Booking Last Minute United Award Flights

About a week ago, my wife decided that she wanted to go home this upcoming weekend. The issue is her hometown has a small regional airport. This means that flights into this small hometown airport are rather expensive and require a connection. The next biggest airport is Sacramento (SMF), which is about 2.5 hour drive.

Searching for Flights

I attempted to find flights, but flights to the small airport were around $600 RT and flights to the SMF were $300 RT (plus the costs to get to her hometown). Much to the dismay of my wife, it didn’t look like any of these flight options were going to work. They were either too expensive to justify going down for a weekend or not at a convenient time.

Award Flightsuaawardflights

Then I remembered that United has routes for 10k miles each way as long as it is under a certain distance. Keep in mind this was around last Wednesday. I looked up flights and unfortunately there was no award availability. Fast forward to Sunday night, I decided to look up and see if there was any award availability had opened up . Sure enough there was an available seat on the Friday and Monday flights

You’ll notice in the picture below there are several fare classes. The number next to them indicates how many seats are available in that fare class. For my purposes, I am primarily interested in X and XN fares.


These are both Economy Saver Awards (10k miles/one way). Y and YN are Economy Standard Awards (25k miles/one way). I have access to the XN seat inventory since I have the United MileagePlus Explorer credit card.

Close-In Booking Feeuacloseinbookingfee

Now for the annoying part, United charges a $75 close-in booking fee for any flights that are less than 21 days out. In this case, I was looking at a flight 6 days out. $75 is a pretty steep price to pay. You can avoid these fees if you have a certain frequent flyer status with United Airlines or you can use the trick below.

The Trick

Now here’s the trick, you can book the same route more than 21 days out and then change the flight to the one that you want. Here’s the process that I went through:

  • Book the same route 21 days out
    • In my case, I booked the same route for the following dates: 12/2 – 12/5 (well beyond the 21 day mark)
  • Received the confirmation email and went to “manage reservation”
  • You then click “cancel/change flight” and select the dates that you actually want to fly.
    • In my case, the desired flight dates were: 11/4-11/6
  • It’ll then show all the award inventory still available for your new dates
  • As long as you’re booking the same type of seat (X or XN), it’ll use the points you already paid and the same amount of taxes/fees without the close-in booking fee

Keep in mind you have to do this within 24 hours of booking for it to be free. Also, changing the flight removes the 24 hour cancellation option that you normally get when booking flights.

I like the fact that it can all be done online as well. Although, I have heard of some instances where the website errors out and you have to call in to get the flights changed. Overall, this trick is pretty easy and saved us $75.

Also, using miles saved us a lot of money as well. If you consider the fact that the same round-trip flights were around $625. The math works out like this: ($625 – $11.20fees) / 20,000 miles = 3.069 cents per mile. That’s pretty good value considering I can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to United miles. It’s little tricks like these that help you get maximum value for your miles/points.