Award flights are the best. Finding award flight availability however, is the worst. If you've never searched for an award ticket, found availability, thought about it and returned to find that it was no longer there, you are a lucky bastard! I've seen so many awards come and go that I vowed to never let it happen again. Why would you? You can cancel almost every award flight within 24 hours of purchase and get all your miles back, all your money back and usually book a new one instantly.
Though there are exceptions, such as awards booked within 24 hours of a flight departure, virtually every award flight booking you may ever make has a 24 hour cancellation grace period. If I find the seats I even think I am looking for, I always book them immediately. My wife, who is far more practical than I, naturally wants to whip the date books out, check a few options and get a few ok's before we book anything. While booking our flights to Rio last year, we learned to just book. We found the perfect flights, left it, lost them, and had to settle for less ideal dates. If you too are as practical as my wife, book your flights immediately and take the 23 hours afterward to dot your I's and cross your T's.
In my best practice, the way to cancel an award is over the phone. Though it may take a while to get through (less if you use this trick), calling is going to give you the best chance to get your miles to credit back instantly, or keep the rep on the phone until you see them back in your account. On a recent call with BA, the rep told me the miles were in my account yet I couldn't see them. By staying on the phone I was able to let her know that they indeed were not showing up, a few keyboard entries on her end later and a refresh on mine and they were there. I was able to cancel an award I had just booked, get my miles back immediately and proceed directly to booking my new or better flight. Of course always check the T&C's before booking but a 24 hour grace period is standard.
Obviously if you get it right the first time it's even easier ; )
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