With all the rewards travel credit cards on the market, using frequent flyer miles to book airline tickets is more popular than ever, and for good reason. By using miles to purchase tickets, you’re getting a return on your spending. And if you know how to maximize your credit card rewards and shop around for the best award tickets, you can get some excellent deals.
One common concern when booking award tickets is whether you can get trip insurance that covers your flight if you don’t pay for a ticket in cash. Here’s what you need to know when you book a ticket with your rewards:
General Trip Insurance Probably Won’t Help
With general trip insurance, the provider most likely won’t cover you for your award flight. The reason is that a trip insurance policy covers you for your out-of-pocket expenses and doesn’t go off how much the flight retails for. Since you’re paying for your flight with rewards, you’re technically paying $0 for it, so your insurance provider isn’t going to cover you for a higher dollar amount than what you paid.
This was true with all the top general travel insurance providers, which all had policies that provide reimbursement for trip costs on prepaid, non-refundable payments. Tickets booked with travel rewards don’t qualify.
Since you still pay taxes on award tickets, you may be able to get a refund on those, although this will depend on the airline you booked the ticket through and if you canceled the flight early enough. Your other travel insurance coverages will still apply on flights booked with rewards, so if you have a medical emergency, lost or stolen baggage, delayed bagged, a delayed flight or a missed connection, you can use your travel insurance for that.
Getting a Refund on Your Miles
You have the option of getting your frequent flyer mile back in your account, but airlines charge you a fee to do this. The fee varies for each airline and may depend on your status with that airline. The average fee amount was just under $120, as of 2014.
As far as mile-refund fees go, Airtran charges $150 and Alaska Airlines charges $75 for online reservations and $100 for phone reservations. American Airlines charges $150, but if you need any additional tickets under the same account refunded, its $25 each. Delta charges $150 and you must cancel at least 72 hours before your flight’s departure time.
Frontier charges $75, JetBlue charges $50 to $100 and Hawaiian charges $30 to $150. Southwest doesn’t charge you anything. United charges $200, although if you have status with them you’ll only pay $125 or less. US Airways charges $150 and Virgin America charges $100.
Purchasing Insurance on Your Travel Rewards
If you’re going to book a flight using your travel rewards, one option to protect yourself is obtaining award flight trip insurance. This insurance coverage will pay for your refund fee if you need to cancel your flight and get your miles refunded.
Make sure you check with the travel insurance provider to see which airlines it covers and the coverage amount. For example, if you purchase travel insurance through Allianz, you can add award insurance for between $13 and $17. This covers you for refund fees of up to $200 if you booked an award ticket on Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, United or US Airways. You’ll also have up to $500 in coverage for any trip interruptions.
You won’t be able to get travel insurance that reimburses you for the dollar amount of any tickets that you booked with travel rewards. It’s still smart to book award tickets, though, because you can get some big savings.
If you need to cancel an award ticket, it’s worth it to recover your miles since you could save hundreds of dollars by using them for another ticket. Ideally, you’ll have award flight trip insurance to cover your refund fees or be flying on Southwest where there is no refund fee. If not, it’s worth the money to pay the refund fee yourself so you can get your miles back.