Which New Policy Is Best On Change Fees: American, Delta or United?

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Who Has The Best Policy On Change Fees - American, Delta or United?

Which New Policy Is Best On Change Fees: American, Delta or United?

We saw huge movies regarding change fees on American, Delta & United this week. They look pretty similar, but there are differences. Whose new policy is the best regarding the elimination of change fees: American Airlines, Delta or United? We’ll look at the similarities and differences of these new policies to see who comes out on top.

UPDATED: Alaska Airlines also announced the elimination of change fees.

New United Policy On Change Fees

First to announce a new approach to change fees, United released a statement on it here. We covered the announcement here, and it was only a matter of time until other U.S. airlines followed. Here is the new United change fees policy:

  • New policy start date: immediate
  • Dates impacted: all main cabin/business domestic flights; tickets purchased March 3-December 31, 2020 if international
  • Permanent: yes for domestic flights in main cabin/business
  • Classes of travel covered: not basic economy
  • Countries / regions covered: United States, Puerto Rico & U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Same day standby: yes, starting January 1, 2021
  • Pay fare difference of higher: yes
  • Receive refund if new fare lower: no
  • Notes on basic economy: not included in policy

New Delta Policy On Change Fees

The new Delta change fees policy is here. At the same time as the new change fees policy, Delta announced a voucher extension through December 2022 for tickets booked before April 17, 2020.

  • New policy start date: immediate
  • Dates impacted: purchase by December 31, 2020 for basic economy & international flights, otherwise all dates for regions listed below
  • Permanent: yes for U.S./Puerto Rico/Virgin Islands, 2020 purchases for others
  • Classes of travel covered: all but basic economy on previously-purchased tickets; international and basic economy tickets now until the end of the year
  • Countries / regions covered: United States, Puerto Rico & U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Same day standby: no
  • Pay fare difference of higher: yes
  • Receive refund if new fare lower: no
  • Notes on basic economy: can now buy upgrades, elites can now receive upgrades on basic economy fares

New American Airlines Policy On Change Fees

American Airlines released their new policy here. Here are the key details for the new policy on change fees American Airlines is implementing:

  • New policy start date: immediate
  • Dates impacted: purchase by December 31, 2020
  • Permanent: only for tickets purchased through the end of 2020
  • Classes of travel covered: not basic economy
  • Countries / regions covered: United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico & U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Same day standby: yes, starting October 1, 2020
  • Pay fare difference of higher: yes
  • Receive refund if new fare lower: yes, as a voucher
  • Notes on basic economy: can now buy upgrades, elites can now receive upgrades on basic economy fares

New Alaska Airlines policies on removing change fees
Alaska Airlines Twitter team responds to questions about new policy.

New Alaska Airlines Policy On Change Fees

Not to be outdone, Alaska Airlines also announced a permanent removal of change fees. Here is the relevant information, updated after they replied to my questions on Twitter.

  • New policy start date: immediate
  • Dates impacted: all new ticket purchases, plus basic economy bookings until December 31, 2020
  • Permanent: yes
  • Classes of travel covered: not basic economy (saver fare)
  • Countries / regions covered: no limitations described in policy, “more to come” according to representative
  • Same day standby: not now, planned for the future
  • Pay fare difference of higher: yes
  • Receive refund if new fare lower: receive a voucher for the difference
  • Notes on basic economy: not included in policy

Comparing The Policies – Whose Is Best?

American Airlines has the best policy overall. Here’s why the new policy on change fees American Airlines is offering is better than the other 3: 

  • Refund – with Delta & United, if you change to a cheaper flight, you lose the extra money you spent. Alaska and American Airlines providesa voucher for the fare difference, which you can use to buy future tickets.
  • Basic economy upgrades – Delta and American offer options for upgrades with basic economy fares, while United and Alaska don’t.
  • Areas covered – American is offering the largest range of covered regions for previously-purchased tickets. Yes, Delta covers international tickets purchased now until the end of the year, but their covered regions for tickets you already bought are much smaller. We’re waiting on clarification for this with Alaska, as they said “more to come” regarding this question.

The best elements of the Delta, Alaska, and United policies are covered in the new policy on change fees American Airlines announced. And it has more, also. The friendliest policy after comparing them all is from AA, which is a good direction for them after all their bad press this year.

Final Thoughts

It’s great to see airlines making customer-friendly moves. Numerous airlines have waived fees or created friendlier policies this year because of reduced travel. The policies among these major U.S. carriers have similarities, but a comparison shows the changes to change fees American Airlines rolled out is the friendliest.

How do these new policies impact your outlook on travel? Will you book speculative trips, knowing you could change or cancel more easily?

Ryan S
Travel hacker in 2-player mode, intent on visiting every country in the world, and can say "hello" or "how much does this cost?" in a bunch of different languages.

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8 COMMENTS

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8 COMMENTS

  1. Do you think that there is no chance of flying to Europe in December, 2020? We have been spending Christmas in Germany for many years & I can feel the hurt already. Thank you.

  2. It woulds be nice if the airlines would include Europe on their no change fee policy as well….I am wondering why the omission. We were scheduled to fly to Switzerland for a trip (actually we would have been flying today) but were able to postpone it to Sep 2021 and suffered no penalties from United (we canceled our flights in April when the virus was raging) But I travel once or twice a year to Europe and would certainly welcome some flexibility…..

    • Joe – that would be great. I’m sure there are factors that make the airlines nervous about crossing continents and including wavers for those flights. There are Delta and AA waivers for all tickets purchased in 2020, so you could get a change fee waiver by purchasing in late December 2020 for flights in 2021. That could help for a while as we wait for future changes.

  3. Don’t know how you could say American’s is best when it is only permanent for tickets purchased through the end of 2020.

    • There are 2 separate things in the policy, and I think you’re putting them into 1 by mistake.
      A- no change fees on any tickets purchased through the end of 2020 (any destination, any ticket)
      B- no more change fees on the ticket types described in our article (limits on cabins, limits on destinations), and this is permanent.

      I hope this clears it up.

  4. If American should make their policy permanent, I would likely shift all of my business travel (once it resumes) to American from Southwest. The nature of my business trips requires flexibility, and much as I love Southwest the flexibility was the primary roadblock holding me back from shifting to AA.

    Unfortunately I see I’m going to have to wait to see if American makes this permanent (or semi-permanent), but if they do and my travel schedule resumes I will happily make the switch.

    • Jeff – you commented while I was updating the article to note that Alaska has joined the fray. That could give you another option, as well.

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