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Can I Reclaim My Miles If I Cancel an Award Ticket?

Dear Tim,

I’m planning a trip to Europe in the summer of 2006. In order to get mileage award seats from American, I have to book my award 11 months prior to my flight date. If my wife or I become incapable of traveling, will American give me back my unused miles?

Dear Reader,

First, I’d like to offer my compliments on your long-range planning. Obtaining capacity-controlled award seats to Europe during the busy summer travel season can require booking a full 11 months in advance, before the few available seats are snapped up. It sounds like you are doing just that.

To answer your question, there’s good news and bad news. You will be pleased to learn that American will indeed allow you to return the AAdvantage miles to your account if you should decide to cancel the award trip. The bad news, as you’ve probably already guessed, is that American will charge you a fee to do so. And it’s a hefty one: $100 per ticket.

Does that price seem high? For comparison, here is a sampling of fees from other major airlines.

Northwest only charges $25 per ticket if you redeposit the miles via Northwest’s website; the fee rises to $50 if you make the transaction through Northwest’s call center. Continental charges $50 to reinstate miles for non-elite members and $35 for Silver or Gold elite members; the airline waives the fee for Platinum elites. Delta charges $50 per ticket to reinstate miles. United charges $100 like American, so while American may be at the high end of the fee scale, it’s not alone.

Because consumers are less concerned with these fees than they are with fares and award levels, the airlines feel little competitive pressure to lower them. I wouldn’t hold out much hope that American will reduce its fee between now and next summer. A more likely scenario is that the other carriers will raise their fees to more closely approximate American’s and United’s.

You might find some consolation in the fact that, because the award tickets are for overseas travel and are therefore more expensive, the fees as a percentage of the value of the tickets are lower than they would be for domestic tickets. So if you are forced to redeposit the miles, the cost of doing so won’t wipe out the miles’ value.

Also, the reinstated miles will retain their original expiration date unless you have earned or redeemed miles after you booked your award. In that case, all miles in the account will have an expiration date of three years after the date of the most recent transaction.

So, yes, you do have the option of canceling the trip and redepositing the miles in your account, but it’s not a particularly attractive one. Let’s hope the trip proceeds as planned.

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