Many of you here on MRI are well traveled and are frequent fliers. Many of you are travel blog readers and may know this information already, but I thought it best to help those who may not be aware of it.
If United Airlines is a carrier you use often, and book award flights on, you may have been the victim of the dreaded "close in" award booking fee of $75. There is a way around this that works most of the time. (The reason it isn't 100% of the time has to do with seat inventory, not the methodology).
Many times people have last minute travel because of a family illness/funeral/etc. and people can use their miles to avoid a high cash fare. They can now avoid being taken for $75 during a stressful time with this simple procedure.
This is how you can avoid paying that fee:
Search for the flight you want. Since it is within 21 days, it will price out as both the miles needed and the $75 fee.
Then, search for a flight MORE THAN 21 days out with the same origin and destination. Try to find one that requires the same or less number of miles than the flight you really want. Go ahead and book that flight knowing it's not on the day you want to travel, and it will NOT charge the $75 since it is more than 21 days out. As soon as the ticket is confirmed which in my experience with UA is almost immediately, go into the reservation. Click on "cancel/modify" flight. Then find/choose the original flight you wanted during your first search. It will price out with the miles you expected from the first search, but will no longer charge the $75 fee.
Now if you are concerned about this backfiring, or the original seat being taken in the three minutes between the first search and your booking the other flight, no need to be. You can easily cancel an award booking within 24 hours with no penalty at all. Your miles will immediately credit to your account and any fees paid are also credited back to your card. It really is no risk so long as you make any changes within the 24 hour cancellation window.
This advice is posted on several travel blogs out there so I am not divulging anything "secret" by letting the MRI audience aware of this.
I have personally used this once as I don't travel all that much but for those who book award flights on UA often and/or don't have high status to avoid the fee, it could easily save people lots of cash. I don't think people should be penalized with a fee to use the miles they earned simply because the booking is within some arbitrary time frame.