The coronavirus pandemic brought many changes to the travel industry and airlines in particular. One of the remarkable changes in some major U.S airlines’ policies is the permanent elimination of change fees, which was triggered by United at the end of this August. However, not all airlines are ready to bid farewell to the fee.
The change fee is a penalty airlines charge for altering a ticket after buying it, even if the change is being made months in advance of the flight. The fee does not include any increase in the airfare itself and can be hundreds of dollars. Here’s how major U.S. airlines are changing their approach to this fee.
Southwest change fee policy
Even though United set the ball rolling, there was and is one U.S. airline that has never charged change fees – Southwest®. The carrier allows you to change or cancel any ticket it sells up until 10 minutes before the scheduled departure time. However, if the price of a new ticket is more than the old one, you’ll be asked to pay a difference in fare. If, on the contrary, your new flight costs less, Southwest will refund the difference or issue a travel credit.
This policy also applies to tickets purchased with Rapid Rewards® points. That means you can change any award flight without a penalty.
United eliminates change fees
United had already implemented temporary change fee waivers for all tickets bought by December 31, 2020. However, you still have to pay the fare difference if the new flight is priced higher. And unlike Southwest, United won’t issue a credit or refund the fare difference should the price of a new ticket be lower.
Starting January 1, 2021, United decided to permanently eliminate its $200 change fee for most Economy and Premium cabin tickets for flights within the U.S. or between the U.S. and Mexico or the Caribbean. Travel within the U.S. includes Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands (Guam is excluded).
The new policy will apply to these types of tickets: Economy, Economy Plus®, United First®, United Business®, United Premium PlusSM. You will be able to change your tickets as many times as you wish, but if there’s any fare difference, it should be paid. And again, if the new flight costs less, United won’t refund the fare difference. The same policy applies to award tickets.
American Airlines joins Southwest and United
The airline is now offering to waive change fee for tickets booked on or before September 30, 2020 that are scheduled to travel before December 31, 2020. This offer includes Basic Economy, AAdvantage® award tickets, and international flights. You will only need to pay the fare difference if any.
A new change fee policy applies to tickets issued on or after August 2020. The new policy eliminates the $200 change fee for Main Cabin (except Basic Economy), Premium Economy, Business, First class tickets for all domestic and short-haul international flights. You will need to pay the fare difference if the new flight is more expensive. If the new flight is cheaper, you will get the fare difference in the form of travel credit to use on a future trip.
Delta drops change fees
Delta’s Pease-of-Mind Purchasing waiver applies to all flights purchased before April 17, 2020, departing from March 2020 through March 2021, and all tickets purchased from March 1 through December 31, 2020. International flights and basic economy fares are also included in this waiver on change fees.
But Delta does not stop here and, like American and United, is dropping its $200 change fee for tickets purchased after the expiration of their Pease-of-Mind Purchasing waiver. The elimination of the change fee is effective immediately for tickets purchased for travel within the domestic U.S., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands in Delta’s First Class, domestic Delta One, Delta Premium Select, Delta Comfort+, and Main Cabin. The new policy excludes Basic Economy tickets. You can also make penalty-free changes to award tickets for travel within the U.S.
While the new policy eliminates change fees, you may still have to pay the fare difference. If the new fare is higher, you will have to pay the difference. Unfortunately, there’s no information about whether Delta’s going to refund the fare difference for flights booked in 2021 if the new fare is lower. However, you will receive an eCredit for flights booked through the end of the year if the new ticket is cheaper.
Alaska eliminates change fees permanently
Alaska’s current Peace of Mind waiver allows you to change or cancel all flights booked through December 31, 2020. The waiver eliminates change fees on all domestic and international flights, but a fare difference may apply.
Beginning January 1, 2021, Alaska’s $125 change fee will be eliminated on Main and First Class fares everywhere Alaska flies. The new policy does not apply to Saver fares (Alaska’s version of basic economy fares).
As for the fare difference, for tickets purchased before the end of the year, you will get a travel credit if the new ticket is cheaper. Alaska hasn’t announced yet what it will do with tickets issued on and after January 1, 2021. The only sure thing is that if you switch to a more expensive flight, you will have to pay the difference.
Hawaiian bids ‘aloha’ to change fees
Hawaiian has already been waiving change fees for all tickets purchased between March 1 and December 31, 2020. The waiver also applies to award flights.
Effective this September, Hawaiian eliminated change fees for Main Cabin, Extra Comfort, and First/Premium Cabin Class seats as well as HawaiianMiles Award Tickets. The Main Cabin Basic (basic economy) seats will retain the same restrictions as before.
Before the pandemic, Hawaiian applied a $30 change fee for interisland flights, $200 for mainland flights, and up to $300 for international flights.
While Hawaiian won’t charge change fees for select fares, a fare difference may apply. If a ticket is changed for a more expensive fare, you will have to pay the difference. If you switch to a less expensive flight, you will not receive a refund or travel credit for the residual amount.
JetBlue is waiving change fees
JetBlue are doing business their own way, and they are not going to permanently drop change fees just yet. Still, they are waiving change and cancel fees for any JetBlue flights booked through February 28, 2021. The policy includes all domestic and international flights, including Blue Basic (JetBlue’s basic economy) tickets.
As with other airlines, the fare difference may apply. Thus, if the new ticket is more expensive, you will have to pay the difference. But if the flight fare lowers, you will receive a travel credit to use towards future air travel.
TrueBlue Mosaic members have different fee waivers, and the no change fees benefit is probably the best perk. If JetBlue decides to join most major U.S. airlines and permanently eliminates change fees, there might be fewer reasons to aim for the Mosaic elite status.