Saying Goodbye to (Most) Airline Change Fees

by Cassie Sclafani, on September 2, 2020

This week a number of major airlines, including American, Delta, United, and Alaska Airlines, eliminated most change fees for domestic airline tickets (and for some international travel too). 

This doesn’t mean it will be completely free to change a ticket. You will still have to pay the difference in the fare if you change to a more expensive itinerary, which is often the case if you’re changing at the last minute. But it does mean that those frustrating and egregious $200 change fees won’t be adding insult to injury anymore.

Here's what else you need to know:

United

United is eliminating change fees for all standard economy and premium tickets.

  • Applies for all travel within the United States.
  • If you change to a more expensive flight, you’ll have to pay the fare difference. If you change to a less expensive flight, you’ll lose the difference. (That part isn't great!)
  • Change fees eliminated for all U.S. award tickets.
  • Starting on Jan. 1, travelers can fly standby for free, regardless of fare class.
  • Basic economy tickets and international travel are excluded from this policy.

American

American has announced that change fees are eliminated for travelers flying in first class, business class, or main economy.

  • Applies to all domestic flights, plus some international routes, including those between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 
  • Note that any ticket purchased on or before Dec. 31, 2020 - including basic economy and international flights - can be changed without fees. After that date, change fees will apply.
  • If you change your flight to a lower-cost ticket, you will receive a credit for the fare difference.
  • Applies to AAdvantage tickets (plus any award ticket purchased on or before Dec. 31, 2020 will not have a change or cancel fee).
  • Basic economy fares and all other international flights are excluded from this new policy.

But wait, there’s more! American’s no-change-fee policy announcement also came with more good news for travelers. In case you missed it, here are the highlights:

  • Many traditional restrictions of basic economy fares have been lifted. Starting on Oct. 1, 2020, basic economy travelers can purchase upgrades, priority boarding, Preferred and Main Cabin Extra seating, and same-day confirmed flight changes. However, you still will not be able to earn elite-qualifying miles, segments and dollars on basic economy fares. 
  • AAdvantage elite members will now get benefits on basic economy flights, including upgrade privileges, free or discounted Preferred and/or Main Cabin Extra seating, and same-day confirmed flights.
  • Starting on Oct. 1, 2020, all passengers - regardless of ticket fare - will receive free standby privileges.

Delta

Change fees are eliminated, excluding basic economy fares.

  • Applies to all domestic flights, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 
  • Through the end of 2020, if you change to a cheaper flight, you will receive a voucher. D elta has not yet announced their fare difference policy for 2021.
  • Flights booked with Delta SkyMiles are not eligible for this no-change-fee policy.
  • Change fees to award tickets still cost $150. But those fees are waived for Delta Platinum and Diamond Medallion members.

Alaska

Change fees are eliminated.

  • Applies to all domestic Alaska Airlines routes, plus international flights to Canada, Costa Rica and Mexico.
  • All ticket types, except basic economy - Saver fares - are eligible.
  • Award tickets can be changed with no fees.
  • For now, if you change your flight to a cheaper one, you will receive a future travel credit for the fare difference. If you opt for a flight with a higher fare, you’ll still need to pay the difference.

And just to make sure we give credit where credit is due, we want to point out that Southwest has never charged change fees (they still don’t).

With change fees going away to a large extent, it might make sense to rethink buying tickets far in advance. Business travelers have often been reluctant to take advantage of the lower fares typically offered weeks or months out, worried that they may need to reschedule at the last minute and incur high fees to do so. Absent change fees, though, means there is much less to lose by buying early. You can lock in a low rate and, if you are able to stick to your schedule, enjoy the savings. On the other hand, if you need to change as the trip approaches, you can still rebook with no penalty and just pay the increase that you would have had to pay anyway if you waited until the last minute to buy.

An added bonus: now those lower-value unused tickets (<$200) you might have are valuable because the exchange penalty doesn't eat them up.

If you end up planning and then have to cancel a business trip entirely, AmTrav will store your unused ticket credits and make it easy for you to purchase your next trip using that credit.

As more airlines continue to make moves and these policies evolve over time, we’re here as a resource for you. As always, if you have any questions or want to learn more about what this means for you, feel free to reach out - we’re here to help.

Topics:change feesalaska airlinesAA - American AirlinesDelta AirlinesUnited AirlinesSouthwest AirlinesBasic Economy

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