Reward Travel Ticket Restrictions:

by Patrick Sojka - Editor Rewards Canada | Posted 01.17.05
Reward Travel Restrictions: What to know and look out for

Restrictions on travel reward tickets vary from program to program as well as year to year. Whether redeeming frequent flyer, frequent buyer or credit card points, the reward ticket received will come with some sort of restrictions. Over the years the number of restrictions on reward tickets have increased but from an overall point of view, the tickets redeemed from frequent flyer programs are the least restrictive, credit card and frequent shopper program points redeemed through their respective travel agencies tend to carry more restrictions. However one program sticks out in terms of restrictions, Air Miles, which is the most popular frequent shopper program in Canada.

Frequent Flyer Programs

Frequent flyer reward tickets offer up the least restrictions when it comes time to changing or canceling your reservations Most if not all frequent flyer programs will allow a change to a reward ticket flight (date, flights, etc) right up to the date of departure for a small fee of course (see this chart for fees), and the difference in miles if so required. Canceling reward tickets will also cost you a fee but you will get your miles re-deposited and the taxes refunded. The only anomaly here is Air Canada's Aeroplan, where you cannot cancel your Aeroplan reward booking within 21 days of departure but you can make changes to the ticket. Some airlines will even let you redeposit the miles if you don't take the flight and want to redeposit afterwards, since in most cases reward tickets are valid for 1 year from date of issue.

Credit Card/Frequent Shopper Programs

When you redeem your points earned on a credit card you are typically getting a credit towards a ticket purchased through the respective credit cards travel agency. These tickets are just like the ones you would buy from any travel agency or the airline itself. It is governed by the rules that are attached to the fare class the ticket is purchased under. So depending on what you did or wanted to spend, you could get the cheapest economy ticket with the biggest set of restrictions or a full fare business class ticket with little or no restrictions. Whatever the case, the majority of these tickets can be changed or cancelled for a fee of course, unless it is a full fare priced ticket which in most cases allow changes for free. Should you cancel your ticket you will not get your credit card points back but you will either get a credit with the airline (less the service fee of course) or a cash refund. If you change the flight you may have to pay a service fee and/or the fare difference if the flight you change to is more expensive.

Frequent shopper programs like Petro Points, Sears Club, HBC Rewards work in much the same manner in that you get a dollar value credit towards tickets booked through their travel agencies and the ticket would fall under the airline fare class restrictions.

Air Miles

Once you redeem Air Miles Reward Miles for a flight with the Air Miles program, that's it, those miles are gone. Unless of course you bought flight cancellation insurance in which case you can get your miles back only for medical, death in family or loss of employment reasons. Should your travel plans change for any other reason, you will lose the miles and what they would like you to believe all the taxes and fees as well.

Air Miles has agreements in place to buy tickets at a wholesale price from the airlines that participate in the Air Miles program. This is much like consolidators who buy tickets in volume from the airlines for a discounted rate. The only difference is that most consolidator fares have the general airline restrictions placed on them. This is not the case with Air Miles, the Air Miles reward program strictly prohibits the refund of miles. Even if you call the airline directly to change the date of the flight, they will tell you that all communication on the tickets must be through Air Miles who will say "sorry but you are out of luck". So remember with Air Miles, no changes, no cancellations, nothing., not even the option of paying a fee like most other tickets allow.

If you choose to not take your flight that has been redeemed for with Air Miles, you may wonder what about the taxes and fees? Air Miles would like you to think that these are not refundable but from personal experience they are. It did take two phone calls, one to a supervisor but I did have the taxes and fees refunded on an Air Miles reward ticket. The miles were not refunded and I told them I did not care about the miles but did bring up the argument that if I am not flying, then the airline will perhaps sell that seat last minute and therefore taxes would have been collected twice for the same seat. The same went for the airport surcharges as I said I would not be using the facility so why should I pay it? In the end the Air Miles supervisor agreed, cancelled the booking and refunded all of my taxes and fees.

So if you are going to redeem those Air Miles for a flight, make sure your plans don't change or else be willing to lose the miles if you do and fight for those taxes and fees back.

View our Reward Ticket Fee Comparison Chart

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