The nation’s largest airlines scored a little PR win with the recent release of policy changes on fees for airline ticket changes. United Airlines kicked off the blitz, and the other legacy airlines followed — each describing the end of ticket change fees as “permanently,” “for good” and “forever.” (We’ll see about that.)
At least for now, this is a win for travelers and a huge loss of revenue for the airlines. United, for example, collected $625 million in ticket cancellation and change fees in 2019 ($2.8 billion for all U.S. airlines combined).
Major Airlines Are Offering No-Fee Ticket Changes
Not to be left out of the party, American, Delta, and Alaska matched United. But there’s one noticeable similarity among the new policies: The new no-fee change does not apply to the cheapest Basic Economy airfares. That means that travelers won’t get a break on change fees if they buy a ticket that doesn’t allow a free bag on board or a seat assignment, and those change fees can be as much as $250!
There are exceptions to the policy through the end of 2020. I’ll have more on that below as well as the latest information on change fees for the smaller carriers.
United’s new policy isn’t quite as good as it sounds: United will keep any difference in airfare should you find a lower fare when changing your ticket. Other airlines will refund that difference in the form of an e-credit which can be applied toward travel taken within one year.
The across-the-board policy change from the major airlines applies to all domestic destinations including Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean. Travelers will be able to change dates and destinations at no cost. They will, though, have to pony up for any fare difference.
Exceptions to the New No-Fee Flight Change Policy
- A $75 fee applies to changes or cancellations made seven or more days before departure.
- No changes or refunds are permitted within seven days of departure.
- Flex tickets can be changed up to an hour before departure at no charge.
- Starting Oct. 1, any customer holding any class of ticket (including Basic Economy) can stand by for flights on the same day and destination as their original flight. There’s no charge for this even on international travel.
- Customers who purchase Basic Economy tickets on Oct. 1 and after will be able to purchase extra upgrade features such as priority boarding and Preferred/Main Cabin Extra seats.
- Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, Basic Economy tickets will no longer earn elite qualifying dollars, miles or segments toward future status.
- The same-day standby fee will remain at $75.
- If you book your ticket between now and Sept. 30, you can change that ticket one time for free as long as you do so at least seven days before departure. If your new flight costs less, you won’t get a refund or credit for the difference.
- There will be no fee for changes on departures 60 or more days in advance.
- A $79 fee applies to changes or cancellations on tickets purchased 59 to 14 days prior to departure.
- A $119 fee applies to changes or cancellations made 13 days or less before departure.
- Flight change and cancellation fees are waived for existing and new flight bookings made through Feb. 28, 2021. If you cancel, you’ll get a credit for the ticket amount which will be valid for 12 months. Fare differences will still apply.
- A $25 non-refundable fee per person applies to changes or cancellations made by phone (so use the website instead).
- Change and cancel fees are waived on travel booked by Sept. 30. The full purchase price will be issued as a credit for future travel.
- No fee applies to changes or cancellations made within 24 hours of purchase and/or if the departure date is more than seven days out.
- All other change/cancel circumstances result in a $90 fee when made online; $100 by phone or at the airport.
- Starting Jan. 1, 2021, any customer can stand by on flights on the same day as the original departure for the same destination at no charge.
Budget Travelers Do Have an Option
Southwest Airlines have never charged a fee to change a ticket of any class, including its lowest Wanna Get Away fares. If you want to change your flight, you’ll have to pay the difference if the new ticket costs more. If your new flight costs less, you’ll get a credit for the difference for future travel. Southwest allows two free checked bags per passenger on all booked flights.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian and United have extended their flexible booking policies through the end of 2020 — regardless of ticket class. One change is permitted at no cost. A change to the origin and/or destination is permitted as part of the waiver.
Should you opt to cancel a flight, you will receive a credit voucher that will be valid for 12 months. Customers are responsible to pay any difference in airfare. The no-fee changes are also applicable when booked with airline award/miles tickets.
Although this major policy change is of no use to those of us who buy the cheapest priced Basic Economy ticket, it could be the slow unraveling of ancillary fee collection by the biggie airlines — especially if customer demand continues to ebb due to the global pandemic. But then again, don’t hold your breath.