Home Industry News Most US Airlines Eliminate Flight Change Fees

Most US Airlines Eliminate Flight Change Fees

Major change is in the air for several US airlines.

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Change and cancellations fees will soon be a thing of the past on most airline tickets
Change and cancellations fees will soon be a thing of the past on most airline tickets
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To help restore faith in flying and get consumers purchasing more tickets, most major US airlines have announced some pretty incredible new policies for 2021 and beyond. For the most part, major US airlines are doing away with flight change and cancellation fees, similar to the beloved policy Southwest has always maintained. However, each airline has its own stipulations when it comes to domestic versus international travel, award tickets, policies by fare class, and standby policies. Here’s what you need to know about where each major US airline stands.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines has announced that it is “permanently eliminating change fees. Beginning January 1, 2021, change fees will be eliminated on Main and First Class fares everywhere Alaska flies.” Until December 31, 2020, all fares (including Saver, Alaska’s equivalent of Basic Economy) are covered by the airline’s “Peace of Mind” waiver, which allows cancelling or changing flights without fees. In summary the new policy will play out as follows:

Domestic flight change fees on paid flights: None
International flight change fees on paid flights: None
Difference in fare: Pay for any fare difference, if higher; get flight voucher, if lower.
Exclusions on paid flights: Saver fares will not be able to be changed or cancelled whatsoever.
Mileage ticket policy: No change or cancellation fees for Alaska Mileage Plan award tickets for travel on Alaska Airlines. However, all partner redemptions will still be subject to $125 per ticket change fee as well as the $25 partner award fee when ticketing.
Standby policy: Space available, same-day confirmed flight change remains $50 (but those on Saver fares excluded).

American Airlines

American Airlines is “eliminating all change fees for First, Business, Premium Economy and Main Cabin tickets for all domestic and short-haul international flying. [It is] also waiving change fees on all tickets bought by December 31, 2020, regardless of fare type or itinerary.” So, beginning in January, expect the following:

Domestic flight change fees on paid flights: None (including Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands)
International flight change fees on paid flights: None if traveling to Canada, Caribbean, or Mexico. All other international destinations are subject to fees as high as $750.
Difference in fare: Pay for any fare difference, if higher; get flight voucher, if lower.
Exclusions on paid flights: Basic economy fares will still face fees but “may now buy extras like upgrades, seats, priority boarding and same-day flight changes.” In addition, “AAdvantage® elite members may apply their travel benefits on all tickets, including on Basic Economy fares.”
Mileage ticket policy: The no fee policies for AAdvantage award tickets will be the same as those for paid fares. International changes or cancellations beyond Canada, Caribbean, and Mexico will be subject to various change/cancellation fees, if changed/cancelled less than 60 days before departure (if greater than 60 days, there will be no charge). Unlike the exorbitant change fees for paid international tickets, these fees max out at $150 per ticket for nonelite members when making changes less than seven days before travel.
Standby policy: “Starting October 1, 2020, [customers will] be able to stand by for flights on the same day as [their] original departure to the same destination at no charge.” This includes domestic and international travel, regardless of the fare purchased (and even includes Basic Economy tickets).

Delta Airlines

Starting in 2021, Delta Airlines will be “eliminating change fees permanently for tickets purchased for travel within the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands for First Class, Premium Select, Comfort+, and Main Cabin tickets, but excluding Basic Economy tickets.” Until then, they are providing a complete “change fee waiver for all flights purchased through December 31, 2020,” regardless of fare class. Delta still hasn’t divulged all the details of its upcoming policies, but here is what we know so far:

Domestic flight change fees on paid flights: None
International flight change fees on paid flights: Ranges from $200 to $500, “depending on the location where you’re traveling, plus the price difference”
Difference in fare: Pay for any fare difference, if higher; get flight voucher, if lower and booked before 2021. Voucher policy for 2021 has yet to be determined.
Exclusions on paid flights: Basic economy fares are excluded from the future policy.
Mileage ticket policy: At press time, change and cancellation fees for Delta SkyMiles award tickets will remain at $150 per ticket.
Standby policy: Same-day confirmed flight change or same-day standby remains at $75 (if space is available in your originally purchased class).

JetBlue

JetBlue is the only major US carrier that has yet to announce any type of fee elimination policy for 2021. It recently restructured its change fee policy when announcing its most recent fare structure with Blue Basic, Blue, Blue Plus, and Blue Extra fares. So, we actually don’t expect JetBlue to follow the competition. That said, we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

Domestic flight change fees on paid flights: Blue & Blue Plus Fares $200 per personfor fares $200 or more plus difference in fare; $150 per person for fares $150 to $199.99 plus difference in fare; $100 per person for fares $100 to $149.99 plus difference in fare; $75 per person for fares under $100 plus difference in fare. No change fees for Blue Extra fares.
International flight change fees on paid flights: Same as domestic
Difference in fare: Pay for any fare difference, if higher; get funds in JetBlue travel credit, if lower.
Exclusions on paid flights: “Blue Basic fares are not eligible for voluntary changes or cancellation.”
Mileage ticket policy: Fee structure mirrors that of paid flights when converting mileage rates to cash rates at roughly 1.3 cents per mile (so an award ticket of 17,500 TrueBlue miles would equate to $237 and would incur a whopping $200 change or cancellation fee).
Standby policy: Same-day confirmed flight change or same-day standby remains at $75.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest’s excellent policies remain as per usual. “Southwest Airlines never charges Customers a fee to change or cancel their flight. If a Customer’s plans change, or they decide they no longer want to travel, the funds used to pay for their flight can be applied to future travel —as long as they cancel their flight at least 10 minutes prior to the scheduled departure. The funds are valid for future travel up to one year from the original purchase date and must be used by the individual named on the ticket.” This also applies to award travel.

Domestic flight change fees on paid flights: None
International flight change fees on paid flights: None
Difference in fare: Pay for any fare difference, if higher; get flight voucher, if lower, get flight credit.
Exclusions on paid flights: None
Mileage ticket policy: No fees
Standby policy: No charges as per usual. “If there’s an open seat on a different flight on the same day as your original flight and it’s between the same cities, you can get a seat on the new flight free of airline charges. If there isn’t an open seat, you can ask an Agent to add you to the same-day standby list.”

United Airlines

United Airlines was the first airline to announce it was cutting change and cancellation fees for standard economy, premium economy, business-class, and first-class tickets. In doing so, they made the bold statement that it is eliminating fees “forever.” Wow, that’s huge! The carrier says that “it is permanently getting rid of change fees on all standard Economy and Premium cabin tickets for travel within the U.S., effective [August 30, 2020]” and “extending its waiver for new tickets issued through December 31, 2020, to permit unlimited changes with no fee” for both domestic and international tickets. Here’s how the new policy will play out in 2021.

Domestic flight change fees on paid flights: None (including Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands)
International flight change fees on paid flights: Up to $400 depending on fare class
Difference in fare: Pay for any fare difference, if higher; get flight voucher, if lower, and lose the excess value of the ticket (this stands in stark contrast to all other airlines).
Exclusions on paid flights: Basic economy tickets are excluded from all future no-fee policies.
Mileage ticket policy: United is “waiving all redeposit fees on award travel for flights changed or cancelled more than 30 days before departure.” For changes or cancellations less than 30 days before departure, the no-fee policy applies to domestic award travel, but fees will be incurred for award international travel up to $125 per passenger for no-elite Mileage Plus members.
Standby policy: Beginning in 2021, “any United customer can fly standby for free on a flight departing the day of their travel regardless of the type of ticket or class of service, a first among U.S. carriers, while MileagePlus Premier members can confirm a seat on a different flight on the same day with the same departure and arrival cities as their original ticket if a seat in the same ticket fare class is available.”

Eliminating change and cancellation fees is definitely a major step in restoring consumer confidence in flying and the airline industry. How this will affect pricing is yet to be determined, but for now we’ll take any good news we can get!

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Award-winning travel writer and economist Paul Rubio is a credit card enthusiast, whose sophisticated use of points and rewards has helped him travel to 132 countries for free. Paul is a Harvard graduate with a master’s degree in public administration and a master’s degree in economics. He also holds a bachelor’s degree from Boston University with a double major in economics and environmental policy and a minor in conservation biology. He attended both undergraduate and graduate schools on full scholarships. Paul worked in the field of wildlife conservation before embracing his writing talents full-time in 2008. Since then, he has won more than two dozen national awards for his exemplary work in travel journalism. The prolific writer contributes to a number of top-tier international, national, and regional publications including Condé Nast Traveler, Florida Design, Fodors.com, Palm Beach Illustrated, and Robb Report.