United Airline Discontinuing Change Fees for Most Domestic Flyers
As the coronavirus pandemic grew stateside, several airlines introduced flexibility to their change and cancelation policies in order to allow customers to halt their travel plans without further penalty. Similarly, as the crisis continues, these airlines have sought to give potential flyers greater peace of mind not only through sanitation and spacing policies but also by extending their change fee-free offers. Now one major domestic carrier is making that policy adjustment a permanent fixture, likely saving flyers some cash if they need to rebook.
This week, United Airlines announced that it was discontinuing change fees for most domestic flights and ticket types. Previously, this fee was $200 per ticket. The new policy applies to those traveling within the continental United States as well as Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands who hold either Economy, Economy Plus, United First, United Business, or United Premium Plus tickets. Notably this excludes the carrier’s lowest fare tickets, Basic Economy. However, under United’s existing COVID-inspired policy, those flying Basic Economy or traveling internationally on the airline can change tickets issued before December 31st, 2020 without a fee. As for MileagePlus award tickets, United will be waiving all redeposit fees for flights changed or canceled more than 30 days before a scheduled departure.
While the end of (most) change fees is effective immediately, another change-friendly perk will debut next year. Starting January 1, 2021, United flyers will be able to join the same-day standby list for free, allowing them to change flights if space is available. In order for customers to be eligible for this offer, the original and requested flights must have the same origin and destination airports. This option will be extended to those traveling domestically and internationally. Meanwhile, United Premier members will be able to confirm a seat on a different flight departing the same day (with the same departure and destination cities) for free.
In a video discussing the updated policies, United CEO Scott Kirby stated, “Change is inevitable these days – but it’s how we respond to it that matters most. When we hear from customers about where we can improve, getting rid of this fee is often the top request.” Kirby continued, “Following previous tough times, airlines made difficult decisions to survive, sometimes at the expense of customer service. United Airlines won’t be following that same playbook as we come out of this crisis. Instead, we’re taking a completely different approach – and looking at new ways to serve our customers better.”
It’s worth noting that United isn’t the first carrier to forgo change fees. For example, Southwest already allows customers to adjust their itineraries without penalty and even rebook for a lower fare (receiving the difference in the form of an e-credit). Nevertheless, United’s latest moves could very well set off sea-change in the domestic airline industry as other major carriers tend to follow what seems to be working — whether it be increased baggage fees or the concept of “basic economy.” With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how this development plays out as the travel sector aims for recovery. Elsewhere, hopefully these updated policies will save flyers both funds and frustration as they take to the skies once again.