Just Like That, Airline Change Fees Are a Thing of the Past (For Now)

United Airlines apparently started a trend on Sunday when they announced they were permanently eliminating change fees on tickets and making it easier to standby or same-day change to another flight.  There’s no question this is a customer-friendly move.  We can argue how long “permanently” will be since I’m pretty sure I’ll be writing about travel when change fees are once again a revenue source and a thorn in customer’s sides.  But, there’s no argument this puts more money back in customers’ pockets.  Delta and American were quick to match this move, though in slightly different ways.  Here’s a quick breakdown of those changes:

American Airlines Eliminates Change Fees

Similar to United Airlines, American is eliminating change fees on all domestic flights with the exception of basic economy fares.  They take it a step further, extending no change fees on flights to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Puerto Ricao and the US Virgin Islands.  Expect United to match the Canada and Mexico part shortly.  American Airlines is also extending free changes on all tickets (including international and basic economy) through the end of 2020.

Delta Air Lines Eliminates Change Fees

Delta jumped onboard as well, dropping change fees on domestic US flights, including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.  Delta did not extend their changes to basic economy tickets.  They also mimicked American Airlines on maintaining flexibility on all flights purchased by the end of 2020.

How The Major Airlines Stack Up On Change Fees

There are still major differences between the big airlines, especially when you include Southwest. One of the most significant areas revolves around the value of your ticket.  Southwest Airlines has (for as long as I can recall) maintained a policy where if you switch to a cheaper flight, they’ll issue you a credit for the difference in price.  American and United have taken different paths on this point.  On American Airlines, you’ll have a credit to use on a future flight. With United (for now) you lose any value your ticket has when switching to a cheaper flight.  Zach Griff at The Points Guy put together a great chart summarizing the changes.

The Final Two Pennies

Overall, I think these changes are big positive for the vast majority of travelers.  Change fees are a thorn in the side of leisure travelers, especially when you talk about family travel.  These changes do erode some of the value that top-tier business travelers get, now that more elite members will have access to free same-day changes.  But, right now airlines are trying to spur any travel right now, business or leisure.  With leisure travelers making up a larger portion of the people flying now than what we would normally see, airlines are looking for any way they can to spur travel.

Here’s the thing, I don’t actually think these changes will spur much additional travel.  If someone is comfortable flying right now, they’re probably already buying tickets.  For those people who aren’t comfortable traveling, I just don’t think they’re actively planning trips.  These changes may spur some new business right now at the margins.  And, it may get people to book their next trip sooner.  But, I don’t think it opens the floodgates to new travel.

Still, nice to be rid of those fees…..until they come back.

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