airways, Wallet Savior

It is no secret that British Airways avios are a great way to save miles and money.  In addition they have a great quirk for their award bookings: When you cancel your awards you pay whichever is lower: the $55 cancellation fee, or the taxes you paid on the award flight itself.  So, as long as your taxes are less than the $55 cancellation fee you simply forfeit those taxes and receive your miles back. (See the 24 hour cancellation section below for an important limitation on this).

We discussed this during the “Panic of August 24th,” and many many other sites have gone over the idea of cancelling Avios bookings and forfeit the booking fee (usually <$10).

In addtion there’s no close in booking fee when you use Avios. The lack of close in booking fees and allowing you to cancel and pay a very small penalty are just two reasons Avios are in my Award Tool Belt. Today’s strategy builds upon these two facts to allow nearly unlimited flexibility; Date changes, location changes, and close in changes for far less than the $75/$150 AA charges, and less even still than what BA would normally charge as well.

The Secret to Never paying Change fees; One Way Bookings

To avoid ever paying BA (or AA) a change fee Book every Avios based award as two one way flights. 

Why? Because booking as  two one way flights allows you to change either the outbound or the return without a phone agent, and without paying a change fee. Nothing is worse than needing to speak to someone to make a change and being stuck on a one hour hold.

Booking two one ways has the additional benefit of allowing me to make a change while I’m mid-trip. If I need to rush home, so long as there are award seats on an earlier day, I can.  If I want to extend my trip a bit I can do that too–simply cancel the return and rebook on the day/time that fits my schedule.

Cancelling an entire round trip award is risky–sometimes AA award seats go back into inventory immediately, sometimes they don’t. Two one ways allow you to cancel just the segment you want to change and not have to worry about the flights you want to keep being returned to award inventory.

Don’t Change, Cancel

In this post I keep saying we can make changes for nearly free, but in reality what we’re doing is cancelling one of the two one ways and rebooking.  This “change” is different than the change option presents you with, a distinction which is important to keep in mind

Actually changing a BA Avios award will incur fees.  If you decide you want to change a flight and click on the “Change this booking” option you’ll be presented with the following at the end of all your changes:

LIH-LAX Change 4

The cost isn’t terrible, since this is a change to a flight within 21 days AA would charge me $75 per person for this change. But we know we can do better than this.

Instead of changing the ticket we should always cancel the ticket and rebook.  All you lose is the per segment taxes originally paid when booking:

LIH-LAX Change 1

As you can see I’ve cancelled my previous flight and lost my taxes and fees per person. In my experience miles are refunded near instantaneously, all it takes is a simple log out/log in.  Once my miles have been returned I can rebook my flight and pay the fees again.

Tip: Make sure you bring the credit card you paid the fees with you so you can enter it in the security box on prior to cancellation.  Especially for flights booked far in advance, make sure you keep the card number so you can cancel if the need arises:

Not knowing this number means you will have to call to cancel the award
Not knowing this number means you will have to call to cancel the award. We want to avoid hold times whenever possible.

Getting around the BA 24 Hour Cancellation Policy

British Airways allows award cancellations (with refund of Avios) up until 24 hours prior to the first flight in the award. Also, no refunds are given for partially flown bookings:

BA Cancellation Policies
See section 17.1. Source:

This causes two problems: One, you cannot change a return if you are within 24 hours of the outbound and two you cannot cancel a partially flown award.  We get around the first issue because our return, since it is a separate booking, is not linked to the outbound.  The second issue isn’t a concern because again, we’re on a separate booking.

The #BYOE Upgrade/Waitlist

We can also think of this trick as a Be Your Own Elite Waitlist or Upgrade list of sorts. You book whatever flight you can right now, and then book the return as a separate one way.

When better options open up closer to departure I can cancel just the outbound flight, and rebook onto the better option without paying a close in fee.  The same is true of moving up. If a seat in the forward cabin becomes available I can cancel just that one way, and rebook, leaving my return untouched.

The Difference is in the Fees

Today’s tip is incredibly simple, but the benefits are huge.

By booking two one ways and cancelling only the one you want to make a change to you pay as little as $5.60 each person to make a change.  You can also cancel a return while you’re on the trip. So if you’re finding a destination more interesting than you thought, or if friends ask you want to stay in town you can cancel, and rebook so long as space is available, and you abide by the 24 hour cancellation deadline.

With no last minute booking fees you can change to a better flight if one should open up. And because often times better award space opens up last minute you can book a less than ideal route or time, and set a free alert for the flight you want to take. If your alert hits cancel your other flight and rebook on the better one.  This could even save you miles if the flight is more direct!

I’m now booking all of my BA flights this way–the added flexibility is something I love.  The savings on fees is something my wallet loves.



– Written by Sam Simon. All ideas are my own, but I encourage you to see my point of view and I promise I’ll try to do the same. Connect with me on Twitter @Milenomics.

17 thoughts on “#BYOE, Book One Way Flights and Avoid AA Award Change Fees

  1. Great idea Sam! I have a related question. I booked my wife and I with Avios and now she needs to cancel. We are on the same PNR. Can I cancel just her ticket? Will the airline split the PNR or is this considered a change worthy of a fee? In this case doesn’t it make sense to book tickets separately for each family member?

    • Mark: Interesting question, and one I hadn’t thought of. The first screen when you go to cancel has you agree that you have the consent of all passengers prior to cancelling. The screen also has the following verbage, “Cancellations will apply to all passengers in the booking. If you do not want to make the cancellation for all passengers please contact your local British Airways office. You may be charged for offline service fees.” Sadly it sounds like you will have to call to do this.

      As far as booking separate tickets–I wouldn’t suggest it. If there are issues you’d have to deal with each ticket separately, and could end up split up.

  2. Thanks for this tip and it is nicely timed indeed! I have some AA tickets on hold for US domestic econ travel for my family and was about to pull the trigger. Sadly, however, I still will be doing just that, because this is now the 11th time in 2 years of trying that I have wanted to get flights on something going somewhere using Avios and it just aint happnin! Nada. No way!

    My flight path is such that Avios website says: None of their partners fly there.

    I also found that even if I take out cities and just fly some of it with Avios, the rest of the itinerary on AA requires the same amount of miles it would if doing the entire thing with them. So it aint worth it.

    Once again my combined family balance of over 400k Avois sits unused–I think the last time I redeemed anything with BA it was when they called it Executive Club miles and that 2003 Jaguar promo was going on.

    But thanks again anyway.

    • Marathon: BA’s website is dumb when it comes to routes. I cover it a bit in this post: under the heading Poor handling of Connecting flight options. The basic issue is that doesn’t have the ability to do a segment by segment search–and defaults to the shortest possible route. If there are no flights on the shortest route then the website will return the error.

      A phone call to BA’s phone agents will get around this and allow you to book whatever low level AA or US flights you want. I’ve never been charged a phone booking fee–I simply explain that the website won’t let me book the segments and they waive the fee. Also I like to count how many times they say “Thank you.” My personal best is 11. They’re so proper.

  3. ahh yes
    Thanks! That is what I must do…be British and call in. I can do that. If they cannot help me, maybe I will jab ’em with remarks about Scotland trying to become independent as well hehe. I’ll give it a whirl and letcha’ll know!

    • Haha, sounds like a plan. Let me know how you make out. Try saying “thank you,” Most times they’ll reply with “than-kew,” almost like a parrot. And Talk like a pirate day is coming up, which presents another opportunity to throw in an accent.

  4. called BA
    aint nothin avail the whole month in or out for my final leg. So I tried but once again, Avios did not cut the mustard.

    • Ah well, at least you tried. Keep the trick in mind and still do your searches on from now on. If you find low level space in the future call BA and book with avios instead.

  5. You wrote:
    “When you cancel your awards you pay the higher of the cancellation fee, or the taxes you paid on the award flight itself.”

    Don’t you really mean “lower” instead of “higher”?

  6. Same thing applies to Southwest and I’d bet JetBlue.

    Someone needs to create a tool for Southwest price alerts. I’ve saved about 25% in points this year by rebooking at lower fares, but I know I’ve missed a few.

    • So Funny you bring that up. I had a dream a few nights ago I created an autoslash style site for Southwest. You’d input your booking and then the site would rebook you as fares dropped. Sadly, the dream ended in a lawsuit, so I guess it was a nightmare…but I still think such a site would be a fantastic idea as well.

      A good tip is to subscribe to Jetblue, Virgin America, and other low cost carriers’ fare sale emails. When they announce a sale Southwest often “retaliates.” I’ve found that the days when Southwest leads the pack with sales are long gone, a victim of WN’s popularity I guess.

  7. I booked a roundtrip (American Airlines) using Avios. I need to cancel outbound. What are my options?

    • Call BA and ask for them to change the trip. You’ll pay the change fee. Or, if there is still award space on the return flight, you could book another seat, and cancel the whole original trip online, losing only the taxes.

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