Scott's Cheap Flights, shares his thoughts on the change fee policy recently adopted by several airlines.
Four airlines—United, Delta, American, and Alaska—have announced
they were permanently axing change fees, which for domestic flights had
typically been $200 (plus any fare difference).
Hooray! Sort of.
On balance, this is a positive move for travelers, but it’s not
nearly the panacea that airlines would have you believe. There’s still too many
exceptions in the fine print.
Here’s why I see this development as more of a first step than a
A huge loophole
The airlines were patting themselves on the back for canceling change
fees, but they left a glaring omission: the new policy doesn’t apply to basic
economy tickets. You’ll have to pay for main economy in order to benefit.
If you’re someone who avoids basic economy tickets, then change
fees are a thing of the past for you. But if you pack light and are loyal to
the cheapest fare available, airlines aren’t making your life easier.
Temporary Covid waivers mean that airlines across the U.S. did
suspend change fees, including for basic economy tickets, through December 31,
2020.However, airlines plan to roll back that flexibility for basic economy
starting next year.
Applies to domestic flights, but only some international.
Though all four airlines and Southwest are eschewing change fees
on domestic flights (except for basic economy tickets), which international
routes the new policy applies to varies by airline.
On United and Delta, the policy doesn’t apply to international
routes. On Alaska and Southwest, it does. And on American, it only applies to
international flights to Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean.
Free changes do not equal free cancellations.
It’s reasonable to read that airlines have axed change fees and
assume that means you can now get a refund if you want to cancel a ticket.Not!
Though there’s no longer an additional fee, if you want to
change flights and the new one is more expensive, you have to pay the fare
But if your new flight is cheaper, the policy varies airline to
airline. On Southwest and American, you’ll get the fare difference back in
travel credit, but on United you won’t get any form of refund if the new flight
costs less. Delta and Alaska haven’t announced their policies yet.
Free same-day standby, if you’re feeling lucky.
Let’s say you booked a flight home for Thanksgiving that
departed Wednesday night, but you later decided it’d be better to leave that
morning. When you check fares, though, the morning flights are $300 more
expensive than what you paid.
Before you hand over your hard-earned bread, you could try your
luck with a newly announced policy on American (starting 10/1/20) and United
(starting 1/1/21): free same-day standby, even for basic economy ticketholders.
It’s a gamble, of course, but if there’s an available seat on the plane come
boarding time, it’ll be yours without having to pay any fare difference.
A caveat: you can only use the free same-day standby policy to
switch to an earlier flight, not a later one.
Southwest stands out.
As exciting as it was to see change fees die on so many
airlines, none of the latecomers do it as well as Southwest. Southwest doesn’t
have change fees on any tickets; other airlines still have them for basic
Southwest doesn’t have change fees for any routes; other
airlines still do on many international flights (Alaska Airlines
Southwest gives you the difference if you switch to a cheaper
flight; United does not and Delta/Alaska haven’t said.
It’s great that airlines are getting rid of change fees. It’s
the right thing to do, especially during a pandemic when travelers should be
making their plans in pencil, not in pen.
Hopefully, airlines continue down this path and plug some of the
existing gaps by including basic economy, all destinations, and giving
passengers back any fare difference.
Photos from free sources