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.
Can you get them back? Here are your options.
Important note: The policies outlined below reflect the airlines' ongoing policies, and they do not account for any temporary changes they have made as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Most airline and hotel companies have alternate cancellation policies currently in effect.
Can I get my miles back if I cancel my award flight?
When canceling a flight that was purchased using miles, most airlines charge a cancellation fee unless you have elite status with the airline. Here’s what you can expect on these U.S.-based airlines:
Award ticket cancellation fee
Waived for Mileage Plan MVP Gold or 75k
$150 for first ticket, additional $25 if points are reinstated to the same account at the same time
Waived for Executive Platinum members
$150 (must be canceled or changed at least 72 hours prior to departure, or are otherwise nonrefundable)
Waived for Diamond and Platinum Medallion members
Waived for Last Seat Award flights
$0 to $200 (dependent on fare)
$25 to $125 (dependent on cancellation date, date of departure and status)
Waived on all award travel for flights changed or cancelled more than 30 days before departure
Southwest Rapid Rewards will return your points to you without a fee even if you’re a no-show for your flight.
JetBlue won’t charge you only if your ticket is a Blue Flex Fare, which means paying a somewhat hefty premium to purchase the ticket in the first place. Otherwise, JetBlue is not as forgiving, charging up to $200 to cancel your reward ticket with no waivers.
International airlines: Other airlines with fees ranging between $25 and $150 will waive those fees for elite members. International carriers can be a bit more kind. British Airways, for example, will charge up to $55 for flights departing from North America, waiving fees for Gold members, while Virgin charges $50 (with no waivers available) for flights canceled up to 24 hours before departure.
Cancellation periods vary for U.S. airlines, as well. If you cancel your flight on American within 72 hours of departure, your miles will not be refunded. You’ll also forfeit your miles if you’re a no-show on a Frontier flight. No-shows on United must pay a $125 redeposit fees to keep unused miles.
What happens to my miles if I change (rather than cancel) my award flight?
With advance planning, some airlines will allow you to change your flight for no fee, even if you booked on points. While not as flexible as being able to outright cancel, this policy can prove to be a reprieve on your wallet if your travel plans go awry.
American: In August 2020, American Airlines instituted a new no-change-fee policy for flights to any of the 50 U.S. states as well as some international destinations for all fare classes except basic economy. The policy allows American customers to keep the full value of their original tickets if they change their flight prior to takeoff. That policy applies to both cash and award tickets.
Southwest: Southwest doesn’t charge cancellation fees, so it naturally doesn’t charge change fees either. But if you make a change to your reservation that costs more points than you originally paid, you’ll have to pay for the difference with Rapid Rewards points. If you don’t have enough points to cover the difference, you’ll either have to quickly earn more points, or you’ll have to use a credit card to purchase more points, which often turns out to be a bad deal.
United: In August 2020, United removed change fees for award travel, as long as the ticket is for travel within the U.S. and in economy or a premium cabin. United also now waives redeposit fees on all award travel that is canceled or rescheduled at least 30 days before your scheduled flight.
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.
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 2021, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card