How much is your “free” award ticket costing you?

It can be fun to dream about cashing in all those frequent flyer miles that you have been saving. That’s the day that your dedication to your favored airline will finally pay off in a free flight to somewhere fabulous.

But will your ticket really be free? No.

Unfortunately, the reality of redeeming frequent flyer miles is often much less of a dream and much more like a traveler’s nightmare.

Trying to find available dates to your desired location for your family can often prove impossible. Add to that the sticker shock of the final cost of these “free” tickets, and you will quickly understand why most travelers don’t easily win this airline vs. consumer game.

Jane Wade recently contacted us because her husband found out the hard way that these award tickets aren’t free.

“My husband booked a United flight online from Fort Lauderdale to Cleveland,” she told us. “When he went to purchase the ticket on the payment screen using the mileage from my account, he was charged a $75 ‘close-in fee’ along with the expected taxes. This appears to be one more way that the airlines are ripping off their customers with ridiculous fees. Why?”

And her desired resolution presented to our advocacy team was: “To eliminate the practice of charging ridiculous fees for transactions where no human beings are involved.”

I thought that might be a tall order and a little too far-reaching for us today, but Wade asks an interesting question. Are all these fees really necessary?

When I reviewed the terms of usage for the MileagePlus Program I noted that this $75 fee is tacked on to any award ticket if the member does not have special status and the flight is within 21 days.

Unfortunately for Wade’s husband, he booked his ticket 19 days before the flight. Those two days past United’s arbitrary cutoff cost him $75.

This fee is by no means the only fee that could be attached to your “free” ticket. On its website United includes a chart that will help you understand some of the costs involved when redeeming those miles.

Wade’s husband did save himself an additional fee by booking online without any of that human involvement that she had mentioned. Complicated reservations that require a United representative will incur a $25 fee on top of any other charges.

And there are other fees as well. Expect to pay heftier fees if your plans change and you need to cancel, redeposit your miles or modify your plans. A quick look at their fee chart shows that United will charge a passenger $75 to $125 to redeposit their miles.

So this type of program that was set up ostensibly to reward loyal customers appears to be a thriving source of financial gain for the airline. This seems to be the best answer to Wade’s original question of “why?”

But beyond these types of airline-imposed fees, there are other costs involved in redeeming your miles that you should know about: the taxes and airport fees. These are non-negotiable, vary by destination and cabin class, and can add hundreds of dollars to the final cost of your award ticket.

Some award.

The United Kingdom, for example, is notorious for its high airport fees, which must be paid in dollars and not miles. So if you choose to redeem your miles and fly off to Merrie Olde England, your ticket will be even less free.

In fact, the U.K. imposes two types of taxes on your flight from the U.S. to England: Air Passenger Duty, which is around $100 per economy ticket ($200 for a premium ticket), and a passenger surcharge, which will add another $53 to your ticket regardless of cabin.

By comparison, a roundtrip flight to England’s neighbor, Ireland, will only incur a fraction of those mandatory taxes (approximately $50).

If you are trying to get the best value out of your frequent flyer miles with your preferred airline, the best way to do so is to book early and choose your destination carefully. Make sure to check the airport fees for your desired location. You may want to consider getting a little creative with your trip planning and avoid highly taxed destinations.

Don’t forget, if your destination is international, the U.S. also imposes a departure tax on your outgoing flight and another tax when you return.

Regrettably, we could not resolve Wade’s global concern about some of the frivolous charges that are attached to these award tickets. But we hope that, with a little pre-planning and awareness of these fees, you can take full advantage of your frequent flyer program and avoid some of the “gotcha charges” when redeeming your miles.

Should award tickets be completely free?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International,, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend