Few months ago, I wrote a post on booking Munich-Naples flight on Lufthansa with the help of United program. The cost was very steep at 15,000 miles per person one-way, but all other flights were very expensive or had a connection. So, reluctantly I burned my United stash and forgot all about it.
Well, until few weeks ago. What I didn’t mention in that post was that there was a flight on Air Berlin bookable through British Airways Avios program. The cost was only 4,500 miles due to distance-based chart. However, it left at 6:00 AM, which was a deal breaker.
We are traveling with other family members, and staying 100 miles away from Munich in the middle of nowhere. Their flight to Rome is set to leave at noon. So, we are dependent on them for transportation. Not to mention, the idea of getting to the airport at 4:00 AM with small kids isn’t very appealing, to say the least.
Except, I was browsing Kayak.com and noticed that Air Berlin flight is now set to leave at noon instead of 6:00 AM. That’s perfect, considering we would not have to hang around Munich airport for 3 hours, waiting for our Lufthansa flight. Arghh, why wasn’t it that way to begin with? This is one of downsides of booking so far ahead.
This is an incredible deal, and one of the reasons I love Avios. However, canceling the award flight through United program would incur $200 per person penalty for miles re-deposit. Yes, per person. See more details here
This is the reason I don’t find United Mileage Plus program especially family-friendly. Take AAdvantage, for example. You pay $150 cancellation fee for the fist person, and $25 for others on the same reservation. Sure, if you have top-tier United elite status, there is no charge. But how many normal families do?
I did have a tiny bargaining chip. The flight schedule on my Lufthansa flight changed, and was set to depart 10 minutes later that on the original reservation. I wasn’t going to make a big fuss about it, but simply explain the situation and the fact that we were traveling with another group and had to adjust to their departure time.
So, I made the call to United Mileage Plus and was put on a very long hold. After truthfully explaining my situation to the agent, I had to wait another 20 minutes while she was talking it over with her supervisor.
As I suspected, they wouldn’t budge on the redeposit fees since the schedule change was minor. I asked her to let me talk to the supervisor and she agreed. After another 20 minutes hold, I had to plead my case. I explained to the agent that I didn’t mind paying the fee, but was hoping he would make it more reasonable.
After all, coughing up $800 to get 60,000 miles back is kind of ridiculous. And he agreed. I was polite and non-demanding throughout the whole thing. It was my decision to redeem the miles and the redeposit policy is clearly stated on the website. The airline makes the rules and I can always take my business elsewhere if I feel I’m treated unfairly.
He made me an offer to do it for $400. So, immediately, I had to decide on whether to play HUCA (hang up, call again) or just take it. I decided to take it. Yes, there is a chance that there will be a significant change in schedule, but most likely not. Also, the next supervisor I’ll talk to might not be willing to cut a deal.
I also had an option of just canceling the reservation and having 15,000 miles as a credit issued in each of our names. We could then use it for another award, but the caveat was, it could only be for a ticket for that particular individual. We would also have to pay a $75 fee per person. I decided that it made more sense to just have 60,000 miles in one lump sum and pay $400 instead. I did get a full refund of my taxes.
I was hoping to use the miles for Lufthansa business class redemption for my parents. It costs 70,000 miles one-way, and if I transferred 20,000 Ultimate Rewards points from my newly acquired CSP bonus, I would have enough for two one-way tickets. However, that’s not going to happen now. Why not?
Some time ago, I wrote about a friend who needed help with tickets to Europe. Well, she called me a week ago and told me she was getting ready to bring her daughter and mom back to US. I could tell she hated asking me for help, but simply didn’t have much choice.
Originally, I planned to burn my AA miles for her flights, but the schedule was terrible. Plus, she would have to shlep to Moscow from Minsk with a small child. So, I’ve decided to burn 120,000 United miles instead, 1 roundtrip ticket for her and 2 one-way tickets for her mom and child. She did reimburse me the $400 redeposit fee and award taxes. Overall, this was an ideal solution. The schedule is perfect and they can all fly from Minsk on Lufthansa.
Flying from Newark to Minsk normally costs $1,600 roundtrip per person. Even though it does make me sick to my stomach to part with 120,000 United miles, I’m happy with CPM value. Oh, and the fact that I helped someone in need. But mostly it’s the CPM value.
My parents will now have to fly in economy and I will need to transfer the entire bonus from CSP card to have enough miles for both tickets. When I told my mom, it didn’t bother her one bit. She is the kind of person who would give shirt off her back to a total stranger, figuratively speaking.
Many times in this hobby, you have to think on your feet when it comes to miles and points decisions. That’s why it’s important to have an idea on your future travel plans as well as your individual value of each currency.
Since I didn’t have any Avios, I asked my mother-in-law if I could borrow some from her. She said it would be fine. I have the nicest in-laws, seriously. So, basically, instead of spending 60,000 United miles, I used 18,000 Avios, and got a much more convenient flight.
Few weeks ago, I said that I sold United miles for less than 1 cent each 5 years ago. Well, now I ended up buying them for a little less than one cent due to $400 redeposit fee! As I said in that post, circumstances change, and your valuation of miles will reflect it.
- When flying with family and having a choice of different airline programs, try to avoid United. If your plans change and you don’t have any status, you’ll pay through the nose to re-deposit the miles. I think the program mostly caters to single business travelers.
For example, if you redeem Avios, you’ll only lose what you’ve paid in taxes. That’s usually $5 on domestic American Airlines flight (British Airways partner).
- If you have no choice but to fly United, it makes sense to redeem for a roundtrip award ticket. Even though, you lose some flexibility, if you need to cancel, it will cost you $200 instead of $400, since the fee is per ticket.
Watch the schedule of your flights. If it changes significantly, you may be able to get your miles back without penalty, assuming that’s what you want to do. Either way, call and plead your case. Be honest and polite. You may get a nice supervisor who will waive the fee or perhaps reduce it. Play HUCA if you need to. It works!
Readers, have you ever had to make a split-second decision like this one?
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.