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We've all attempted to send a dish back at a restaurant or return an item of clothing we bought, realizing once we brought it home that it just wasn’t what we wanted. “Returning” travel you've booked is often more difficult.
Hotels can be lenient: Give them enough time to make another booking in your place, and they’re generally willing to let you go. Airlines are required by law in the U.S. to give you 24 hours after you buy a ticket to make sure your purchase is what you want. After that? Cancellations can become expensive, filled with fees that aren’t necessarily transparent.
If you redeem miles or points for travel, a cancellation becomes even more troublesome. Not only are there fees, but you could also lose your hard-earned rewards.
Whether you can recover miles or points for a canceled trip will depend. Here are your options.
Can I get my miles back if I change or cancel my award flight?
When canceling a flight that was purchased using miles, most airlines do not charge a cancellation fee. It is generally free to get your miles reinstated and even the taxes and fees you paid will usually be refunded.
Here is generally what you can expect on these U.S.-based airlines in terms of canceling award flights. Note these refund policies do not apply to flights bought with a combination of cash and points.
Alaska Airlines: No cancellation fee for award flights.
American Airlines: No cancellation fee for award flights.
Delta Air Lines: No cancellation fee for award flights, unless you bought a Basic Economy fare with miles.
Frontier: $75 redeposit fee to cancel a flight booked with miles. The fee is waived for Last Seat award flights.
JetBlue: No cancellation fee for award flights. Any fare paid will be refunded as a Travel Bank credit.
Southwest: No cancellation fee for award flights.
United Airlines: No cancellation fee if canceled 31 days or more before departure. $125 to $50 for cancellations made within 30 days of departure, depending on your level of United status.
Can I get my points back if I cancel my hotel reservation?
Getting miles redeposited to your hotel loyalty program is fairly easy across U.S. hotel chains if you cancel your reservation by the date provided by the hotel. Generally speaking, the individual hotel (not the chain) determines its own cancellation policies, which are detailed in your reservation’s fine print. As long as you cancel before the deadline, you won't be charged any fees and your points will be returned.
Cut it close on the deadline and it’s a different story. You might be charged a full night’s fee for canceling too late or for not showing up. Some properties specify cancellation fees openly, such as the Wyndham Reef Resort Grand Cayman, which charges a two-night penalty if a reservation is canceled within a week of the stay.
Wyndham is the most upfront, and strict, about cancellations. Go Free awards will be forfeited if cancellation is not within the property’s deadline. Here is what you can expect at U.S. hotel chains:
Points are redeposited
No fee if you cancel by the conditions on your reservation; otherwise, no-shows are charged one night’s room and tax at the “best available rate” through points.
Points are redeposited
No fee if you cancel within 48 hours of the reservation. The applicable fee the participating hotel charges for cancellations will be applied to credit card. No-shows are charged one night’s room and tax at the “best available rate.”
Points are redeposited
No fee if you cancel according to the conditions on your reservation; otherwise, the applicable fee the participating hotel charges for cancellations will be applied to your credit card.
Points are redeposited
No fee if you cancel by the conditions on your reservation; otherwise, the applicable fee the participating hotel charges for cancellations will be applied to your credit card.
Points are redeposited. No-shows are charged one-night’s room and tax at the “best available rate.”
The applicable fee the participating hotel charges for cancellations will be applied to credit card.
Points are redeposited but are forfeited if cancellation is after deadline.
Can travel insurance help recoup my miles and points?
Travel insurance will help you recover any out-of-pocket expenses if you must cancel a trip. That’s very helpful if an illness or emergency forces you to miss an airline or hotel’s deadline.
Travel insurance isn’t so helpful when it comes to miles and points, unfortunately. In general, if you’ve used miles and points for a ticket, you’re only eligible for reimbursement for any fees you incur, such as point redepositing fees. That’s fine if you’d also get your points back, but if not, insurance won’t recover those for you.
Hotels are another story. Insurance will cover any charges made to your credit card, including the full-night fee some hotels charge. But insurance won't return points redeemed on your hotel, should it keep your points as part of its cancellation policy.
Overall, however, travel insurance is still a good idea if you’re taking a big trip. A good rule of thumb is to consider the cost of your trip at booking: Does it cost more than you’d be willing to lose? If so, get insurance. Otherwise, you may want to skip it.
» Learn more: How to find the best travel insurance
Do credit cards give me my miles and points back?
Whether or not you’ll get your points and miles back depends on what type of points and miles you book with and the cancellation policies for the program you book with. Whenever you’re considering booking a ticket or hotel with points and miles, double-check the cancellation policy.
Some credit cards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, offer travel insurance as a cardmember perk. Depending on the terms of the included insurance, you’re generally able to be reimbursed for nonrefundable expenses if you have to cancel your trip for a reason that’s included in the terms and conditions.
The Capital One Venture cards, like the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, goes a step further to offer Cancel for Any Reason coverage for flights booked through Capital One Travel. You have to pay a small fee upfront when you book the flight on Capital One Travel, but then you can cancel at any time up to 24 hours before departure and you will recoup most of the cost of the ticket back. It does not have to be a "covered" reason.
Travel cards that will help you cover your canceled trip out-of-pocket expenses include Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve®, with up to $10,000 covered per trip; the United Club℠ Infinite Card, providing up to $20,000 per trip; as of 2020, American Express offers travel insurance up to $10,000 on the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, Hilton Honors Aspire and Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express cards.
The bottom line
The only sure way to get your points and miles back if you have to cancel your trip is to pay attention to airline and hotel cancellation policies and follow them as closely as you can — knowing there's a chance you might have to incur a cash penalty to retrieve your miles.
To view rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, see this page.
All information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by NerdWallet. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is no longer available through NerdWallet.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2022, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card